ANOTHER PERFECT BATTERY TOWN PORSCHE GT3 CUP WEEKEND FOR BAIRD
Queensland-based expat Craig Baird enjoyed another perfect Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup score at the sixth round of the 2004/05 series at Feilding's Manfeild Autocourse this weekend.
The 34-year-old Hamilton-born professional, who now lives and races in Australia, qualified fastest, won all three class races and twice lowered the lap record, first in the 10 lap race in hot, sunny conditions on Saturday afternoon, then again in slightly cooler conditions in the second race of the weekend of Sunday morning.
If there was a better way to limber up for what looks set to be his best year on the Australian V8 Supercar circuit to date, driving for the top WPS Ford team, Baird was happy admitting he didn't know of it.
"Yes it is a good way to get race fit for the V8s," he said after the podium ceremony at the Manawatu track. "As I've said all the way through this series it is just nice to keep the race miles going through the off season. While everyone else has been at the beach I've been working between the New Zealand series and Daytona."
Baird, arch Battery Town series rival Matt Halliday, and Tag Heuer Carrera Challenge points leader Ross Rutherford all lapped under the '04 season lap record set by Halliday at the January 31 meeting last year, but only Baird and Halliday went under it in Saturday's race, Baird setting a best lap of 1.09.679 on his way to his first lights-to-flag victory over Halliday.
For his part 24-year-old Auckland international Halliday, just back after a successful Champ Car test in the United States, was only 0.217 of a second slower than Baird in the qualifying session and just 0.469 behind the former New Zealand Grand Prix and 2 Litre Touring Car class champion in Saturday's race.
But it was Baird who got another textbook start in the second Battery Town race of the weekend on Sunday morning, though Halliday closed to within millimetres on the second lap.
This was obviously just the spur Baird needed because on the fourth lap he smashed his own freshly minted lap record, leaving it at an impressive 1.09.282.
On the same lap Halliday did a a 1.09.441 but Baird was not to be denied and ended up crossing the line 0.316 of a second in front.
Then, to top off his weekend Baird won the final 16 lap Battery Town race by just over a second from Halliday, Tag Heuer Carrera Challenge pace-setter Ross Rutherford and Australian visitor Klark Quinn.
Rutherford was the only driver to get close to Baird and Halliday in qualifying, but the Hamilton 37-year-old got a bad start in the first race then pulled out on the second lap after puncturing a radiator when he and Auckland driver Rhys McKay tangled at the Dunlop sweeper.
That meant Rutherford had to start the second race of the weekend on Sunday morning from the back of the grid and though he stormed through the field in purposeful fashion to eventual finish an impressive third, then started and finished the final race in the same position, the dnf in the first race meant that Klark Quinn ended up third overall for the weekend behind Baird and Halliday.
Quinn, the 23-year-old from Australia's Gold Coast, who made his Carrera Cup debut across the Tasman two years ago, was drafted in at the last minute to fill in for class newcomer Grant Dalton who had Americas' Cup commitments and after setting the seventh fastest lap time in qualifying carded a 5-6-4 run through the races and was pleasantly surprised when he found out that he had claimed the third step on the weekend podium.
"This is great," he said, "I certainly didn't expect to finish up third for the round. It's been a fantastic weekend overall, the people over here are great and, you know, practice makes perfect and the more laps under your belt the better and that's what we came over here to do."
Like Baird, Quinn heads back to Australia this week to prepare for the 2005 season, in which he will again drive a Porsche GT3 Cup car in VIP Pet Food colours in the Carrera Cup championship.
Despite his dnf in the first race Ross Rutherford retained his commanding lead in the Tag Heuer Carrera Cup (for drivers 35 years of age and over) leaving the track with 1201 points, 216 more than Aucklander Dean Fulford and 345 more than Christchurch driver Rick Armstrong.
Aucklander Graeme Cameron remains fourth despite being forced out of the last race after a collision just after the start/finish line which brought the red flags out.
Christchurch Battery Town series newcomer Paul Kelly had one of his most competitive weekends to date in his '02-spec car to finish in front of many of the later model cars.
Also impressing was Aucklander Dean Cockerton, who qualified fourth fastest and finished the first race third and the second race fifth.
There is now a break of three weeks before the penultimate round of the 2003/05 Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup series at the Taupo Motor Racing Circuit over the March 12/13 weekend.
In-between several Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup series drivers will compete in the Porsche GT3 Cup races at the Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne over the March 5/6 weekend.
<pre> 2004/05 Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Series Rnd 6 Manfeild Autocourse Feilding Sat/Sun Feb 19/20
Race 2 1. Baird 2. Halliday +0.316 3. Rutherford +14.586 4. Fulford +16.419 5. Cockerton +17.267 6. Quinn +18.421 7. Kelly +23.698 8. Cameron +23.910 9. Bagnall +24.345 10. Morton +30.001 11. Rhys McKay +57.682 12. Michael Morton +1.00.971
Race 3. 1. Baird 2. Halliday +1.051 3. Rutherford +16.250 4. Quinn +18.137 5. McKay +22.404 6. Bagnall +24.690 7. Kelly +32.005 8. McFarlane +32.283 9. Morton DNF Cameron DNS Fulford
(Individuals' points standings after Rnd 6 of 8) 1. Craig Baird Aust 1152 2. Matt Halliday NZ 991 3. Ross Rutherford NZ 970 4. Dean Fulford NZ 804 5. Rick Armstrong NZ 660 6. Paul Kelly NZ 630 7. Graeme Cameron NZ 538 8. Angus McFarlane NZ 512 9. Dean Cockerton NZ 478 10. Andrew Bagnall NZ 459 11.Darryl O'Young HK 454 12. Mike Morton NZ 430 13. Mike Weeks NZ 423 14. Scott O'Donnell NZ 387 15. Bryce Washington Aust 380 16. Grant Dalton NZ 300 17. Rhys McKay NZ 265 18. Shane McKillen NZ 260 19. Klark Quinn Aust 148 20. Jonathan Webb Aust 88 21. Jamie Peters NZ 61
Tag Heuer Carrera Challenge (for drivers 35 and over) 1. Ross Rutherford 1201 2. Dean Fulford 985 3. Rick Armstrong 856 4. Graeme Cameron 740 5. Angus McFarlane 703 6. Mike Morton 663 7. Dean Cockerton 622 8. Andrew Bagnall 601 9. Mike Weeks 534 10. Scott O'Donnell 520 11. Grant Dalton 423 12. Shane McKillen 355
Next Race: Rnd 7 Mar 12-13 Taupo Motor Racing Circuit Taupo