Mustafa Al Khan in double victory at the penultimate round of the Batelco 2000cc Challenge
The cloudy, dust filled sky and forecasted rain did not deter the ten strong starting grid for the penultimate round of the Batelco 2000cc Challenge, held at Bahrain International Circuit. With the on track action featuring oil spills, collisions and several upsets, the two races of the seventh round were one of the most adrenaline pumping races of the season. Mustafa Al Khan tore around the track in both races to clinch a double victory, blasting him to the top of the table in this year’s rankings. Driving a much improved Honda Civic, he blistered past the rest of the competition in a car which was visibly superior to the rest of the contenders’ vehicles. Shaikh Salman of Team Zspeed claimed two podium finishes, while Shaikh Hamad and Shaikh Jaber crossed the finish line with a podium step each.
The tragic death of 29 year old Christophe Hissette while competing in the qualifying session of the Gulf Sport Radical Cup at the Dubai Autodrome earlier on in the day had left many drivers, teams and racing officials deeply saddened and in a moving gesture, the drivers added a black stripe to their windscreens as a part of a tribute to one of the Gulf’s most experienced competitors. Following the conclusion of the seventh round, the competitors decided to forgo a podium, instead they honored Hissette with a moment of silence.
Batelco 2000cc Challenge Free Practice
In preparation for the qualifying and official races, the drivers of the Batelco 2000cc Challenge took to the track in an attempt to test out their racing vehicles. With many competitors having completed technical improvements and maintenance work since the previous round, there was a high level of anticipation in the pits as the mechanical teams watched on as the competitors tested out their improved cars.
While some competitors put pedal to the metal in an attempt to push their cars to the limit, others preferred a more relaxed approach to the practice session and made use of their track time to warm up their 2.0 liter engines in preparation for the qualifying session.
Shaikh Hamad Al Khalifa dominated the session with a solid time of 1:17.432, a full second ahead of Raed Himmo who’s Honda CRX completed the inner circuit lap in 1:18.432. As the youngest driver in the series, 19 year old Essa Al Kooheji also put in an impressive performance in 1:21.288, beating out his team mate Mustafa Al Khan by a full 7 seconds, even though Al Khan would go on to show that his team had put together something special. Shaikh Salman Al Khalifa preferred to reduce the wear and tear on his engine and took a more cautious approach to the session, with his best time at 1:26.790.
Practice Session Results
Driver Best Time
Shaikh Hamad Al Khalifa 1:17.432
Raed Himmo 1:18.432
Essa Al Kooheji 1:21.288
Tim Birkin 1:23.287
Shaikh Salman Al Khalifa 1:26.790
Mustafa Al Khan 1:28.402
Shaikh Jabber Al Khalifa 1:30.046
Hamed Kuzbar 1:31.170
Ahmed Kuzbar 1:32.170
Stephen Kellogg 1:34.570
Batelco 2000cc Challenge Qualifying
In what was one of the most closely contested qualifying sessions of the season, the top five drivers all finished within one second of each other, increasing the anticipation for the upcoming official races as the competing 2000cc engines all seemed to churn out a very similar amount of horsepower.
Shaikh Hamad claimed pole position with a very technical performance, taking just 1:17.104 from start to finish. Amidst claims of engine failures and a lack of replacement parts, Mustafa Al Khan still managed to finish .300 seconds behind the leader, raising questions as to just what is happening under the hood of his Honda Civic. Himmo continued to impress on track and finished the qualifying session with a time of 1:17.601, claiming a spot behind Shaikh Hamad for the first race of the 7th round. Shaikh Salman found himself in fourth place after speeding around the inner track in 1:17.717 and prepared to be bumper to bumper with Al Khan in the starting grid.
Qualifying Session Results
Driver Best Time
Shaikh Hamad Al Khalifa 1:17.104
Mustafa Al Khan 1:17.404
Raed Himmo 1:17.601
Shaikh Salman Al Khalifa 1:17.717
Shaikh Jaber Al Khalifa 1:17.780
Essa Al Kooheji 1:19.396
Tim Birkin 1:19.468
Ahmed Kuzbar 1:24.012
Hamed Kuzbar 1:26.732
Stephen Kellogg 1:31.018
Batelco 2000cc Challenge Race One
As the green light gave the start signal Shaikh Hamad and Al Khan tore down the main straight with Himmo and Shaikh Salman not far behind. While Shaikh Hamad kept Al Khan’s Honda Civic in check with some skilled maneuverings as the drivers approached turn one, the rest of the pack weaved wildly in an attempt to inch out their competitors.
While several opportunities presented themselves to pass the leader, Al Khan approached the take over with a cautious strategy, wary not to repeat last round’s performance where hard driving saw his Honda Civic suffer transmission and break issues. Following in the dust of the two leading cars, Himmo did not hold back in his approach and skidded wildly at turn nine in a determined effort to keep Shaikh Salman’s Honda CRX behind him. The pair continued their duel all the way down the back straight before Shaikh Salman set up a flawless take over on the inner corner of turn 10, blasting by Himmo and narrowly avoiding the back of Al Khan’s bumper.
Taking advantage of the slip stream behind Shaikh Hamad, Al Khan capitalized on the lack of resistance and remained right behind the lead car as the pair hurtled down the main straight on lap two, before pulling out at the last moment to claim the inside corner of turn one. With the lead now in his grasp, a focused Al Khan fought off Shaikh Hamad and ended up in front of the pack by turn three.
Further down the track a blown oil pipe on Tim Birkin’s Honda Integra sprayed oil over his rear tyres and heralded trouble, resulting in the car locking up and violently skidding off track in a cloud of gravel. It wasn’t long before Stephen Kellogg sped through the oil marred area and also ended up spinning off track, sustaining a hefty tyre puncture as he collided with the barrier.
Unaware of the slippery surface, Shaikh Hamad, Himmo and Shaikh Salman blistered neck and neck on the back straight in pursuit of a fast moving Al Khan. However, it wasn’t long before the leading group found themselves also speeding through the danger area, with Al Khan just managing to keep his car on track as the steering locked up. Similarly Shaikh Hamad wrestled his Honda Civic on the tarmac and avoided most of the oil patches, but an unfortunate Shaikh Salman flew into the gravel pit at the end of turn five after catching the worst of the spill. Luckily the momentum gathered resulted in his Honda CRX obtaining enough speed to finish its skid on the surface of the track, allowing him to blast after Shaikh Hamad in a spray of gravel.
Himmo’s aggressive driving appeared to be too much for his Honda CRX to handle as it wasn’t long before a plume of white smoke and an engine failure brought him to a dramatic stop at turn three of lap seven. In a blue flash Shaikh Jabber was quick to fill the fourth slot and begin his attack on Shaikh Salman, who had fallen behind the two leading cars after his dramatic off track skid. By this point the pack found itself once again approaching the oil slicked turns four and five and it was an unlucky Shaikh Jabber who suffered the worst of it this time, with his car locking up and sustaining tyre damage in the process. His damaged Honda Integra limped into the pit lane in an attempt to reach his garage for a tyre change, but lost all tyre pressure mere meters from his waiting mechanical team and ending his hopes of a points winning victory.
With the competitors spread all over the inner circuit and many now sustaining car damage, the drivers were cautious in their driving and did not attempt any overtaking maneuvers, leaving Al Khan to cross the finish line in first.
Race One Results
Driver Best Time
Mustafa Al Khan 19:44.146
Shaikh Hamad Al Khalifa 20:24.254
Shaikh Salman Al Khalifa 20:27.414
Isa Al Kooheji 20:32.071
Ahmed Kuzbar 19:56.563
Hamed Kuzbar 20:28.883
Shaikh Jaber Al Khalifa 20:36.577
Stephen Kellogg 15:54.700
Raed Himmo DNF
Tim Birkin DNF
Batelco 2000cc Challenge Race Two
The reverse grid which featured in the second race of round seven did not deter the championship leaders as Shaikh Salman, Shaikh Hamad, Al Khan and Shaikh Jaber were quick to weave through the competition and resume their positions at the front of the pack. With the absence of Himmo on the starting grid reducing the competitors to nine, it seemed that the majority of the racing action would take place between the four leading drivers.
Continuing his dominant run, Al Khan once again drove a cool headed Shaikh Hamad hard on the initial lap, but could not find a gap to exploit as Shaikh Hamad fought to maintain second place. However, he could not hold Al Khan’s extremely powerful Honda Civic in check for long and on turn six he found himself watching on as Al Khan squeezed by on the inside corner.
It was not long before the red and black car was bumper to bumper with the leader, but Shaikh Salman’s determined efforts to maintain his position drove off Al Khan, who could not pass even though he possessed a significant horsepower advantage. As the race progressed Al Khan’s driving became more aggressive as he attempted to overtake on the outside corner several times but without success.
While Shaikh Salman’s efforts to stave off the eventual take over seemed to be working, eventually Al Khan blistered by on the main straight, using the same slip stream strategy which worked so well against Shaikh Hamad in race one. While he had gained the lead, Al Khan could not seem to shake Shaikh Salman from his rear bumper and the two reached 120km/h as they swerved dangerously past turn nine and ten, passing the tight corners in a blur of speed.
As the duel escalated, the two drivers became more desperate to seal their lead. As Ahmed Kuzbar was signaled to move aside with a blue flag, the neck and neck battle resulted in a collision on lap ten as both drivers refused to back down on the entrance to the first turn. While Al Khan seemed undeterred by this exchange of body paint, Shaikh Salman’s car sustained damage and visibly slowed, allowing Shaikh Jaber to shoot into second place.
In a unlucky blow to Team Zspeed, it wasn’t long before Shaikh Hamad’s Honda Civic also suffered a mechanical failure and was driven onto the run off area, ending the championship leader’s hopes of finishing in the points in race two.
Race Two Results
Driver Best Time
Mustafa Al Khan 19:49.757
Shaikh Jaber Al Khalifa 19:55.405
Shaikh Salman Al Khalifa 20:15.202
Isa Al Kooheji 20:35.293
Stephen Kellogg 20:44.179
Hamed Kuzbar 20:59.211
Ahmed Kuzbar 20:42.628
Shaikh Hamad Al Khalifa DNF
Tim Birkin DNS
Raed Himmo DNS