Bahrain’s latest motor racing champion, Sheikh Salman bin Rashid Al Khalifa, is hoping for a fast return to the Kingdom for Formula One so that aspiring young drivers can follow their dreams.
“I just hope that F1 comes back to Bahrain soon,” says Sheikh Salman, who covered himself in glory last season with a triumphant campaign in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East.
“We’ve become used to having the F1 circus in town, with all its colour and excitement. It’s very important for Bahrain and we just need to have the conditions that make it possible for it to return.
“There’s a great passion for cars and for motor sport in Bahrain. We love racing at every level, particularly F1. Over the last few years youngsters have grown up here dreaming of being the next Alonso or Hamilton.
“Before F1 came here I’m not sure what they’d have said if you asked them what they wanted to do in life. Now everyone wants to be a racing driver.”
After capturing the Porsche GT3 Cup crown last season, Sheikh Salman is determined to keep improving as a driver, although a familiar rival will be waiting when the 2011-12 series starts alongside November’s 2011 Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Defending champion Prince Abdulaziz Al Faisal pushed him all the way before the Bahraini driver wrapped up the championship in the final round at Dubai Autodrome in April, and the Saudi star is polishing his skills and gaining more valuable experience in Europe this summer. “Of course I saw that he won an FIA GT race in Portugal and that he also competed in the Le Mans 24 hours,” said Sheikh Salman. “The win was a very special achievement for Abdulaziz who is an ambassador for this region. That’s very important for us all here and we thank him for the way he has represented the region.”
“Every time I look at the photographs from last season it reminds me of all the great battles we had. It was a tough championship and I’m just glad I wrapped it up at the end, especially as Abdulaziz was so close and Bandar (Alesayi) and Khaled (Al Qubaisi) had stepped up and were very strong. It showed that the championship is getting more and more competitive.”
Sheikh Salman recently became a father for the first time, naming his new born son Rashid after his father. “I might be losing some sleep at nights but overall I’m very happy,” he said. “A lot of other drivers find a balance between racing and family life so that won‘t be a problem.”
Looking ahead to the 2011-12 season, he hopes to see more young Arab drivers enter the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East. “It has set a new standard here and there is nothing else like it,” he said. “We are very lucky that Porsche brought in an organisation like Lechner Racing and that they invested so much time and money in the series to help the development of motor sport here.”