NZ GT3: Series Pukekohe Sunday notes

BAIRD EXTENDS RECORD WITH FIFTH NEW ZEALAND PORSCHE GT3 CUP TITLE Is there anyone out there who can beat Craig Baird? That's the question motorsport fans around the country are asking in the wake of the Queensland-based Kiwi claiming his fifth...

BAIRD EXTENDS RECORD WITH FIFTH NEW ZEALAND PORSCHE GT3 CUP TITLE

Is there anyone out there who can beat Craig Baird?

That's the question motorsport fans around the country are asking in the wake of the Queensland-based Kiwi claiming his fifth consecutive New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup title at the final round of the 2008/09 New Zealand motor racing championship series at Pukekohe on Sunday.

After finishing third to fellow expat Jim Richards and young gun Matt Halliday in the inaugural Trans-Tasman GT3 Cup series over the 2003/04 season, three-time former New Zealand Grand Prix winner and four-time former New Zealand Touring Car champion Baird has made the popular now Battery Town-sponsored championship his own, winning it very much as he has liked since 2005.

Each season he has had strong competition, initially from young Kiwis Matt Halliday and Fabian Coulthard and latterly top Australian drivers Alex Davison and David Reynolds, but each season he has come out on top.

Reynolds, who like Baird has also won Australia's Porsche GT3 Cup-based Carrera Cup Australia championship, was able to match Baird's qualifying performance (this season (the score three-all) but when it came to race wins Baird had no peer, winning 12 of the 18 races and five of the six rounds.

Five of the other six race wins went to Reynolds (a tally which included three from three for the only round win not to go to Baird at Timaru in early January) and the sixth to the best of the category's young guns, Jono Lester, who won the final reverse top six grid final race at the first round of this season's Battery Town series at Pukekohe in November.

Impressive statistics though Baird was at pains to stress after the final series race at Pukekohe on Sunday that as in any top level motor racing series here or anywhere else race wins do not come easily.

"It's been tough this year but, you know, it's always been tough. There's always been a Jim (Richards) or a Matty (Matt Halliday) or Fabian (Coulthard) and this year it's been David Reynolds. He's had a little bit more speed than me in some places this year and he's very, very good at qualifying so I've had to be on the top of my game every time I've gone out on the track.

Though David Reynolds was again on pole at this weekend's championship final meeting Baird got a better start to lead both 12 lap sprint races from start to finish. Reynolds set the fastest race lap in his pursuit of Baird in the first race and went even quicker in the second to set a new category lap record - 57.279 - but as has happened so often this season no matter how close he got he couldn't find a way past Baird.

Jono Lester was a quick and competitive third in the first race but was an early casualty of contact with Daniel Gaunt in the second, Gaunt going on to claim third place in that race then second in the final to finish second for the round behind Baird.

Having won the first two races, second in the reverse top six grid final was going to be enough to give Baird that round win but in a cruel stroke of fate front row starter and long-time race leader Jody Vincent was lucky to cross the line in second place after his car's left rear tyre blew within sight of the chequered flag.

That left a closely following but surprised Baird to claim his third win from third starts from Vincent who admitted that while it would have been nice to win the race ('I was lucky to keep it off the wall so I'm just glad I still have a car in one piece') and Gaunt.

Fourth and claiming the final step on the round podium was Ant Pedersen with Jono Lester fifth and Mark Russ in the Giltrap Group team car sixth.

Overall that gave last season's Battery Town Rookie of The Year Daniel Gaunt third place in the championship behind Baird and Reynolds with Lester fourth, Australian Rodney Forbes fifth and Vincent sixth.

And Auckland's Hugh Gardiner was the winner of the 996 title contested by drivers using older 996 GT3 Cup cars, finishing his season 12th overall with 408 points.

The weekend's Battery Town round was the final points one but the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars will be back on track for a second 'Trophy' round (the first was at the A1GP meeting at Taupo in January) at the Hamilton 400 V9 Supercar meeting in Hamilton over the April 19-20 weekend.

-credit: nz gt3

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Series Road racing
Drivers Jim Richards , Fabian Coulthard , Craig Baird , Rodney Forbes , Alex Davison , Daniel Gaunt , David Reynolds , Ant Pedersen , Matt Halliday , Jono Lester