Dubai: Multiple UAE champion Karim Al Azhari believes the combination of his experience and the rising talent of young Austrian star Clemens Schmid has given Al Nabooda Racing a vital edge in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East.
At the halfway point in the 2012-13 season, Al Azhari and Schmid have opened up an impressive 20-point advantage over their biggest rivals, the Saudi Falcons, in the fight to bring the team title to Dubai for the first time.
While the defending champions will have a considerable home advantage when the one-makes series returns to action in February, the Al Nabooda Racing duo are now quietly confident that they can stay in control for the remainder of the 12-round championship.
“It’s been a very satisfying first half of the season,” said Al Azhari, whose third podium finish of the campaign at Dubai Autodrome last weekend, added to Schmid’s second haul of back-to-back victories, saw the pair almost double their lead in the team title battle.
“Before the season starts, you prepare as well as you can, but you’re never quite sure where you are going to rank until racing begins, so it’s great to have such a good lead in the team championship.”
Al Azhari was quick to lavish praise on his racing partner. “Having Clemens as a teammate is a big asset for me because I get to learn from undoubtedly the best driver in this championship,” he said. “He is helping me a lot, and I’m learning very specifically about the nature of the Porsche GT3 Cup and how to get the best out of the combination of this great car and the Michelin tyres.
“I have lot of experience, having raced some wonderful machinery in my career, and that experience is helping me to execute everything I learn from Clemens about how the GT3 Cup car likes to be driven. It’s giving me another dimension as a driver.”
It has not been an easy ride for the Al Nabooda Racing pair. A mechanical problem followed by a spin 24 hours later at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi lost Schmid the lead in the drivers’ championship to Saudi’s Abdul Aziz Al Faisal, while a start infringement in Dubai dropped Al Azhari to seventh in round five after he had finished third.
“It’s such a competitive championship now and every little mistake is punished,” said Al Azhari. “But that’s why motor racing is so exciting to follow. There are so many outside influences, things that you cannot control, that can affect the result, and leave with you a lot of hard work to catch up.”
Delighted with progress so far for Al Nabooda Racing, team manager Vijay Rao said: “At the halfway point in the season we can now look back and analyse our performance as a team and recognise our strengths very clearly. Eventually we will go into a more defensive mode to maintain our lead, reduce risks and try to control the temperature.”
The Porsche GT3 Cup series now takes a break before resuming with rounds seven and eight at Saudi’s Reem International Circuit outside Riyadh on February 6 and 7.
Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East, team standings:
1. Al Nabooda Racing, 245pts
2. Saudi Falcons, 225pts
3. Team Bahrain, 202pts
4. Frijns Structural Steel ME (QAT), 93pts
5. Gebhardt Motorsport ME (QAT), 56pts.