GAUNT GRABS EARLY PORSCHE SERIES POINTS LEAD AFTER DRAMATIC COMEBACK AT PUKEKOHE As comebacks go it's got to be up there with some of the best in sport. On Friday at Pukekohe's Pukekohe Park Raceway Daniel Gaunt speared off the track and into...
GAUNT GRABS EARLY PORSCHE SERIES POINTS LEAD AFTER DRAMATIC COMEBACK AT PUKEKOHE
As comebacks go it's got to be up there with some of the best in sport. On Friday at Pukekohe's Pukekohe Park Raceway Daniel Gaunt speared off the track and into the barriers, the damage to his Triple X Motorsport team Porsche GT3 Cup Car enough to effectively end his weekend on the spot. Yet on Sunday afternoon he was standing on the top step of the podium after winning two of the three races and claiming an early points lead in the 2010/11 New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge.
"You'd have to do a lot to top it, wouldn't you? " the two-time former New Zealand Toyota Racing Series champion and New Zealand Grand Prix winner quipped as he reflected on his remarkable 'outhouse-to-the-penthouse' story.
The seeds for Gaunt's dramatic comeback were sown when sponsor and mentor Michael Morton offered his protege his own car for the weekend with payback coming soon after in the form of an - admittedly lucky - win in the first race of the weekend, the traditional 36-lap 'mini-enduro' on Saturday afternoon.
That win came after fastest qualifier and defending series champion Craig Baird, who led the majority of laps, was forced into the pits for a last minute tyre change after blowing a tyre with just two full laps to run. As it turned out, it set the scene for Gaunt's dramatic reversal of fortune
Baird made amends by winning the second race - from eventual round runner-up Jonny Reid and third placegetter Mitch Cunningham - but lost any chance of a round win when he was called into the pits to serve a time penalty after contact with Cunningham in the reverse top six grid 16 lap final race on Sunday afternoon.
Gaunt on the other hand got a great run round the outside of new Triple X teammate Scott Harrison as the 12-strong field jostled for position through the first turn then passed team boss and poleman Shane McKillen for the lead before he had crossed the start/finish line to begin his first lap.
Fellow former New Zealand Grand Prix winner and single-seater specialist Jonny Reid remained within striking distance but never quite got close enough to launch an attack on the lead, leaving Gaunt to claim his second win of the weekend and with it the series points lead.
"And for that," he told reporters afterwards, " I have to thank Michael, Shane and everyone in the team. Triple X put a lot of time and effort into getting their cars prepared and for me to undo it on Friday, obviously was very unfortunate. But the guys gave me the chance to redeem myself and I guess the best way to do that is to win."
Which was a common theme across the podium.
International Motorsport's lead driver Jonny Reid was also feeling better after Sunday's feature race, having set the second quickest qualifying time on Saturday morning but being slowed - and eventually crossing the finish line a distant seventh - in the first race of the weekend by a mystery handling issue
"We certainly had a better day today," Reid said of his two second place finishes in the Sunday races. "We had a few things go against us this weekend, including teh car not feeling quite right in the first race, but I feel a lot more comfortably now, particularly seeing as how we are now heading to tracks which are probably better suited to me than Pukekohe."
And third placeman Cunningham?
After his own car-bending crash, this time in qualifying on Saturday morning, he was just happy to have it repaired in time - albeit by the slimmest of margins - for the first race, in which he crossed the finish line second behind Daniel Gaunt.
Then after leading the second race until the dying stages, but being sent spinning off the track after contact from Baird in the third he reckoned the final step on the round podium was more than just reward!
And defending series champion Craig Baird?
Traditionally he has worked on establishing then defending an early series points leads. But after this season's first series round he is back in fifth place in the series points standings with 156 points, 48 points behind Gaunt.
In the 996 Cup class-within-a-class meanwhile, young Auckland driver Simon Evans has the early season running despite the fact that arch rival Simon McLennan beat him to the line in two of the three races.
Unfortunately for McLennan, he failed to finish the second race, and now has a 27 point deficit on Evans to pull back over subsequent series rounds.
Race 2 (12 laps)
Baird won the second race, albeit in a similar manner to Gaunt in the first. After finishing second to Gaunt in the Saturday's race, Cunningham joined Gaunt in the front row of the grid for the second, and after a blindingly good start rocketed into a lead which looked like it would last him until the chequered flag.
Gaunt remained within striking distance for the first three laps until Baird - who started the race from the third row of the grid courtesy his sixth place finish in the Saturday race - got past Triple X teammate Scott Harrison for third place and quickly closed the gap to Gaunt in second.
That forced Gaunt to go into defence mode, allowing Cunningham to edge away from a high speed freight train consisting of Gaunt, Baird, Jonny Reid and Harrison.
That's how the order stayed until the sixth lap when Baird pulled off a daring 'long-way-round' move on Gaunt for second place at the hairpin.
At that stage Cunningham still had a healthy lead but over the next two laps Baird whittled it down and started probing for a way past.
Half way down Pukekohe's long back straight it looked like Cunningham could hold him off, but just as Baird was working out where to launch his attack Cunningham outbraked himself at the hairpin, allowed Baird to slip past.
To his credit Cunningham was back on track before Gaunt and Reid could follow suit but it was a close run thing, so close that Reid was also able to get past, albeit only metres of the finish line with Gaunt fourth and Harrison fifth.
Behind the leading group Triple X motorsport team boss Shane McKillen and Christchurch car dealer Paul Kelly spent the race locked in an entertaining battle for sixth place. Always a fast starter Kelly enjoyed the initial advantage only to have McKillen grab it late in the race with a Baird-like 'round-the-outside' move under brakes into the hairpin.
In the 996 race-within-a-race it was Simon Evans who got the best of both the start and finish, edging away from first race class winner Simon McLennan and claiming a runaway win after McLennan's race was cut short when bolts in his car's driveline snapped.
Race 1 ( 10 laps)
Craig Baird qualified quickest and had a 24 second lead in the 36 lap mini enduro race on Saturday afternoon only to have a tyre fail with just three laps to go, leaving Daniel Gaunt to take the lead and chequered flag from Mitchell Cunningham and Scott Harrison.
Baird was able to get back out and take the chequered flag, but only after losing five places in the process.
Before the last minute drama the race had very much run to script with Baird getting the jump on Jonny Reid and pulling a handy gap before Reid made an unscheduled pit stop to check his car's rear suspension before returning 10 laps later for his compulsory stop.
By this stage he was running out of sync with the other front runners and ended up crossing the finish line seventh, 16 second behind Baird.
Behind Gaunt, Cunningham and Scott Harrison at the flag were Ant Pedersen, Paul Kelly, Baird, Reid then Triple X team boss Shane McKillen with Wellington driver Simon McLennan the first of the 996 class-within-a-class drivers home in ninth place from fellow young gun Simon Evans, series newcomer Mark Whyman and Mark Maddren.
-source: pcc nz