NZ GT3: Series Manfeild preview

MANFEILD ROUND CRITICAL FOR REYNOLDS Defending Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champion Craig Baird has a formidable title foe in young Aussie gun David Reynolds. And this weekend's round of the 2008/09 Porsche GT3 Cup series...

MANFEILD ROUND CRITICAL FOR REYNOLDS

Defending Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champion Craig Baird has a formidable title foe in young Aussie gun David Reynolds.

And this weekend's round of the 2008/09 Porsche GT3 Cup series at Manfeild could well be the crucial one for the 23-year-old from Melbourne.

A former Australian Formula Ford and Carrera Cup Australia champion, Reynolds has truly taken the battle to Triple X teammate Baird this season.

However a dnf in the final race at Pukekohe at the start of the season means he remains in catchup mode, Baird's consistency as impressive as his outright speed.

Heading into this weekend's penultimate Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge points round Baird -- who has won six of the 12 races held so far -- has 845 points, 68 more than Reynolds (777), who has won five of the other six races.

With 75 points for a race win, 67 for second and 60 for third, the next six races - three at Manfeild this weekend and three at the national championship final at Pukekohe in a fortnight's time - are going to be crucial for both drivers.

For Baird finishing races is going to be as important as winning them. And for Reynolds finishing them in front of Baird is going to be the key.

Both drivers are also going to have to factor in local series young guns Jono Lester and Daniel Gaunt, 18-year-old third-generation racer Lester again a race winner this season (in the third race at the first round), and Gaunt on the podium at all four Battery Town rounds held so far.

With former series front-runner (and Baird nemesis) Matt Halliday, Lester shared the winning car in both 50 minute mini enduro races at the non-championship round of the Battery Town series at the A1GP round at Taupo last month and has proven to be the best of the series' new-wave of fast, talented teens.

You can never discount perennial hard charger Jody Vincent either, the Pukekohe racer another to shine at the A1GP meeting where he led the early stages of the second mini-enduro confidently, withstanding huge pressure from series guest driver Shane van Gisbergen.

Vincent heads to Manfeild sixth in the series points standings, his 485 points placing him neatly between Reynolds' compatriot and Triple X teammate Rodney Forbes - having another strong season in fifth place - and former NZV8 driver Darryn Henderson in seventh.

Dark horse for an upset at Manfeild, however, will be young Mark Russ, fresh from a learning season in a 996 GT3 last year and now running the Giltrap Group team car.

Russ has been gaining in confidence and speed all season and was a match for high-profile teammate Shane van Gisbergen at the A1GP meeting.

This weekend, surely, will mark a turning point for Ant Pedersen too. The Palmerston North-based son of NZV8 driver Paul Pedersen, he has shown flashes of speed but has struggled to turn it into the podiums everyone involved in the Battery Town series knows he is capable of.

The Manfeild round will also see the resumption of a battle for the honours in the 996 GT3 Cup Car class-within-a-class between experienced Battery Town series racer Rob Steele and former kart and Formula Ford front runner Hugh Gardiner.

The Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Car Challenge championship cars will be on the track on Saturday morning to qualify, Saturday afternoon for the first of two sprint races, and Sunday for a second sprint race in the morning and a longer top six reverse grid feature race in the afternoon.

-credit: nz gt3

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Series Road racing
Drivers Craig Baird , Rodney Forbes , Daniel Gaunt , Shane van Gisbergen , David Reynolds , Ant Pedersen , Matt Halliday , Jono Lester