BAIRD BEATS MANFEILD'S 'BIG WET' FOR ANOTHER PORSCHE GT3 CUP ROUND WIN Defending champion and 2008/09 championship points leader Craig Baird beat the weekend's 'big wet' to win the latest round of the 2008/09 Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup...
BAIRD BEATS MANFEILD'S 'BIG WET' FOR ANOTHER PORSCHE GT3 CUP ROUND WIN
Defending champion and 2008/09 championship points leader Craig Baird beat the weekend's 'big wet' to win the latest round of the 2008/09 Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship at Feilding's Manfeild motor racing circuit on Sunday.
Though Triple X teammate David Reynolds again pipped him for pole position in qualifying on Saturday morning, 38-year-old Queensland-based expat Baird ended up claiming three wins from three starts - despite what at times were atrocious weather and track conditions.
In the first race - which he started from the second row of the grid after having a front row time disallowed because it was set late in the session when there was a yellow flag out - Baird was quickly up to second behind a fast-starting Daniel Gaunt when pole-man David Reynolds was slow away.
Then after dispatching Gaunt with a daring side-by-side move through the Dunlop sweeper and down the start-finish straight he settled into a lead he was not to lose on lap three.
Reynolds tried - very hard - to make up for a less than perfect start, catching then swapping places with a hard-charging Ant Pedersen before eventually getting past and setting off after Gaunt then Baird.
But the closer he got to the race leader the harder it rained to the point where both drivers were relieved when the chequered flag eventually came out.
Last season's series runner-up and Rookie of The Year, Daniel Gaunt, looked strong early on only to be slowed and eventually stopped by a puncture.
That gave Pedersen third place from Jody Vincent and a closely following Jono Lester and Mark Russ, however Pedersen was called into the pits for a stop-go penalty and ended up eighth, gifting Vincent the final step on the podium with Lester fourth, Mark Russ fifth and Rodney Forbes sixth.
With the skies clearing and the sun coming out the second race of the weekend on Sunday morning turned into another Baird/Reynolds battle but this time Baird led from start to finish from pole.
Vincent was again third after getting the better of fellow second row starter Jono Lester on the first lap with Ant Pedersen fourth and Gaunt fifth.
Rodney Forbes held fourth early on before being hunted down by Pedersen, Gaunt and Lester.
Then, heading into the reverse top six grid final race early on Sunday afternoon the GT3 Cup cars lined up on the dummy grid on slicks under a dull grey sky. But as they sat there the clouds thickened and drizzle started falling.
That brought the crews out with wet tyres though as the cars went out on their warm up lap there was little sign of the heavy rain which would lash the circuit less than 15 minutes later.
That meant most of the drivers elected to leave their cars on slick tyres - or at least they did until the drizzle morphed into light rain, prompting pole man Jono Lester and fellow front row starter Jody Vincent to relinquish their positions on the grid and instead start the race from pit lane on hastily fitted wet weather tyres.
As they worked their way back up through the field second row starters Daniel Gaunt and Ant Pedersen led the pack away with David Reynolds and Craig Baird third and fourth respectively.
Reynolds was quickly past Pedersen however with Gaunt third and Baird fourth. Gaunt then got past Pedersen for second before being called into the pits to serve a drive through penalty.
That left Reynolds in the lead from Baird and Pedersen and - on the road at least - one of the other drivers who had elected to change tyres in the pits - Mark Russ. By this stage, however, the heavens had well and truly opened and the meeting officials decided to put out the red flag and halt the race at that point.
Though that decision was later questioned by drivers and teams alike, the result as at lap 8 stood with Baird credited with his third win from as many starts from Reynolds, Pedersen, Forbes, Gaunt and Courtney Letica.
Points-wise the result could hardly have been better for Baird who heads to the final round of this season's Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship at Pukekohe in a fortnight's time with 1070 points, 99 more than Reynolds who retains second place and 314 more than third placed Daniel Gaunt.
Despite the weather the penultimate round was also a good one for young gun Ant Pedersen.
As the 20-year-old second-generation driver (son of former New Zealand TraNZam and NZV8s championship winner Paul Pedersen) said afterwards.
"Pace-wise we've always been there this year but luck just hasn't been on our side. We didn't quite get off scot-free this weekend but at least we were able to show that we can qualify and run competitively at the pointy end of the field."
Fellow International Motorsport runner Jody Vincent was also upbeat despite the decision by the officials to shorten the race effectively nullifying any advantage he might have gained by pitting early to change from slick to wet weather tyres.
"Overall, yes, it's been a good weekend. The conditions were testing being wet and dry and everything in between, but to be honest, I relished them. Every time I go out I get more comfortable with the car, wet or dry, and I think I showed that this weekend. Craig and David are good, there's no disputing that, but we're now at the point where they're not pulling away from guys like myself and Ant like they might have before."
Happy just to be on the grid, meanwhile, was Hugh Gardiner, the former Formula Ford front runner back behind the wheel after a major off at the Teretonga round in January.
With less than a month between the fourth and fifth rounds of the series Gardiner decided to buy a second 996 rather than try to rush the repair of the car he damaged at Teretonga. Not a decision to be made lightly but one he felt was the best in the circumstances.
"It was a big hit and one, I have to say, which wasn't helped by the proximity of the earth-filled tyres to the circuit. Once the dust had settled though we looked at the car and though we decided it was relatively easily fixed we were running short of time and it just so happened that another one - Connel McLaren's - was available. I'll tell you what, I'm glad now we did too because I know from going to Taupo for the A1 meeting racing drivers don't like watching races!"
The battle for 2008/09 Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship honours now heads to Pukekohe's Pukekohe Park Raceway where the final round will be contested over the March 14-15 weekend.
-credit: nz gt3