BAIRD BACK TO HIS BEST AT TIMARU Defending series champion Craig Baird was back to his best at an eventful fourth round of the 2009/10 Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship at the Timaru International Motor Raceway over the ...
BAIRD BACK TO HIS BEST AT TIMARU
Defending series champion Craig Baird was back to his best at an eventful fourth round of the 2009/10 Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship at the Timaru International Motor Raceway over the weekend, qualifying quickest and winning two of the three races to claim round honours from series young gun Courtney Letica and Daniel Gaunt.
Having found himself playing second fiddle to Triple X Motorsport teammate David Reynolds at the second and third rounds of this season's Battery Town series, 39-year-old, 21-time New Zealand champion Baird knew that he was going to have to pull something extra out of the bag at this weekend's round.
And as it turned out that's exactly what he did, turning the tables on both Reynolds and Gaunt in the treacherous track conditions which claimed long-time series rival Matt Halliday in qualifying on Saturday morning before running away with the first race of the weekend later that afternoon.
He then fought back to catch and pass fellow front row starter and early leader Reynolds to win the weekend's second race on Sunday morning before capping off a round winning weekend off with a safe third place in the final reverse top six grid race feature race in the afternoon.
The result is that Baird has further extended the series points lead he established - in Reynold's absence - at the first round of the 2009/10 Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship series at Pukekohe back in November last year, heading to the penultimate round at Feilding's Manfeild motor racing circuit in three week's time with a 145 point margin over Matt Halliday and a 168 point buffer over third placed Daniel Gaunt.
With his win this weekend Baird and Reynolds now have two round wins each but it is Matt Halliday who remains the biggest title threat thanks to the fact that Reynolds remains in catch-up mode after missing the first round.
The Australian shadowed Baird in qualifying and crossed the finish line close behind in the first two races, but lost any chance of a place on the round podium when he was forced out of the all-action reverse top six grid final with a holed radiator.
The big story of that race however was the debut series win by category young gun Courtney Letica.
After strong finishes in the first two races the 21-year-old former kart and MINI Challenge front-runner started the reverse top six grid 16-lap Battery Town final from pole then showed incredible maturity to control the race from the front, withstanding race-long pressure from established series stars Halliday and Baird to claim a popular win and with it the second spot on the round podium.
It was a deeply impressive performance and one the young Auckland driver was justifiably proud of.
"It was just an amazing race and to have kept both Matty and Bairdo, who were no doubt quicker than me in places, behind me was fantastic. But, you know, it was there and we took it and for that I really have to thank my engineer. He was on the radio the whole time just telling me to keep my head, to calm down and relax, and to be honest I can't imagine what I would have done without those words in my head. With them we just kept our lines, didn't make any mistakes and got the result."
Behind the fast-starting Letica, Halliday and Baird in that race came Halliday's International Motorsport teammate Jonny Reid, Daniel Gaunt and David Reynolds.
Initially it looked like either Halliday or Baird would eventually find a chink in Letica's armour but as the race developed, and both tried repeated probes, Letica remained resolute. In fact Reynolds was the only casualty, being spat out of what in effect was a six-car freight train after contact while he disputed fourth place with Reid.
Reid set the fastest race lap in the heat of the battle but like teammate Halliday could not find a way past the car in front.
A little further back, reigning Toyota Racing Series champion Mitch Cunningham, in his first year in the Battery Town category, enjoyed a final flourish to the weekend, getting the better of a fast-starting Paul Kelly to cross the finish line in sixth place with Triple X Motorsport team boss Shane McKillen eighth and Hugh Gardiner capping off another swash-buckling weekend as the pace-setter in the Mothers 996 Cup category (for older model 996 GT3 Cup Cars) in ninth place.
Because he failed to finish the double points The Mad Butcher 100km min-enduro race at the second round of the 2009/10 Battery Town series in Christchurch before Christmas, Gardiner still trails series newcomer Simon McLennan in the overall points standings but with another category round victory he has closed the gap to just 14 points.
Another former kart champion and more recently a front-runner in the Formula Ford class, Gardiner was clearly reveling in the slippery track conditions qualifying a series best sixth overall and claiming two eighths and a tenth in the races to finish the weekend ninth overall.
"Look, our cars are six years old so we're never going to be as good but certainly under wet conditions," he said, "we can close the gap with the 997s. Obviously their horsepower plays a big part but in these conditions our anti-lock braking system helps us close the gap a little bit, so, as you can imagine, I was praying for rain."
Race 2 (12 laps Sunday morning)
Sunday's top six reverse grid feature was definitely one of the best the large crowd got to see over the weekend. But if any of the others ran it close it was the second Battery Town series sprint race on Sunday morning.
This time it was David Reynolds who got the best start, with fast Saturday race starter Baird tucking in behind after getting a little too much wheelspin on the slipperier pole side of the track.
The order remained Reynolds, Baird, Daniel Gaunt, Jonny Reid then Matt Halliday for the first three laps with Reynolds and Baird edging away from their Triple X teammate Gaunt and Reid doing the same from Halliday.
By the fourth lap, however, Baird was on Reynold's bumper, his probing eventually producing a gap on the exit on Turn 2 and a successful pass at the end of the back straight.
Once past, Baird pulled away, his margin over Reynolds at the finish line 3.064 seconds.
Reynolds remained within striking distance, his own margin on race one pace-maker Daniel Gaunt an impressive 10.533 seconds, but there was no doubting Baird's mastery of the conditions and his car.
Behind Baird, Reynolds and Gaunt, Jonny Reid and Matt Halliday ran lonely races, a half a second separating the pair at the flag.
Impressing early on was Christchurch driver Paul Kelly who started the race from the fourth row of the grid but managed to tuck in behind Matt Halliday to claim fifth place in front of Letica and Cunningham.
Letica forced his way back past before the end of the first lap and set off after Halliday but Kelly drove a fast and intelligent race to retain seventh place to the flag.
Cunningham remained within striking distance early on only to leave the track in the slippery conditions and lose his car's front splitter. Though he was able to continue he slowly slipped back down through the field, eventually crossing the line in 11th place.
Meanwhile starting as he meant to go on, Mothers 996 Cup category pace-setter Hugh Gardiner had a strong first weekend outing, as did category series points leader Simon McLennan, the pair eventually crossing the finish line eighth and ninth respectively.
At one stage Gardiner was glued to the tail of Paul Kelly's 997 Cup Car but as the track dried Kelly's advantage eased out to just over three-and-a-half seconds at the flag.
McLennan was another 6.8 seconds behind Gardiner with Andrew Bagnall 10th, Cunningham eleventh, Shane McKillen 12th and Simon Evans third Mothers 996 Cup category finisher home in 13th.
Race 1 (12 laps Saturday afternoon)
To the first race of the weekend and after mastering the cool, damp conditions on a slick and treacherous track on Saturday morning Baird beat Reynolds and Gaunt to claim pole position.
With pole on the outside (shaded) side of the track few drivers see it as any advantage at the Timaru circuit but that didn't stop Baird outdragging Reynolds off the line and go on to claim his first race win for 2010.
Reynolds was lucky to hold on to second place after bogging his GT3 Cup car off the start, Daniel Gaunt shadowing his every move though ultimately unable to find a way past.
Finally, after a strong showing at the third Battery Town series round at Invercargill's Teretonga Park the weekend before, big things were expected of long-time Baird and Reynolds rival Matt Halliday at Timaru.
Any chance the US-based international had of repeating his round one form - pole and a race win - were severely compromised before the racing even started however when Halliday aquaplaned off the circuit early in the qualifying session.
Damage to his car was substantial though his International Motorsport crew members were able to repair it and see Halliday work his way through the field from the back row of the grid to finish sixth in the race.
Further back in the field, having split Letica and Cunningham in qualifying, Hugh Gardiner showed the potential of a well-driven 996 model Cup Car, starting the race from the third row of the grid after a round best qualifying effort saw him set the sixth quickest qualifying time.
With the drier conditions in the afternoon's race the advantage reverted to the more powerful and better braked 997 models, however, Gardiner eventually shuffled back to a still very credible 10th place by Cunningham, Christchurch car dealer Paul Kelly (making a return to the Battery Town category after missing the Teretonga round) and Shane McKillen.
Behind them, the series' two Simons, Simon McLennan and Simon Evans, engaged in an entertaining scrap for second spot on the Mothers 996 Cup podium, the nod eventually going to Wellingtonian McLennan though Aucklander Evans set a slightly quicker best lap time.
Having now completed it's annual South Island 'tour' the battle for 2009/10 Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship honours now returns to the North Island for the penultimate points round at Feilding's Manfeild circuit over the February 13-14 weekend and the final at the Taupo Motorsport Park on March 20 and 21.
-source: fast company