PORSCHE TITLE NUMBER SIX FOR BAIRD, SECOND ROUND WIN FOR REID AT TAUPO BATTERY TOWN FINAL Six consecutive championship titles is a record few sportsmen or women could comprehend let alone claim yet that's what racing driver Craig Baird achieved...
PORSCHE TITLE NUMBER SIX FOR BAIRD, SECOND ROUND WIN FOR REID AT TAUPO BATTERY TOWN FINAL
Six consecutive championship titles is a record few sportsmen or women could comprehend let alone claim yet that's what racing driver Craig Baird achieved at the final round of this season's Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship at the Taupo Motorsport Park on Sunday.
In the seven years a Porsche GT3 Cup-based championship series has been contested in New Zealand only one other driver - Jim Richards - has won it, Baird taking over the mantle of man to beat in 2005 and stoutly defending it ever since.
Having amassed a 182 point lead heading into this weekend's final series round at MotorSport New Zealand's Hydraulink Grand Finals meeting at Taupo, 39-year-old Hamilton-born but now Gold Coast, Queensland-based driver Baird was the definite favourite to claim a record sixth Porsche title.
But he still had to start and finish all three races - quite some ask considering the fact that for a second consecutive season he has been running a parallel - and equally successful - campaign in the BNT NZV8s class.
As if to confirm how hard it was going to be, Baird's Triple X Motorsport teammate David Reynolds claimed his third pole position for the season in qualifying on Saturday morning while former single-seater international Jonny Reid won the first two races and - as it turned out - the round.
Had he finished where he started - third - the title would have been Baird's at the end of the first race on Saturday afternoon. But fourth place - behind Reid, Daniel Gaunt and Matt Halliday - was not quite enough and it took a third place behind Reid and Halliday in the first sprint race of the weekend on Sunday morning for Baird to finally put the 2009/10 Battery Town title beyond anyone else's grasp.
Job done he then underlined his superiority with a lights-to-flag victory in the reverse top six grid 12 lap final, setting the fastest race lap on his way to a suitably dominant win over Triple X Motorsport teammates Daniel Gaunt and David Reynolds, and International Motorsport teammates Reid and Halliday.
Reflecting on his achievement, Baird - already the winner of four New Zealand Touring Car championship titles and the New Zealand Grand Prix title three times - said that though no two seasons were the same there have been definite similarities over the years.
"There have always been two or three blokes at the front battling for the title and each one has had his own agenda. Mine's always been to tick the championship box so this year for example we had plenty of speed early on and I've been consolidating my points lead since then. That's what was so good about the last race today. By banking all those points early on I could come out all guns blazing in the final."
With the Battery Town Porsche GT3 Challenge championship title his for another year Baird's tally of New Zealand titles now numbers 27, 20 in cars and seven in karts."
Fellow kart-turned-car champion Jonny Reid was feeling equally pleased with his performance, his round win cementing second place in the 2009/10 Battery Town title chase as well as the Rookie of The Year award.
"It's certainly a good way to end your first season in such a competitive class, " he said. "I'm very happy both with my performance and that of my team."
With third place in the reverse top six grid final - Daniel Gaunt, now based in Australia and contesting his first V8 Supercar series - ended up third in the championship points chase for another year with Matt Halliday fourth, David Reynolds fifth and Triple X Motorsport young gun Courtney Letica sixth.
Halliday - now contesting his second season on Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup in Europe - had a best weekend finish of second in the sprint race on Sunday morning behind teammate Reid and ended up just 23 points shy of third placed Daniel Gaunt in the championship points chase.
David Reynolds started the weekend with everything going his way, but suffered punctured front left tyres in two of the three races, his third place finish in the final race his only appearance on the podium over the weekend.
In the Mothers 996 Cup category for drivers of older 996 cars, the battle for the 2009/10 title was between long-time points leader Simon McLennan and defending title holder Hugh Gardiner with the nod going to Gardiner after McLennan failed to finish the sprint race on Sunday morning after being caught out by what turned out to be air in his car's brake lines.
That was enough to give Gardiner the advantage, one which he drove home with another quick, confident drive to eight place - one ahead of McLennan - in the final.
For young gun McLennan it was a hard pill to swallow. But he accepted it with good grace.
"It was definitely tough to be so close, but it's made me all the more hungry for next year."
"It was bad luck for Simon all right, but as I said to Dad last night, it's never over till the Fat Lady sings!"
Race 2 (10 laps)
The first sprint race of the weekend, on Sunday morning, was race one winner Jonny Reid's for the taking and take it the 26-year-old did, edging fellow front row starter Daniel Gaunt as the pair disputed the first corner then easing away as Gaunt fell into the clutches of Reid's International Motorsport teammate Matt Halliday.
Craig Baird settled into fourth place with a gap back to young gun duo Courtney Letica and Mitch Cunningham then Triple X Motorsport team boss Shane McKillen and teammate Paul Kelly.
Having stopped for a second time to replace a slowly deflating front left tyre in the first race David Reynolds had his work cut out working his way back through the field from the fourth row of the grid but the second race had hardly started when he was back in the pits with the same problem - this time courtesy of contact with another car which ripped out the valve.
Mothers 996 Cup category points leader Simon McLennan was also in the wars early on, limping back to the pits after brake problems saw him unintentionally run into another car at the end of the Taupo circuit's long back straight.
Another to come off second best after a clash was Daniel Gaunt who lost second place to Matt Halliday on lap four. Gaunt recovered but ended up crossing the line in fifth place, behind Mitch Cunningham - who enjoyed one of his best races of his debut Battery Town season - but in front of Shane McKillen, Paul Kelly and Hugh Gardiner in the first of the Mothers 996 Cup category cars.
Courtney Letica was running just in front of Cunningham early on only to spin twice in one lap after sustaining suspension and steering damage in a clash, slipping back through the field to cross the finish line between the two Mothers 996 Cup cars of Gene Rollinson and Allan Dippie.
Race 1 (30 laps)
Round winner Jonny Reid got his weekend off to a winning start on Saturday, turning the tables on fastest qualifier David Reynolds and champion-elect Craig Baird to claim victory in the 30 lap/100km The Mad Butcher mini-enduro.
Reid joined Reynolds on the front row of the grid after setting the second fastest lap time in qualifying then capitalised on a quicker pit stop to win the race from Daniel Gaunt, Matt Halliday and Craig Baird.
Initially Reid got away from the chasing pack but Halliday chipped away at his lead until the penultimate lap when - after being badly baulked as he lapped some of the slower cars, and with his tyres now well past their best - he fell into the clutches of Gaunt.
At the line the order was Reid, Gaunt, Halliday and Baird.
And where was poleman and early race leader David Reynolds?
The hard-charging 24-year-old Australian started slipping back down the order soon after the pit stop and eventually pitted for a second time to change a slowly deflating left front tyre, eventually crossing the line in eighth place between Triple X Motorsport team boss Shane McKillen and teammate Paul Kelly.
Once again there was a strong turnout of 996 cars to contest the Mothers 996 Cup category with Simon Evans having one of his most competitive outings to date to finish third behind Simon McLennan and Hugh Gardiner but in front of Gene Rollinson, series newcomer Mark Maddren and South Islander Allan Dippie.
-source: pcc nz