TIME FOR ANOTHER EPISODE OF 'THE CRAIG AND MATT SHOW' AT MANFEILD
This season's Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Series has provided some of the closest and most exciting racing of the Mike Pero Mortgages Motorsport summer motor racing series but as far as the front of the field is concerned the story has been all about Craig Baird and Matt Halliday.
This weekend Queensland-based expat Baird and Auckland-based international Halliday resume their ding-dong battle for overall series honours at the sixth round of the Mike Pero Mortgages Motorsport series at Feilding's Manfeild Autocourse with Baird holding a distinct points advantage.
The 34-year-old Hamilton-born professional, who this season steps up to a top-tier V8 Supercar drive with the WPS team, has had a vintage Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup series season capped off by a clean-sweep at the most recent round at Christchurch's Powerbuilt Raceway at Ruapuna Park.
There he qualified quickest and won all three races, the first from Tag Heuer Carrera Challenge pace-setter Ross Rutherford, the second from visiting Hong-Kong-based Canadian Chinese driver Darryl O'Young and the third from Halliday.
Halliday, 24, had a meeting to forget after being forced out of Saturday afternoon's 30 minute endurance race by a minor electrical problem then called into the pits to serve a drive through penalty after starting off the back row of the grid in the second race.
The young Auckland driver, who has just returned to New Zealand after a successful Champ Car test in the United States, ended up right behind Baird in the final race - after starting from P10 on the grid - but points-wise the damage had been done.
That he can qualify and race with Baird is unquestioned - Halliday claimed pole position at Timaru and won the endurance race at Teretonga in impressive fashion, but Baird is a formidable foe and this weekend will be the telling one.
Behind Baird and Halliday - but splitting the pair as far as the overall points are concerned is Hamilton driver Ross Rutherford. He has had an excellent season, claiming two wins out of three, after Baird and Halliday tangled, at the Timaru round of the series in early January and regularly being the best of the rest of the field at Timaru, Invercargill and Christchurch.
Rutherford heads to Manfeild with 850 points, 77 less than Baird but 70 more than Halliday. He also has a commanding lead (195 points) over fellow car dealer Rick Armstrong in the Tag Heuer Carrera Challenge for drivers 35 years of age and over.
Armstrong and Rutherford have rarely been far apart since the start of the season and latterly they have been joined by class newcomer Dean Fulford.
Fulford, who stepped up to the Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup class after a stellar career driving fire-breathing turbocharged Porsche 911s in the SuperGT class, has proved a quick learner and will arrive at Manfeild fourth in the overall points standings behind Baird, Rutherford and Halliday and third in the Tag Heuer Carrera Cup pecking order behind Rutherford and Armstrong.
Though young Australian drivers Bryce Washington and Jonathan Webb have both returned home after completing the Porsche Trans-Tasman GT3 Cup section of the series (which took in the four South Island rounds of the 04/05 series) a late entry this weekend is Queenslander Klark Quinn.
Quinn, who with father Tony races GT3 Cup cars under the VIP Petfoods banner across the Tasman, has been drafted in to drive yachty Grant Dalton's car.
Dalton, head of the Emirates Team New Zealand Americas' Cup campaign has commitments 'on the water' this weekend and Quinn - who was originally slated to do the whole Battery Town series - answered the call this week to compete at Manfeild.
Joining the Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup series on the bill at this weekend's Mike Pero Mortgages Motorsport series meeting at the 3.03 km Manfeild Autocourse is the Parker ENZED New Zealand V8 Touring Car Championship, the new Toyota Racing Series, the New Zealand Formula Ford Championship, Bridgestone Porsche Championship and the Kumho Tyres Pre 65s series.
Qualifying gets underway at 10 am on Saturday morning with racing due to start at 1.30 pm. There will be one Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup series race on Saturday and two on Sunday.