SCRIPT CHANGES AS GAUNT TAKES UP THE CHALLENGE
Triple X Motorsport's Daniel Gaunt is the man of the moment as this season's New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship heads to Invercargill's Teretonga Park Raceway this weekend.
For the past six seasons Gaunt's teammate Craig Baird has dominated the country's fastest and most prestigious one-make motor racing series.
But after a blown tyre and a drive-through penalty at the opening round at Pukekohe, then a puncture and a holed radiator at the second round in Christchurch, the Queensland-based Kiwi champion currently languishes sixth in the series points standings.
It hasn't exactly been a bed of roses for Gaunt either - he was lucky to be offered sponsor and mentor Mike Morton's car after a high impact crash in his own 997 at Pukekohe - but since then the 25-year-old Aucklander has not put a foot wrong.
Of the six races contested so far this season Gaunt has won five on them, two at the opening round and all three - after also qualifying on pole for all - at the second.
Heading into the third round at Teretonga Park this weekend Gaunt has 429 points, 52 more than last season's series runner-up Jonny Reid and 128 more than third placed Mitch Cunningham.
Cunningham, in turn, has a 34 point advantage over series rookie Scott Harrison who is fourth, with Triple X team boss Shane McKillen fifth and Triple X Motorsport team leader Baird sixth, 180 points behind Gaunt.
Having lost his drive in Australia's V8 Supercar championship half way through the 2010 season, the start to this season's New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge is just the tonic Gaunt says he needed, though the 25-year-old cautions that it is still early days yet.
"My game plan, in terms of trying to win as many races as possible, is still the same, but we're only a third of the way through the season, so as much as I would love a repeat of our run at Ruapuna my main priority this weekend is to make sure I actually finish each race."
Over the years, six-time series champion Craig Baird has made an art of balancing the desire to win races with the need to finish them and Gaunt says it is a skill you don't pick up overnight.
"Everyone seems to forget that Craig has been doing this for a long time and that there is no quick way to bridge the gap other than time behind the wheel. I've been building that up gradually here but the big difference, I think, for me this season is that I have been racing in Australia for the past two years now and that's certainly helped close the gap (on Baird)."
Gaunt won his first New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge race at Invercargill's Teretonga Park in March in 2008 after winning the first of his two New Zealand Grand Prix titles behind the wheel of a Toyota Racing Series single-seater the year before.
As such he enjoys his yearly visit to the country's southern-most racing circuit, reveling in its fast and flowing nature and the fact that at Teretonga, fortune usually favours the brave.
Craig Baird, of course, is just as determined to do well this weekend, the 40-year-old expat pointing to his pole at the first round and the fact that before he had to pit to replace a blown tyre he had a 24-second lead on teammate Gaunt in the 36-lap mini-enduro on the Saturday afternoon.
As he said earlier this week; "We've shown all season we're the quickest car - just not the luckiest."
Baird is by no means the only driver capable of taking the battle for the top step of the podium to Gaunt either.
Last year's series runner-up and Rookie of The Year, Jonny Reid, has been quick and consistent and points-wise remains Gaunt's biggest single threat.
Reid's International Motorsport teammate, Mitch Cunningham, currently third overall has also distinguished himself with some of the best starts ever seen in the category, and looked set to claim his first category win in the second race at Pukekohe in November before being reeled in right at the end by Craig Baird and Reid.
Meanwhile young Whangarei driver Scott Harrison is driving with a pace and maturity that belie his 24 years. Harrison, Shane McKillen, high profile Christchurch car dealer Paul Kelly, and series stalwart Andrew Bagnall have rarely more than a few car lengths apart at the first and second rounds.
There's also an interesting three-way battle unfolding for the 996 Cup series-within-a-series honours as last season's category young guns Simon McLennan and Simon Evans mix it up with Hong Kong-based expat Mark Whyman
Whyman holds a small points advantage heading into the Teretonga round but the circuit will again be new to him, meaning that it will probably be McLennan and Evans haggling over category bragging rights in the first two races with Whyman getting closer and closer with each outing.
McLennan was unlucky not to win the category trophy last year after leading the points standings until the final round and he is determined not to let the same thing happen this time round.
"Given what happened last season and at the first round this season I certainly am aware of just how important it is to finish each race so the overriding goal this weekend is to do just that.
"Having said that, though I haven't always had the best of runs at Teretonga, I really like the place and if everything goes right I'm fairly confident of a good showing."
There will again be three races for the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars at Teretonga this weekend, with qualifying late on Saturday morning, the 100km mini-enduro (complete with compulsory pit stop to change a minimum of two wheels) on Saturday afternoon then a 12 lap race on Sunday morning and a reverse top six grid final over 16 laps on Sunday afternoon.
Teams competing in the series will then head to Timaru for the fourth round a week later before heading back to the North Island for the penultimate round at Manfeild in February and the final at the Taupo Motorsport Park in March.
2010/11 New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship Series points after Rnd 2 of 6 1. Daniel Gaunt 429 points 2. Jonny Reid 377 3. Mitch Cunningham 301 4. Scott Harrison 267 5. Shane McKillen 262 6. Craig Baird 249 7. Mark Whyman 189 8. Simon McLennan 180 9. Paul Kelly 172 10. Earl Bamber 169 11. Hugh Gardiner 153 12. Ant Pedersen 147 13. Simon Evans 138 14. Andrew Bagnall 117 15. Mark Maddren 86
996 Cup 1. Mark Whyman 189 points 2. Simon McLennan 180 3. Simon Evans 138
Calendar Rnd 1 Nov 05-07 2010 Pukekohe Park Raceway Pukekohe Rnd 2 Nov 26-28 2010 Powerbuilt Tools International Raceway at Ruapuna Park Christchurch Rnd 3 Jan 14-16 2011 Teretonga Park Invercargill Rnd 4 Jan 21-23 2011 Timaru International Motor Raceway (Levels) Timaru Rnd 5 Feb 18-20 2011 Manfeild Feilding Rnd 6 Mar 18-20 2011 Taupo Motorsport Park Taupo
Prepared by FAST COMPANY on behalf of the 2010/11 New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship. For more information on the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship contact Ross MacKay on 021 677 919 or via e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor's Note: Hi-res jpgs from this season's 2010/11 New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship series are available on request from Ross MacKay at ross@fastcompany