PORSCHE GT3 CUP CHALLENGE SERIES CONTINUES TO ATTRACT THE COUNTRY'S TOP DRIVERS New Zealand's best drivers return to Pukekohe Park Raceway this weekend to contest the opening round of the 2010/11 New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge ...
PORSCHE GT3 CUP CHALLENGE SERIES CONTINUES TO ATTRACT THE COUNTRY'S TOP DRIVERS
New Zealand's best drivers return to Pukekohe Park Raceway this weekend to contest the opening round of the 2010/11 New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship.
In the seven years since the local GT3 Cup Challenge championship has been contested it has consistently attracted the cream of the country's driving talent - from inaugural series winner Jim Richards to current series standard-setter Craig Baird and fellow internationals Matt Halliday, Jonny Reid, Fabian Coulthard, and David Reynolds.
It has also proved a fertile breeding ground for promising young drivers, providing an internationally recognised benchmark for the likes of Daniel Gaunt, Jono Lester, Ant Pederson and now Mitch Cunningham.
Record six-time defending champion Craig Baird again heads the entry list this season, the now 40-year-old Queensland-based Kiwi fresh from a stellar season contesting the Carrera Cup Asia championship.
Baird came under intense pressure last season from fellow former Carrera Cup Australia champion David Reynolds and long-time series rival Matt Halliday but still came through to claim title number six from series freshman Jonny Reid.
Formerly the face of New Zealand's A1GP World Cup of Motorsport effort, Reid, 27, had a stunning debut season (his first in a 'tin-top' after years racing single-seaters around the world) and in the absence of Reynolds and Halliday will be the driver to take the battle to Baird this season.
Now that he has driven a GT3 Cup Car as well as A1GP, Formula 3000 and Formula 3 single-seaters, Reid is ideally placed to explain why the Porsche category is so popular with drivers of his calibre. And he is happy to do so.
"They're phenomenal," he says. "Easily the closest a GT car can get to a single-seater. There isn't as much to adjust, obviously, and they don't have the ultimate aero grip of a single-seater racing car, but as a package they are spot on meaning the difference between them is down to the driver."
This season, as last, the New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship will be contested over six rounds, kicking off at Pukekohe Park Raceway this weekend before heading south to Christchurch before Christmas, to Invercargill and Timaru in January, Feilding in February and the final at the Taupo Motorsport Park in March.
Craig Baird again heads the Triple X Motorsport team's challenge with he and team owner Shane McKillen joined by Suzuki Swift Cup graduate Scott Harrison, former series Rookie of The Year Daniel Gaunt, and businessman/racer Michael Morton.
The team will also be assisting Christchurch-based series regular Paul Kelly.
Jonny Reid, meanwhile, heads the International Motorsport team's effort with series young guns Mitch Cunningham and Ant Pederson in support.
After winning New Zealand's Toyota Racing Series (TRS) in 2009, Cunningham, 24, considered a number of options (both here and overseas) before he moved up to the New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge. And after a successful category debut last season he returns looking to take the next step.
"Last season," he says, " was about getting used to racing a car with a roof and racing in close proximity with other cars without being able to see your wheels (which you can in the karts and single-seaters Cunningham cut his racing teeth on). The aim this year is to take that knowledge and apply it, to run at the front and aim for our first category win."
The move, last season, to focus more attention on the 996 model 'class-within-a-class' competition for drivers of earlier model 996 GT3 Cup Cars has also born fruit with 2009/10 season Mothers GT3 Cup runner-up Simon McLennan heading the lineup now that the winner, Hugh Gardiner, has acquired a later model 997 car.
Competition for McLennan, who led the Mothers 996 category points standings until the final round, will come from fellow young gun Simon Evans, MINI Challenge graduate Mark Maddren and series newcomer Mark Whyman, the latter behind the wheel of the ex Gardiner car.
Format-wise this season's Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge retains the successful combination of sprint and single-driver/two wheel change mini-enduros introduced last season.
The mix is split 50/50 with a 100km mini-enduro late on Saturday afternoon this weekend at Pukekohe Park, at Invercargill's Teretonga Park in January and at the series finale at Taupo Motorsport Park in March.
At Christchurch's Powerbuilt Tools Raceway in late November, Timaru International Raceway in January and Manfeild in February the programme reverts to a three-sprint race format, the first on Saturday afternoon, and the second and slightly longer feature third on Sunday.
New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars will be on track from Friday at Pukekohe Park Raceway with two testing sessions before qualifying on Saturday morning and the first - in this case 36 lap - endurance race starting at five and expected to finish at 5.40 pm.
Sunday then brings two sprint races, the first over 12 laps in the morning and the second, with a top six reverse grid - over 16 laps in the afternoon.
-source: pcc nz