x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Porsche GT3 organisers give green flag for Bahrain Grand Prix F1 race

The season-ending championship precedes the race next month and those close to the ground say there are no reasons to worry.

RIYADH // Walter Lechner, the Bahrain-based organiser of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East, says there is "nothing that would prevent" the kingdom hosting the series' season-ending race next month and moved to assure the F1 fraternity there is no need to be concerned amid reports of unrest ahead of April's Bahrain Grand Prix.

Armoured vehicles were deployed around the country's capital Manama on Tuesday as protesters marked the first anniversary of their uprising against the country's rulers.

Television images showed police firing tear gas at demonstrators in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the marches the previous evening.

Lechner flew out of Bahrain on Monday ahead of this week's two races at Reem International Circuit in Saudi Arabia, and he said that, while the situation on the Gulf island may have changed, he had felt no fear.

The Porsche GT3 season is due to end at Bahrain International Circuit on March 29-31, less than a month before the grand prix is due to take place on April 22.

"It is a serious situation, but four days ago, I didn't feel anything," he said.

"There might have been some kids throwing tyres or whatever, but that was it.

"In terms of the Porsche GT3 Cup, I wouldn't have any fear at the present time to host the race. It will take place three weeks before the F1 and I am definitely convinced our race will happen. There is nothing that would prevent it."

Lechner has been based in Bahrain for the past seven years and lives in an apartment at the now-demolished Pearl Roundabout, which became the focal point of last year's protests that eventually led to the cancellation of the 2011 Formula One race.

 

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When the trouble began the insurance company covering Lechner's racing series immediately withdrew, but the Austrian remained.

He said even at the height of the protests he has never felt in danger, but added the moment that changes he will leave. "From my personal experience, I don't feel threatened at all," Lechner said.

"I live at the Pearl Roundabout, so we have always been very much aware of the goings-on from day one when the unrest first started. Let's be honest, would you live somewhere that you fear or would you send your staff somewhere you fear? No.

"So the moment we feel threatened we will leave. If we are not safe, we will leave - I owe that to my staff. But that has not even been the case last year."

Lechner, who also owns Lechner Racing Team, has been contacted by Michelin, who were concerned about the situation in the country. The manufacturers supply tyres to the GT3 series.

Lechner, when asked by The National whether he believed the Bahrain Grand Prix would take place, said: "I think there is no reason for it not to go ahead".

"We had the air show, the boat show, the jewellery show, they all came and no problems," he said.

"I wouldn't say life is 100 per cent back to what it was like before, but I would say 80-90 per cent wouldn't have the feeling that you have anything to fear."

Abdulaziz Al Faisal, a Saudi Arabian driver in the Porsche series, said he has no issue travelling to Bahrain for the final race of the season net month and added he is convinced the F1 grand prix should take place.

"We were there two weeks ago and it was OK," he said. "Yes, there was a lot of police cars on the roads, but this is normal. Life goes on normally.

"I think the race will go ahead and they should fight to ensure it does because the whole region would suffer.

"I don't understand this idea of wanting to ban the GP. If I was a Bahraini, I would ask for it to run even if I have bad thoughts against someone, because it will benefit everybody."

Grand prix organisers will hold a press conference at the circuit on Sunday.

It is expected plans will be announced for tickets for Victoria Azarenka the April 22 race will go on sale next week.

 

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

 

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