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NZ GT3: Series Ruapuna Park preview

POINTS AND PRIZE MONEY BONUS WILL MAKE FIRST PORSCHE RACE CRUCIAL THIS WEEKEND When you're chasing a championship every race is important. But for the 15-strong field contesting this weekend's Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge...

POINTS AND PRIZE MONEY BONUS WILL MAKE FIRST PORSCHE RACE CRUCIAL THIS WEEKEND

When you're chasing a championship every race is important. But for the 15-strong field contesting this weekend's Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship round at Christchurch's Powerbuilt Tools Raceway at Ruapuna Park, Saturday's 36 lap/100 km race has even more riding on it.

To add another element to the popular Battery Town-backed Porsche GT3 Cup car-based series this season, The Mad Butcher-sponsored 100km 'mini-enduro' races complete with compulsory pit stop to change at least two tyres have been included in the three-race weekend mix at four of the seven rounds.

Each 100km race carries double points plus a total prize purse of $10,000.

Traditionally the close-fought nature of a one-make series like the Battery Town one has favoured those who qualify well and dictate the pace from the front.

The reverse top-six format of the final on Sunday afternoon has helped mix things up but with five consecutive titles to his name, defending champion Craig Baird has proved that if you can start your weekend well chances are it will end well.

Baird heads into the second 2009/10 series round in Christchurch this weekend with a handsome early lead in the series points standings courtesy of two wins and a third place finish at the opening round of the Battery Town series at Pukekohe earlier this month.

It could have been a very different story, however, had fastest qualifier and early leader Matt Halliday not suffered a puncture late in the first 100km race of the season at that weekend.

Not only had Halliday beaten Baird to the top spot in qualifying that morning, he had also beaten his arch-rival off the line and had a quicker pit stop.

"It was certainly close," says series coordinator Douglas Blair," and though obviously it was a shame for Matt it proved that with double points on offer, that first race can make or break your weekend."

Heading into the second series round in Christchurch this weekend it's hard to look past more of the same sparring from Baird and Halliday, with their respective teammates, Daniel Gaunt (with Baird a member of the Triple X Motorsport squad) and Jonny Reid (with Halliday part of the International Motorsport-run Fisher & Paykel team) joining them at the front of the pack.

Baird led home a Triple X Motorsport trifecta at Pukekohe, sharing the round podium with Gaunt and young Auckland gun Courtney Letica.

It was single-seater star Reid who left one of the biggest impressions, however, setting the third quickest time in qualifying in his debut race in a tin-top before finishing fourth in the first race, fifth in the second then runner-up behind teammate Halliday in a Fisher & Paykel one-two in the final.

Also acquitting himself well in his tin-top debut was 2008/09 Toyota Racing Series champion Mitch Cunningham, the kart-turned car racer qualifying and ending the round seventh.

This weekend's Battery Town series round also sees another innovation, the introduction of the Mothers (High Performance Car Care Products) 996 GT3 Trophy for drivers contesting the 996 championship-within-a-championship.

Set to benefit from the extra support for the category - for drivers of older model 996 GT3 Cup cars - are Aucklander Hugh Gardiner, the defending 996 category champion who was again first 996 driver home at Pukekohe - young guns Simon Evans and Simon McLennan, and Bridgestone Porsche Club of New Zealand Series graduate Colin Caldwell.

Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge competitors get their first chance to check out Powerbuilt Tools Raceway @ Ruapuna Park tomorrow (Friday) when there will be two testing sessions before qualifying on Saturday morning, The Mad Butcher 100km race on Saturday afternoon (start time 5.30pm) and two sprint races (one over 10 laps in the morning, the other with a reverse top six grid start over 14 laps in the afternoon) on Sunday.

There is then a break over the Christmas/New Year period before rounds three (at Invercargill's Teretonga Park) and four (at Timaru's Levels Raceway) over consecutive weekends in mid-January.

-credit: nz gt3

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