ABU DHABI // Clemens Schmid, of Dubai's Al Nabooda Racing, will be looking to maintain his flawless start to the fourth season of the Porsche GT3 Challenge Cup Middle East when he takes to the grid at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi today.
Rounds three and four will take place today before the series moves to the Dubai Autodrome the following weekend.
The Austrian Schmid arrives as the championship leader, having won both the opening rounds in Bahrain last month, but he knows after testing the circuit along with other drivers over the last couple of days that the unique nature of the Yas circuit means it will not be easy.
"Overall I'm happy with practice sessions," he said. "The Yas Marina Circuit has many corners, so you have to break a lot and that does not allow you to maintain a consistent speed to push on. But it was great being back on the track after a successful weekend in Bahrain. It will be interesting to see how it goes during the races as it will be very compact."
Not far behind him will be his Al Nabooda teammate, the Emirati Karim Al Azhari who is fourth in the overall standings so far; Al Azhari finished third and fourth in the opening rounds in Bahrain. The closest of the current chasing pack, however, is the Saudi Abdulaziz Al Faisal of the Saudi Falcons.
Al Faisal is the serious threat, the reigning series champion and a two-time champion (in three seasons) and he finished second and third in the two Bahrain rounds.
"I can see it being a very tight race, with the amount of corners we have to counter, so it limits us from gaining momentum," said Schmid.
The 16-car field is thought to be among the strongest put together in the history of the series, with drivers from as many as 11 countries, regional and international (from Azerbaijan, Switzerland, Netherlands and Germany).
At least one eye will have to be kept on Kuwait's 18-year-old prodigy Zaid Ashkanani who was so impressive in his debut race in Bahrain and is fifth in the standings after his remarkable performances during that opening weekend.
If his father's words are anything to go by, he will be somewhere among the leaders.
The series' only female driver Christina Nielsen will also be in the mix, pushing for a podium spot after her history-making debut (as the first female racer) in Bahrain.
The Dane believes the key will be in the qualifying race; race days in the series include both qualifying and the races themselves.
"Qualifying is everything," she told The National. "It can be really hard to fight through the field so when you have a good qualifying, you have a good start position and that makes the race easier."
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