The Porsche Sprint Challenge Middle East returned over the weekend for Round 2 at the Dubai Autodrome, where 17 drivers from 10 different nations took to the grid for three action-packed races across two days. It was a weekend dominated by one man and one man only, with Germany’s Leon Koehler displaying one of the most commanding performances in the history of the series by securing pole finishes in all three races, taking his tally to five wins from the opening six races of Season 11.
Following his clean sweep in Round 2, Koehler said: “I couldn’t have asked for a better performance from me and my team. To win all three races this weekend is an incredible feeling. The car felt amazing and the pace has been there throughout the weekend. I believe I’m driving well at the minute but there’s always room for improvement. I don’t want to get complacent because I know that in this sport my fortunes can change very quickly. I’ll keep my head down, work hard and look to improve throughout the season. I’ll enjoy tonight but from tomorrow my focus turns to Abu Dhabi next weekend where I’ll be determined to build on this weekend’s success.”
Qualifying for Race 1 took place on Friday morning, with Koehler laying down the fastest time with a lap of 1:37.4 to start on pole position ahead of Frenchman J.B. Simmenauer in second. Newcomer Julian Hanses started in third with Saul Hack of South Africa in fourth.
A thrilling start saw Simmenauer briefly take the lead at lights out before Koehler regained pole position going into turn one, where he would remain for the duration of the race to take his third chequered flag of the season, 0.8 seconds ahead of the Frenchman in second. The highlight of the race was the battle for third position between Hanses, Hack and Richard Wagner, with the three drivers testing one another’s skill and poise with each passing lap.
Wagner displayed the professionalism of a seasoned driver to manouver his way from fifth to third on lap three where he would remain for much of the race. Unfortunately for the teenager he was unable to hold off Saul Hack, with the South African applying pressure going into the chicane on lap nine, overtaking Wagner on the inside and accelerating down the back straight to claim third.
Race 1 finished with Koehler on pole and Simmenauer in second. Hack was third, Richard Wagner in fourth and Julian Hanses in fifth. Jesse Van Kuijk claimed sixth position and first overall in the Pro-Am category ahead of Lucas Groeneveld in seventh and his brother Daan in eighth.
Race 2 got underway at midday on Saturday afternoon in front of a large local crowd. Starting on pole position was a familiar face in Leon Koehler after clocking a qualifying time of 1:37.6. Completing the front row was Germany’s Julian Hanses, while J.B. Simmenauer started in third and Jesse Van Kuijk of the Netherlands in fourth.
After another dominating performance, Koehler impressed once again, leading from start to finish to take the chequered flag three seconds ahead of the impressive Hanses in second. Despite the front five testing each other in the early stages, a collision on lap six saw the introduction of a safety car for four laps, reducing valuable driving time and bringing to a halt any ambitions of a nail-biting climax to the race.
The race finished with Koehler first, Hanses in second and Simmenauer in third. Jesse Van Kuijk finished fourth and in doing so claimed another top spot in the Pro-Am category. Saul Hack finished in fifth. An impressive performance from debutant Lucas Groeneveld saw him finish in a respectable sixth position ahead of Richard Wagner in seventh.
The line-up for Race 3 was decided by a reverse grid, with the starting places set in reverse order of the top six finishers of Race 2. This saw debutant Lucas Groeneveld start in pole position, with Saul Hack in second and Jesse Van Kuijk in in third. Simmenauer was fourth, Hanses fifth while winner of the opening two races, Leon Koehler, was in sixth.
The refreshed format made for an exhilarating race, with the top six trading blows from the first lap to the last. Newcomer Groeneveld failed to hold off a rampant Hack in the opening stages, with the young South African showing why he’s considered one of the favourites for a Season 11 podium finish with a brilliant overtake on the inside of turn three, pushing him up to first place where he would remain until the dying laps.
Koehler, from a sixth-place start, made easy work of overtaking Julien Hanses and Jesse Van Kuijk on lap two, igniting a fierce battle between the front four of Hack, Simmenauer, Wagner and Koehler, with the drivers testing each other throughout. Contact between Simmenauer and Hack on lap ten opened the door for Koehler, who took advantage to calmly manoeuvre past Simmenauer into second place and close the gap on leader Hack. With just two laps remaining, Koehler’s constant pressure paid off, going bumper to bumper with Hack into turn
two and eventually gaining the lead where we would remain for the rest of the race, much to the disappointment of the young South African.
The race finished with Koehler first, Hack in second and Richard Wagner in third. Simmenauer finished fourth, Hanses in fifth and Jesse Van Kuijk in sixth.
Following the end of Round 2, Walter Lechner of Lechner Racing said: “Round 2 displayed just why the series is widely considered one of the most exciting motorsport races in the region. Each race was packed full of action, with every driver fighting for a place on the podium. Some of the skill on display was really incredible. The drivers have just one week now to regroup ahead of the next round in Abu Dhabi where they will be racing on one of the most iconic circuits in the world.”
At the end of another captivating round which sees six of the 14 race season complete, Leon Koehler (146pts) has a lead of 27 points in the overall standings, with Saul Hack in second (119 points) and Julian Hanses (115pts) in third. JB Simmenauer sits in fourth (105pts), with Richard Wagner sits in fifth (103pts) and Jesse Van Kuijk in sixth (96pts)
The series returns next week for Round 3 at Yas Marina Circuit, with Rounds 4 and 5 taking place at the Bahrain International Circuit in March. The season will conclude as an official support race to the 2020 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix, the only regional racing series to do so.
The Porsche Sprint Challenge Middle East is now in its historic eleventh season, making it the first and longest regional championship backed by a manufacturer in the Middle East. It gives drivers access to the latest Porsche 911 GT3 Cup race car, the same model used for international motorsport editions, such as the Porsche Carrera Cup and the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup.