New Erebus Motorsport recruit Craig Baird left round two of the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli with an almost perfect record, the dual Carrera Cup champion winning both races, after topping every session with the exception of qualifying, after team-mate Christian Klien narrowly pipped him in the dying stages of the session. It was an almost perfect weekend for Baird who now moves to second in the championship standings, just five points in arrears of reigning title holder Klark Quinn who was classified second for the weekend.
“Bathurst was a bit of a disaster and I thought it was all over [Championship], but I found there was a car available in Melbourne, so we got it across to Adelaide and the boys had a couple of days to prepare it and be ready for Clipsal,” he confirmed. “I didn’t expect to come home first or second, but I had hoped we’d make the podium, so to do that first time at Clipsal, I’m very happy.”
Lago’s result of course was reflected in his finishing position from the opening one hour race, which as a result of a badly timed (for many of the competitors) Safety Car period, much of the field dropped a lap down to the drivers who had pitted during that window; Baird and Lago. The Safety Car intervention also dropped Klark Quinn (VIP Petfoods Porsche GT3-R) to third, and pole-sitter Christian Klien (Erebus Motorsport Merecdes-Benz SLS AMG GT3) back to fifth behind local star Andrew Taplin in the Ferrari 458 Italia GT3.
For the shorter 30-minute ‘sprint’ complete with compulsory pit stop, Baird again made a blinding start from pole, with Lago hanging on in second, but within a handful of corners he had dropped back to fourth behind both Quinn and Klien.
On cold tyres, Baird’s pace during the opening few laps was enough to give him a break over Quinn and his team-mate, and he charged to extend his advantage to Quinn by almost 14 seconds by the time the two of them made their compulsory stop. Thanks to his second row start and ‘Master’ driver seeding, which saw him held 15 seconds shorter than the opening race winner, Quinn emerged a car length in front of Baird after their stop, but couldn’t hold the Mercedes pilot at bay for long, Baird soon back through to the lead.
"Getting out of the pits behind Klark, I knew I had to get around him quickly and as it turned out, there were yellow flags everywhere,” Baird explained afterwards. “From that perspective it was critical that I got past him as early as possible.
"He gave me a lot of racing room - he would have been entitled to be a little more defensive, but to his credit, he wasn't.”
The local Lamborghini pilot, in his six year old Gallardo LP520, was running strongly inside the top six, but he became caught out on the inside of Quinn in the bumpy entry to turn four and unable to stop for the corner, running deep into the tyre barrier. Damage was mostly superficial, but the Supaloc driver was unable to restart the car, officials electing to leave him in position displaying local yellow flags until the end of the race.
Up front though, Baird continued to extend his lead over Quinn as the second Erebus Benz closed in on the points leader, the Austrian former F1 pilot smashing the lap record by half a second in the process (1:20.7152) to close onto Quinn’s tail with half a lap to go.
He had a look into turn nine, as Quinn moved across to protect his line, but as the cars exited the turn, Klien’s pace dropped dramatically, and he crawled to the finish, crossing the line just inches ahead of Lago who had Taplin glued to his tail.
Klien’s momentum though was good enough for him to be classified third, by just half a second, although Lago’s fourth gave him the final place on the podium, the Erebus team revealing afterwards that Klien’s SLS was suffering a fuel-pickup problem.
"We got away at the start and took a couple of laps to get by the cars in front of me,” Klien said afterwards. “Once I got past them I was able to settle in and start chasing down Klark.
"I was able to really go for it and put my foot down. To get the lap record was a pleasing end to the weekend, but the time [delay] early in the race cost me.
"On the very last lap I was heading towards the final turn and we developed a fuel problem. I coasted across the line in the end and got third place, but it was really close - just half a second in the end.”
Quinn was happy to have finished second to Baird for the weekend, and retain his points lead, but admitted that despite his pace, it hadn’t been an easy weekend.
“All last year we were struggling with grip - especially late in the race, and already, it looks like we’re going to have the same struggles moving forward this year. The first 15 minutes or so we’re strong, but after that it starts to drift off and the understeer gets worse.
“I know Porsche are working on it, it’s not just us, so I expect once the European and US Championships kick into gear and there’s more current spec cars running laps, that they’ll be on top of it pretty quickly.”
Fifth for the weekend behind the two Erebus cars, Klark Quinn and Lago, was Andrew Taplin who had run in the top five all weekend. “That’s a pretty good result for my first time in the Ferrari,” he admitted. “I felt very comfortable in the car, it was much like the Lamborghini I drove last year [the Kevin Weeks car], but just a little bit quicker being a much later evolution of car, but to be that close to the two Mercedes and Klark, was just what I’d hoped for. The race with Roger too was good, I just couldn’t get by him in the end.”
After a less than ideal start to his weekend, Tony Quinn crossed the line in sixth in race two, having moved forward from 11th in the crowd pleasing Darrell Lea Aston Martin Vantage GT3, the category owner still looking uncomfortable after his Bathurst accident, but more than happy with the performance of the car. “It would have been nice to get some more laps in during practice and qualifying, but we learnt a lot during the race, and I really like the car, it’s great to drive,” he said. “I expect we’ll be mixing it with the top half a dozen by the time we get to round three, because it has really good pace and it will be nice to get it onto Phillip Island which is a fantastic circuit for these GT cars.”
Seventh from rear of field was series debutante and Clipsal rookie Justin McMillan in his GB Galvanizing Lamborghini Gallardo LP600, the Victorian all smiles post race after a difficult run in race one. “The wheel bearing failure just messed everything up,” he admitted. “I was looking forward to running with Roger, Andrew and Tony, but that was difficult after starting rear of field, but I got my times down and had plenty of opportunity to drive in traffic, so I’m pretty happy with the recovery the team made.”
Eighth, and beaming ear-to-ear were Minda Motorsport’s Dean Koutsoumidis and Andrew McInnes in their 2011 Equity-One Audi R8 LMS, the sole Audi in the field after Rod Salmon’s race one accident saw him withdraw from race two, the two Melbourne-based drivers running strongly inside the top ten, their result moving them into fifth place in the championship. “We’re still not 100% happy with our pace,” McInnes admitted. “We’re still learning about the Pirellis, and we’re still learning about how to get the best out of the car, but to be fifth this early in the season is fantastic, we’re both pretty happy with that.”
Despite his off, Kevin Weeks held enough points for the weekend to claim second in the GT Trophy class, but it was fellow South Australian Jordan Ormsby in the Golf Car Solutions Porsche GT3 Cup S who took the round win, but in the end, it was a matter of laps that decided the winner. “After the mixup on Saturday [Safety Car], which we’re still unsure about, we started off the fourth row, and we were running strongly before I lost all braking at turn nine mid-race,” Ormsby confirmed. “A bleed nipple on the rear brakes had come loose, but I somehow got back to the pits, although I felt the race was over for us and was ready to call it a day when we heard Kevin [Weeks] had gone into the tyres, so we fixed it and got back out there for the Trophy Class win.
“We were pretty happy with our race pace, the car went as quick around there as a Cup S has ever been, even despite it being our first time on Pirellis, so from that aspect we were absolutely rapt.”
In GT Challenge, local Porsche pilots Michael Almond, John Goodacre and Brendon Cook (sharing driving duties with Carrera Cup pilot Matt Kingsley) filled the podium, ahead of 2012 Challenge winners Keith and Kevin Wong (Porsche 996 GT3-R. Fifth was points leader Ben Foessel, who held on to defeat father George, and local Ferrari pilot Brenton Griguol.
“This was my first race at Clipsal, and I absolutely loved it,” Michael Almond beamed during presentations. “To come away with the win, was fantastic and a credit to the whole Copyworld team.”
With four Ginetta G50 GT4s in action, the battle for the round win was always going to be close, and in the end it was Ginetta stalwart Darren Berry, sharing driving duties with Liam Talbot who came through for the win ahead of Tony Martin and round one winner Michael Hovey.
For Mark Griffith, his weekend took a firey turn during race one, when the 3.5-litre Ford V6 in his IVECO supported car exploded on the run into turn one in spectacular fashion. Unfortunately for the new series recruit (who was also involved in the first Safety Car incident during the Bathurst 12-Hour as a result of someone else’s accident), the team were unable to replace the engine before Sunday’s second race, so he was forced to spectate, although he admitted afterwards that spectating wasn’t something he enjoyed..
Apart from Griffith, the only other non-starter from race one was Audi’s Rod Salmon, the former Bathurst winner finishing round two in much the same shape as round one..
“The accident with Bairdo [Craig Baird] in race one was unfortunate,” he admitted afterwards, “I was trying to give him room, and he was charging. On reflection, I should have just kept at it and let him find his own way around. The damage from the turn eight accident was unfortunate, the geometry was slightly out and that put me off line into turn eight, and when that happens there, there’s usually only one result. I thought I was going to make it at one point, but alas, it didn’t happen.
“There is one positive though, all the replacement parts required to fix the damage are the replacement parts for the upgrade to the 2013-spec R8 ultra, so we’ll return at Phillip Island - one of my favourite circuits - with a current spec car..!”
After two rounds in three weeks, teams now enjoy a break before round three of the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli at Phillip Island on May 24-25.
Australian GT Series