Craig Baird kept his winning run intact on the first day of competition at the penultimate round of the 2004/05 Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup series at the Taupo Motor Racing circuit this afternoon though Tag Heuer Carrera Challenge pace-setter Ross Rutherford crossed the finishing line just 0.126 of a second behind.

Rutherford who won races in Baird and Halliday's absence at the Timaru round of the Battery Town series in early January, was again able to take advantage of contact between the arch series rivals, though this time only Halliday was seriously affected.

The young Auckland-based international pipped Queensland-based expat Baird for the top spot in the qualifying session this morning, but Baird got the better start and led the field into the first turn.

Determined to get back in front, Halliday dived down the inside of Baird at the hairpin, but the two touched and the impact damaged the right hand front wheel of Halliday's car.

The 25-year-old limped round for another lap then pitted to replace the damaged wheel and punctured tyre.

The impact slowed Baird, and Rutherford, who had beaten Dean Cockerton and Dean Fulford off the grid, attacked.

Baird saw it coming however, and - after taking a couple of laps to take stock - stayed in front, despite Rutherford rarely being more than a car-length or two behind.

"Ross did have a bit of a look, and I gave him some room, but you know, after fairly heavy contact like that you don't want to push it too hard, especially round a place like this, so it took a few laps just to get a pace going again and after that it was a good clean race," Baird said.

For Rutherford the incident between Baird and Halliday was another chance to claim the top spot on the podium, though in the end he had to defer to multi-time New Zealand single-seater and touring car champ Baird.

"I did get close enough to get up the inside of Craig at the hairpin, but I got on the throttle too early and he was able to drive round the outside and take the line the the next right hander, " Rutherford said. "I definitely had the measure on him under brakes and into Turn 1 but I made one more mistake. I was able to get back up to him again as my tyres started to come on but I didn't get quite close enough to try getting past him again."

Behind Baird and Rutherford, there was a three-way battle for third place led by Cockerton and involving Dean Fulford and Rhys McKay.

Grant Dalton and Paul Kelly also spent most of the 14 laps in battle with yachtie Dalton finally getting the better of Christchurch driver Kelly towards the end of the race.

Rutherford was again the big winner in the Tag Heuer Carrera Challenge section for drivers 35-years-of-age and over, leading home Cockerton, Fulford and Christchurch driver Angus McFarlane.

There are two more Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup series races on the card tomorrow, a second 14 lap race in the morning and a 22 lap final on Sunday afternoon.

<pre> 2004/05 Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Series Round 7 Taupo Motor Racing Circuit Taupo New Zealand March 12/13 2005

Qualifying 1. Matt Halliday Auckland 38.438 2. Craig Baird Aust 38.440 3. Ross Rutherford Hamilton 38.749 4. Dean Cockerton Auckland 39.004 5. Angus McFarlane Christchurch 39.173 6. Dean Fulford Auckland 39.208 7. Rhys McKay Auckland 39.213 8. Paul Kelly Christchurch 39.544 9. Grant Dalton Auckland 39.962 10. Michael Morton Auckland 41.773

Race 1 -- 14 laps 1. Baird 9.15.932 2. Rutherford +0.126 3. Cockerton +5.257 4. Fulford +6.121 5. McKay +12.320 6. McFarlane +13.494 7. Dalton +25.409 8. Kelly +32.904 9. Halliday +1 lap 10. Morton +1 lap

-fast company-