PRESSURE ON GAUNT AS BAIRD GETS PORSCHE GT3 CUP CHALLENGE BACK ON TRACK
Heading into the fourth round of the 2010/11 New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship in Timaru this weekend the pressure is now well and truly on early season points leader Daniel Gaunt.
Gaunt had a dream start to this season's GT3 Cup Challenge championship, winning the first two rounds very much unchallenged as his Triple X Motorsport teammate, defending series champion, Craig Baird faltered.
However a fired-up Baird came storming back into contention at the third round at Invercargill's Teretonga Park last weekend, shading Gaunt in qualifying and Saturday's 38 lap/100km mini-enduro race before beating him off the line to run away with the second race then muscling his way to the front and pulling away to win the reverse top six grid final as well.
In doing so the 40-year-old six-time consecutive New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup champion catapulted himself up the points series rankings from sixth to third and now is 131 points behind Gaunt and just 29 behind second placed Jonny Reid.
Despite pipping Baird for pole position in qualifying and going on to win the first race, Gaunt didn't do himself any favours at Teretonga by being penalised for contact with Mitch Cunningham as the pair battled for second place in the second race.
Gaunt managed to wrestle the position off Cunningham on the final lap but was docked 50 seconds for contact by the stewards, dropping him to ninth place.
The 25-year-old took the penalty on the chin and admits that he would have been better off accepting third place and the points that went with it.
"It was a mistake, I realise that and my job now is not to make any more like it," he said this morning.
Heading into the third series round at Teretonga Gaunt said that his goal was still to be the series pace-setter, leading from the front.
"I think you will see me taking a more conservative approach. We're now past the half way point in the series so I have to think about the championship each time I go out."
Gaunt rates the Timaru International Motor Raceway as one of his favourite tracks, and he is looking forward to returning there.
"To be fair," he says, " I like all the South Island tracks. But Timaru is a fun little track with an interesting layout and plenty of grip - which seems to suit our cars. It doesn't look particularly hard but it's one of those circuits that rewards precision. You've also got to be quite patient in places. If you carry too much speed into the long, loaded corners at the the top end of the track it's easy to undo all your good work elsewhere."
Fourth overall in the points standings after the Teretonga round - where his best finish was the runner-up spot in the second race - is Mitch Cunningham, the young Auckland driver regularly taking the battle to Baird, Gaunt and International Motorsport teammate Jonny Reid in his second season in the category.
Cunningham drew appreciative ohhs and ahhs from the large crowd at Teretonga with a forceful round-the-outside pass on Gaunt early in the second race and says he is definitely feeling more comfortable behind the wheel of his GT3 this season.
"I understand the car more this year, " he says. "Plus I think I now know more about what I need from myself in order to get the car to do what I want it to do."
Over the years the Timaru round of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship has thrown up a number of rookie winners including a 17-year-old Jono Lester in 2007 and Courtney Letica last year.
This year 'Rookie-most-likely' honours must go to young Whangarei driver Scott Harrison who has now been on the podium twice in three rounds (he was third at both Pukekohe and Teretonga) in his Triple X Motorsport 997.
In the 996 Cup category, meanwhile, it is hard to look past Wellingtonian Simon McLennan who did so well at Teretonga last weekend that he started the final reverse top six grid race from pole!
McLennan led the 996 Cup category points standings until the final series round last season and goes into this weekend's round at Timaru with a buffer of over 100 points over fellow young gun Simon Evans and series newcomer, Auckland-born but Hong Kong-based businessman Mark Whyman.
The Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars will be on the track at Timaru from today (Thursday), with qualifying and the first race of the weekend on Saturday and a further two races on Sunday.
The championship chase then returns to the North Island for the penultimate round of the 2010/11 series at Feilding's Manfeild circuit in February and the final at the Taupo Motorsport Park in March.
-source: pcc nz