BATTERY TOWN PORSCHE GT3 CUP CHALLENGE CHAMPIONSHIP MORE RECORDS SET TO TUMBLE AS PORSCHE BATTLE INTENSIFIES New Zealand's Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship has always rewarded race fans with close and exciting racing. And ...
BATTERY TOWN PORSCHE GT3 CUP CHALLENGE CHAMPIONSHIP
MORE RECORDS SET TO TUMBLE AS PORSCHE BATTLE INTENSIFIES
New Zealand's Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship has always rewarded race fans with close and exciting racing. And this season's series - which resumes at the big Southern 200 meeting at Timaru International Motor Raceway over the January 10-11 weekend - is shaping up to be the best yet.
Porsche GT3 Cup specialist Craig Baird -- now a two-time Carrera Cup Australia as well as four-time New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup champion -- continues to set the pace. But there was no shortage of competition at the first two rounds in the 2008/09 series late last year with at least six drivers capable of mixing it with him, particularly in the always intense reverse top six grid final races.
At the opening series round at the high-speed Pukekohe Park Raceway in early November young Australian driver David Reynolds -- himself a Carrera Cup Australia champion -- qualified quickest while young Kiwi gun Jono Lester won the final race and finished the round second overall in front of last season's Rookie of The Year, former Toyota Racing Series champion and New Zealand Grand Prix winner Daniel Gaunt.
Baird was back to his swash-buckling best at the second round of the 2008/09 series at Christchurch's Powerbuilt Tools International Raceway three weeks later, qualifying quickest and lowering the category lap record in each race.
There, however, it was Reynolds who won the reverse grid final after Baird was slowed by a clash with early race leader Jody Vincent.
Heading into the traditional summer double-header meetings at Timaru on January 10 and 11 and Invercargill's Teretonga Park on January 15 & 16 Baird has his customary early lead in the series points standings -- 434 to runner-up David Reynolds' 343 and Jono Lester's 330 -- but he cannot be complacent.
Reynolds worked tirelessly at the Christchurch round to learn the circuit and remain as close as he could to Baird, as did Lester to Reynolds and Gaunt and Jody Vincent to Lester.
Having won a race apiece already Reynolds and Lester remain the immediate dangers for Baird though neither Gaunt nor Vincent can be discounted yet.
Last season Gaunt parlayed a cautious start to his first season in a tin-top into a dynamic 'coming-of-age,' claiming his first category race win at Timaru and ending the season second-overall.
Perennial hard-charger Jody Vincent also had a strong season after upgrading from his 996 to one of the new MY2008 997 cars and is overdue for a race win of his own. As is series returnee Rodney Forbes, the Australian having also impressed in his debut year in the New Zealand series last season and heading to Timaru in fifth place in this season's points standing.
Meanwhile already making his mark this season after moving from a 996 to one of the new 997s is former kart and single-seater series front-runner Mark Russ in the Giltrap Group team car.
With fellow young guns Ant Pedersen and Courtney Letica, and businessmen/racers Darryn Henderson, Shane McKillen and Andrew Bagnall, Russ has been in the thick of the mid-pack action since the first round, and currently lies in ninth place in the points standings just 11 points behind Henderson and Jody Vincent who are tied for seventh place, and only 27 points behind Pedersen who is sixth.
Not surprisingly, despite slim pickings in some of the other championship classes the Battery Town one remains as strong as ever as it heads south with a full field of 997 models supplemented by older 996 models competing for their own category title.
Currently in front in that category is Hugh Gardiner from fellow Aucklanders Rob Steele and David Mackrell.
The Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge joins fellow headliners the BNT V8s and the Toyota Racing Series on the programme at the Timaru and Teretonga meetings with support from the Super Trucks, MTA New Zealand Formula Fords, Suzuki New Zealand Production Racing series and Mini Challenge.
The Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup cars are on track for testing on Friday, qualifying and the first of three weekend races on Saturday then the remaining two races - the 16-lap final featuring a reverse top six grid - on Sunday.
-credit: nz gt3cup