BACK WHERE IT ALL BEGAN FOR BAIRD It's a case of going back to where it all began for Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champion Craig Baird this weekend, as the 38-year-old returns to Hamilton to head the field for the final Trophy round...
BACK WHERE IT ALL BEGAN FOR BAIRD
It's a case of going back to where it all began for Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champion Craig Baird this weekend, as the 38-year-old returns to Hamilton to head the field for the final Trophy round of the 2008/09 season at the annual V8 Supercar meeting.
Baird got his competition start in karts at a track on the outskirts of the Waikato city and with no permanent motor racing circuit to call it's own last year's inaugural Hamilton 400 V8 street race was the first chance the now Queenland-based driver had of performing on true 'home turf.'
He returns this year with another Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship title - his fifth - under his belt and every reason to be confident that he can again claim three wins from three starts.
Helping is the fact that arch 2008/09 championship series rival David Reynolds is otherwise occupied this weekend - the young Australian driver behind the wheel of a V8 Supercar - plus the fact that Baird has plenty of experience from years racing on the other side of the Tasman, of street circuits.
"Street circuits are something I really enjoy and thrive on really," he said this week. "I just love the concrete and the unforgiving nature; whether its a curb with grass run-off or concrete all - I will charge in just as hard."
That said, the past season's Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship was as notable for the depth as the quality of talent with Triple X teammate Daniel Gaunt and series young guns Jono Lester, Jody Vincent and Ant Pedersen all taking the battle to Baird and Reynolds at some stage.
Gaunt parlayed strong speed and enviable consistency in his second season in the Porsche GT3 Cup series to claim third place in the series points standings behind the pair and is fresh from an impressive Fujitsu V8 Supercar series debut at the Clipsall 500 meeting round the - broadly similar - streets of Adelaide last month.
He steps up to Reynolds' car this weekend, allowing team sponsor and mentor Mike Morton to suit up in the Gaunt car and - coincidentally - top NZ V8s driver John McIntyre to join the Triple X team for the weekend in team owner Shane McKillen's GT3.
McIntyre is not exactly a stranger to the Battery Town series, having raced a 996 model in the 2003/04 season and is 'looking at taking the opportunity with both hands and trying to put in a good performance for the team and sponsors.'
If last year's meeting is anything to go by it will be young guns Lester, Vincent and Pedersen who claim much of the limelight though with the trio finishing line astern in that order in the first race, before Vincent came through to claim second place from Reynolds, Pedersen and Lester in the second and Gaunt, Pedersen and ring-in Jonathan Webb in the reverse top six grid final.
Completing the lineup this weekend are Taupo Trophy round standout Darryn Henderson from Wellington and young Aucklanders Mark Russ and Courtney Letica.
Russ, driving the Giltrap Group team car, impressed in the 2007/08 Battery Town series in the 996 category before moving up to a 997 this season finishing ninth in his debut year. Letica also had a worthwhile debut season, finishing 11th with a strong finish at the final championship round at Pukekohe a month ago.
The Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup cars join the NZV8s, GT1 series and Toyota Racing Series single seaters on the support roster at the Hamilton 400 meeting with qualifying on Friday, two 12 lap races on Saturday and a final 12 lap race on Sunday.
-credit: nz gt3