NZ GT3: Pukekohe round one Saturday summary

POLE WINNER COULTHARD TAKES FIRST BATTERY TOWN PORSCHE GT3 CUP CHALLENGE RACE Pole winner Fabian Coulthard (Mitre 10 Mega GT3) won the first Battery Town Porsche GT3 Challenge Cup race of the season after a lights-to-flag victory on the first...


Pole winner Fabian Coulthard (Mitre 10 Mega GT3) won the first Battery Town Porsche GT3 Challenge Cup race of the season after a lights-to-flag victory on the first day of racing at the first round of the 2006/07 Mike Pero Motorsport Series at Pukekohe's Pukekohe Park Raceway today.

With special guest and fellow former Carrera Cup Australia champion Alex Davison (Glenfords Tools GT3) sidelined on Friday by a blown tyre and consequent car damage, Coulthard and 2005/06 Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge protagonists Matt Halliday (Giltrap Prestige/Karcher GT3) and Craig Baird (CCS/Hilite GT3) fought out a fascinating battle for the top spot in qualifying in the morning, but the 10 lap race in the afternoon was all Coulthard's despite a first corner coming together with Halliday.

Coulthard, who won Australia's WPS Carrera Cup Championship in 2005 and finished second to Baird in the Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship last season, got the jump off the line but fellow front row qualifier Halliday matched him gear change for gear change round the first turn only to spear off the track after light contact between the two as they lined up for Turn 2.

Halliday was able to continue but by the time he got back on the track the field was long gone, and the 27-year-old Team A1 New Zealand driver did a good job to work his way back up to eleventh place

Though the left rear tie-rod on his car was bent in the incident with Halliday, Coulthard pushed hard to build a gap on defending Battery Town champion Baird to eventually cross the line just over seven-and-a-half second ahead.

"The plan is always to get out of the gate quick, get a gap and maintain it but bending the rod didn't make it any easier, " said Coulthard.

As it turned out Baird had problems of his own, with what he said felt like some sort of engine or transmission bush problem in qualifying getting progressively worse in the race.

"There's a problem there but we're not sure what it is," said Baird. "We had a few little issues with the car in qualifying and we thought we had fixed them but towards the end of the race I just had to back off, because whatever it was was getting worse."

Third across the line after what in comparison was an uneventful race was Hamilton's Ross Rutherford (Bartercard/Vehicles Direct GT3). The former Tag Heuer Challenge winner only decided to enter the meeting late last week but was on the pace from the first practice session on Friday, and with Coulthard and Baird was one of only three drivers to dip into the 59.00 second lap time bracket in the race.

Fourth, after a fantastic race-long battle with Dean Cockerton (PBT GT3) was young gun Jody Vincent (Koken Tools/Pak n Save GT3), the pair circulating within millimetres of each other with Cockerton just maintaining the advantage until the last lap when Vincent finally managed to find a way past.

"I tried the lap before round the outside at the sweeper, "said Vincent," but there just wasn't the room. So I just had to keep pushing Dean until I could make a move and make it stick."

In his defence, Cockerton was driving the oldest car in the field, one of the original '01/02 cars and had done well to qualify sixth let alone spend the best part of the race in the top third of the field.

Also enjoying a competitive race was series debutant Jono Lester (Blackwoods/Paykels GT3), the 16-year-old third-generation driver from Palmerston North.

Watched by grandparents Rob and Wendy and team manager/father Richard, the latest member of the Lester racing dynasty set the tenth fastest time in qualifying and spent the race in a high-speed battle train with Graeme Cameron (Camco Fence GT3) and Nick Gordon (Zintel GT3).

<pre> Qualifying 1. Fabian Coulthard Auckland 58.440 2. Matt Halliday Auckland 58.605 3. Craig Baird Queensland 59.674 4. Ross Rutherford Hamilton 59.674 5. Nick Gordon Auckland 59.803 6. Dean Cockerton Auckland 59.832 7. Graeme Cameron Auckland 59.954 8. Jody Vincent Auckland 59.980 9. Andrew Bagnall Auckland 1.00.096 10. Jono Lester Palmerston North 1.00.500 11. Paul Kelly Christchurch 1.00.961 12. Connel McLaren Auckland 1.01.037 13. Jonathan King Auckland 1.01.633 14. David Mackrell Auckland 1.01.820 DQ. Rob Steele Auckland 1.00.012

Race 1 1. Fabian Coulthard 9.58.898 2. Craig Baird +7.609 3. Ross Rutherford +9.068 4. Jody Vincent +13.890 5. Dean Cockerton +14.214 6. Andrew Bagnall +20.602 7. Graeme Cameron +21.641 8. Nick Gordon +22.468 9. Jono Lester +22.878 10. Paul Kelly +25.737 11. Matt Halliday +25.767 12. Rob Steele +26.172 13. Connel McLaren +34.356 14. David Mackrell +40.975 15. Jonathan King +58.715

-credit: fast company

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Series General
Drivers Matthew Halliday , Andrew Bagnall , Fabian Coulthard , Craig Baird , Connel McLaren , Paul Kelly , Dean Cockerton , Jono Lester