ALL CHANGE AT TIMARU AS ROOKIE HARRISON CLAIMS PORSCHE ROUND WIN
It was a case of 'all change' at the latest round of the 2010/11 New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship at the Timaru International Raceway on Sunday, series rookie Scott Harrison from Whangarei claiming the overall win from defending series champion Craig Baird and 996 Cup category fast man Simon McLennan.
The result had little effect on the overall series points standings - which Harrison and Baird's Triple X Motorsport teammate Daniel Gaunt continues to lead with 734 points from International Motorsport's Jonny Reid with 639 and Baird with 616 - but it added a welcome new twist to a series traditionally the preserve of established motorsport stars like Baird, former series sparring partner Matthew Halliday and Jonny Reid.
Heading into the reverse top six grid 16 lap final Baird - who had qualified quickest and won the first two races of the weekend from Gaunt - looked the likely round winner. But the six-time series title-holder only made it as far as the first corner before ending the race in the tyre wall with Triple X Motorsport team boss Shane McKillen.
Fellow team member, Gaunt was initially called into the pits to serve a drive through penalty, then disqualified from the race period, for what officials considered his part in the incident, though the 25-year was adamant afterwards that he was not at fault.
"It's just such a shame for the Triple X team, " he said. "We were all looking forward to a good run in that race, and the way it ended is not the way any of us at Triple X Motorsport wanted it. Bairdo had a good run happening, Shane was looking forward to another good race and I've been in conservation mode to finish the race and bring home some more points. There is no way I would intentionally take out anyone let alone my teammates."
Having already banked two race wins Baird was able to salvage second overall place for the round with the final podium position going to 996 Cup category pace-setter Simon McLennan.
The Timaru round of the annual Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship has traditionally been good to rookie drivers but Harrison was still pinching himself as he waited for the podium ceremony.
"It was definitelty a surprise when they told me I had won the round, " 24-year-old Whangarei builder said after putting the position beyond doubt with runner-up spot to International Motorsport's Jonny Reid in the final.
"I was happy enough to finish second to Jonny after leading him for so long. But to get the round win as well? It's awesome, absolutely awesome."
The other 24-year-old in the race, Simon McLennan was also all smiles, a seventh in the first race and fifth in the second giving him pole for the reverse top six grid final for the second time in as many weeks.
"It's funny," he said afterwards. "That last race was probably the most bizarre, but also one of the best, I've ever been in. To start on pole, lead for three laps and finish third....it's incredible and to be honest I don't even know what to say!"
With the Safety Car deployed as track workers removed the Baird and McKillen cars from the barriers, McLennan led the field in single file for the first three laps before Harrison and Mitch Cunningham shuffled him back to third.
Cunningham only lasted another few hundred metres however before a clash with Harrison punctured a radiator, leaving Harrison with a good lead from Reid, McLennan, Paul Kelly, Gaunt and Mark Maddren.
Harrison and Reid then eased away from McLennan, Reid on the comeback trail after an his own radiator dramas in the second race earlier in the day. Once close to Harrison though, Reid seemed to struggle to find a place to pass, having lost a front splinter when he slid wide and onto the ripple strip on water from Cunningham's burst radiator.
With two laps to go it looked like Harrison was set for his debut race win, but a small mistake - 'I just went a bit wide on Turn 2' - from the young Northland driver was all Reid needed.
"I could stay with him round the back, " said Reid, "but I was losing ground on the straights and through the faster corners. I persevered though and was able to get down in beside Scott through Turn 2 and in front when it counted."
Behind Reid and Harrison, McLennan claimed third from Paul Kelly, Michael Morton and Mark Maddren.
Race 2 (12 laps)
As he had done in the first race of the weekend on Saturday afternoon, Craig Baird led th second Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge race (on Sunday morning) from start to finish, getting the jump over a fast-starting Mitch Cunningham off the line and setting the fastest race lap as he gapped Cunningham, Gaunt, Reid and Scott Harrison.
Cunningham managed to stay in front of Gaunt for several laps before locking his brakes into the first turn allowing Gaunt to launch an attack on second place which started as the pair entered the second turn and was finally completed at the end of the back straight.
Initially Gaunt had Reid to worry about but contact between the two at the hairpin dislodged the radiator support under Reid's car's front bumper, giving Reid no choice but to withdraw from the race before the engine overheated.
Also in the wars was 996 Cup young gun Simon Evans who found himself without second gear as he braked for the first corner and fifth as he accelerated up the back straight.
"After that, " he said, "I just circulated in third and fourth to try and salvage some points."
With Baird unchallenged out front and Gaunt easing away in second Mitch Cunningham crossed the finish line in third place but was classified fourth behind Scott Harrison after being penalised five seconds for jumping the start.
That left Triple X Motorsport Team boss Shane McKillen in fifth, the giant-killing Simon McLennan again first 996 Cup driver home in seventh in front of 997 driver Paul Kelly from Mark Maddren and Simon Evans in the other two 996s, and Michael Morton, the latter still classified a finisher but three laps down after an off-track excursion mid race.
Race 1 (12 laps Saturday)
After fighting back to win the third round of the 2010/11 New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Championship at Invercargill's Teretonga Park Raceway the weekend before, Craig Baird remained the man to beat on the first day of competition at Timaru International Motor Raceway on Saturday afternoon.
In cool, dry conditions the 40-year-old Queensland-based Kiwi pipped teammate and round two pole man Daniel Gaunt and Jonny Reid to top the time sheets in qualifying in the morning before rocketing away from the start to lead the race from start to finish.
Having won the first round of the 2010/11 Porsche GT3 Cup series when Baird had a puncture in one race and a drive-through penalty in another, then claimed a clean sweep over Baird and Reid at the second, Daniel Gaunt didn't have to win the race to retain his healthy series points lead.
But any hopes he had of even taking the fight to his Triple X Motorsport teammate were dashed before the end of the first lap as the International Motorsport team's lead driver Jonny Reid latched onto his car's tail.
Reid, who had been quickest in testing at the track on Friday, was never more than a car length behind Gaunt, though despite plenty of probing failed to find a chunk in the championship points leader's amour.
Fourth after a lonely race was Reid's International Motorsport teammate Mitch Cunningham despite Scott Harrison showing signs of the potential which would eventually win him the round by closing within striking distance with two laps to go.
Behind Harrison came Triple X Motorsport team boss Shane McKillen, then the first two 996 Cup competitors, points leader Simon McLennan and namesake Simon Evans.
Completing the order was Paul Kelly, who spent the race circulating in ninth place after coming off second best in the first lap scrum at the first turn, with Michael Morton tenth and Aucklander Mark Maddren, having his second series run this season, eleventh.
With the three South Island rounds now completed the battle for the 2010/11 New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup championship heads back north for the penultimate round at Feilding's Manfeild circuit in February and the final at the Taupo Motorsport Park in March.
-source: pcc nz/fc