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NZ: Series Manfeild preview

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PORSCHE DRIVERS WELL PRACTICED AHEAD OF MANFEILD MEETING THIS WEEKEND

They say that practice makes perfect and if that indeed is the case then the drivers to watch at the penultimate round of this season's New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge at Manfeild this weekend will be Craig Baird and Simon McLennan.

Both contested last weekend's Armour All Bathurst 12 Hour race across the Tasman, Baird and father-and-son teammates Tony and Klark Quinn finishing third behind the wheel of a new Porsche GT3 R, McLennan and his teammates, fellow Kiwi Scott O'Donnell and Australian Miro Kinopka, bringing their Motorsport Services-run 996 GT3 home seventh overall and second in class.

Baird, McLennan and former New Zealand GT3 Cup Challenge championship entrant Scott O'Donnell weren't the only series regulars to do well at Australia's biggest and most prestigious long distance event either.

Wanaka's Allan Dippie, who contested two GT3 Cup Challenge rounds last year, and Auckland's Mark Maddren, who has contested two rounds of this season's series, finished ninth in the second MotorSport Services-run 996 they shared with Stephen Thompson.

This weekend's round of the the 2010/11 New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup championship at the New Zealand Grand Prix-hosting CRC 200 meeting at Manfeild is very much a make or break one for Baird, the 40-year-old Queensland-based expat third in the series points standings, just 23 points behind second placed Jonny Reid but 118 behind points leader Daniel Gaunt.

Gaunt won the first two rounds of this season's series and finished second to Baird at the third, but at the fourth - in Timaru last month - he, Baird and their Triple X Motorsport team boss Shane McKillen tangled in the final reverse top six grid race, gifting the round win to junior teammate Scott Harrison with Baird second and runaway 996 Cup category leader Simon McLennan third.

Heading into the meeting both drivers are focused on the job at hand, Gaunt on preserving his lead, Baird on reducing it as best he can.

"There are six races left so that's 450 points I need to get a share of before the title really comes into focus," Gaunt said before heading south to Feilding. "Until then it is a matter of finishing the best I can in every race."

And Baird?

"I think we've proven during the season that when the luck isn't against us we're the fastest car out there so for Manfeild I'll be putting my head down and not worrying about the points so much, just get some more race wins and see what shakes out at the end."

International Motorsport's two 997 drivers, Jonny Reid and Mitch Cunningham, are still very much in the picture as well, Reid having retained second place in the series points standings since the first round, and Cunningham currently fifth.

Both have come close to winning races as well and Reid claimed both his first series and first round win at Manfeild last year.

"Everything definitely clicked that weekend, "the former A1GP race winner and title protagonist said of the meeting where he claimed the top spot on the podium from Australian driver David Reynolds and Craig Baird.

And though much of the focus this year has been on defending series champion Craig Baird and whether or not he can drive his way back into title contention, with only 95 points between first and second at the moment it is Reid who remains Gaunt's greatest threat.

Not that he is letting the fact weigh too heavily on his mind.

"Not at all, " Reid said this morning." In fact I'm very relaxed about Manfeild. My goal going into every round this season has been to win and it is no different this weekend. I know it's a big ask, particularly against guys like Daniel and Craig, but I've got the pace and I've got a good car so again it will be all about putting it all together on the day."

This year's event has attracted an 11-strong field and sees the return of Auckland driver Hugh Gardiner who did not contest the two South Island rounds in January.

In the 996 Cup points Simon McLennan has a handsome lead in the points standings. Fellow young gun Simon Evans is every bit as quick, however, and heads to Manfeild keen to at least reduce the gap to Wellingtonian McLennan.

This weekend's New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship schedule again sees testing on Friday followed by qualifying and a 12-lap sprint race on Saturday before a second 12-lap sprint race on Sunday morning and a reverse top six 16-lap final on Sunday afternoon.

There is then a break of a month until the final round of this year's championship at the Taupo Motorsport Park over the March 12-13 weekend.

-source: pcc nz

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