Bahrain crash ends Oliphant's Porsche GT3 Cup title hopes
Tom Oliphant's challenge for the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East title came to a heartbreaking conclusion in the penultimate meeting of the campaign after contact from his chief championship rival caused a first retirement of the season.
With Oliphant unable to race in the season finale next month due to his Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship commitments, he headed into the two races around the Bahrain International Circuit knowing he would have to wrap up the title with a weekend to spare.
The 27-year-old had a great opportunity to do exactly that in Rounds Nine and Ten though, with four victories and four second-place finishes in the previous eight races having earned him a 19-point lead atop the championship standings.
Third on the grid for race one, Oliphant would challenge title rival Al Faisal Al Zubair over the course of the opening two laps, with his pressure paying off as he dived down the inside at the first corner on lap three. With his Lechner Racing machine ahead in the braking zone, Oliphant was stunned as Al Zubair sharply turned into the corner and made contact with the rear left wheel of his car, causing a broken suspension and an immediate end to his race.
With the two races he is missing set to be his two dropped scores in the final standings, the retirement would effectively end his championship aspirations, with a five-place grid penalty for Al Zubair proving scant consolation.
The Leamington-based racer headed into the second day of action aiming to put that disappointment behind him and bring his spell in the championship to a close by challenging for victory, and he gave himself a great chance of doing so by qualifying on the front row.
Oliphant slipped to third at the start of the race, but he hunted down pole-man Charlie Frijns and stormed past on lap five. With an unassailable gap to the race leader, he would remain in second for the remainder of the race with a composed drive to the chequered flag.
It brought to a close a memorable two-and-a-half year spell in one-make Porsche competition for Oliphant, who contested the Carrera Cup GB, GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East and selected Mobil 1 Supercup races - with fantastic consistency seeing him finish 48 of his 55 races in the top six.
He said: “I’m gutted to have come away from the weekend with anything other than the championship title.
“Having led the way right from the opening meeting, I feel like I deserved the right to fight for the honours on my last day of racing out here but that opportunity was taken away from me.
“I’m confident that I would go and claim title success in the final rounds, however due to my BTCC commitments this won’t be possible. Sometimes the situation is out of your control and sadly on Friday this was the case for me. I have given it everything and just came up short.”
Oliphant’s attention now turns solely to his preparations for his maiden Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season, which began with recent successful tests at Snetterton, Donington Park and Brands Hatch.