Craig Baird got the defence of his Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship title off to a great start with a win in the first race of the 2009/10 season at Pukekohe Park Raceway this afternoon (Saturday Nov 07).

But that was only half the story of an eventful first day at the 2009/10 season-opening Fujitsu 200 meeting at the high speed Franklin County motor racing circuit.

Earlier, Baird's former series sparring partner Matt Halliday, back home after a successful first stint in the F1-supporting Porsche SuperCup championship in Europe, qualified quickest before getting the better of fellow front row starter Baird off the line in the first of the new season's 36 lap/100km endurance races.

Despite intense pressure from Baird, Halliday remained in front, and after staying out longer than Baird during the compulsory pit stop window retained the advantage over Baird through the middle of the race only to slow dramatically with what turned out to be a puncture with just six laps to go.

That sent him back to the pits for a second time, gifting the race win to Baird from Daniel Gaunt, impressive young gun Courtney Letica and Halliday's teammate in the second Fisher & Paykel-backed Giltrap Group team car, international single-seater ace Jonny Reid.

Fifth was young second-generation racer Ant Pedersen, still not feeling 100% after being laid low by the flu on Friday, sixth reigning Toyota Racing Series champion Mitch Cunningham in his debut race in the Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge category.

Quick pit work to replace his car's left rear tyre saw Matt Halliday back in the race just one lap down in seventh place with series regular Andrew Bagnall eighth and defending 996 category-within-a-category champion Hugh Gardiner the first of the 996 GT3 Cup car drivers home in ninth place.

Action in the race revolved around the leading group which consisted of Halliday, Baird, Gaunt, Letica and Reid, a closely matched Pedersen and Cunningham, then Gardiner's giant-killing antics with the first of the 996s.

Also impressing in a 996 was young gun Simon Evans, son of Porsche racing stalwart Owen Evans. He qualified 12th and finished his first race in the category in 10th place overall and second 996 driver home.

Today's race was the first of three for the Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship this weekend with a 12 lap fastest-to-the-front sprint race on Sunday morning and a 16-lap top six reverse grid race in the afternoon.

-credit: nz gt3