Craig Baird (CCS/Hilite GT3), Fabian Coulthard (Mitre 10 Mega GT3) and Matt Halliday (Giltrap Prestige/Karcher) shared the honours at the first round of the 2006/07 Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship at Pukekohe's Pukekohe Park Raceway today.
Young gun Coulthard qualified quickest, won the first two races and set a new class lap record, Halliday was the second quickest qualifier and winner of the reverse top six grid third race, and defending series champion Baird claimed overall round honours with two seconds and a third.
Coulthard was the definite paceman over the weekend but just before the half way point of the final 16 lap race, when he was circulating line astern with eventual winner Matt Halliday, his car's gearlever came away in his hand and he had to complete the race in fourth gear.
"We definitely had the speed this weekend and it would have been nice to do what we did last year (Coulthard qualified on pole, won all three races and set a new class lap record) but things like this happen from time to time," he said.
Round winner Baird was also quick to acknowledge the role Coulthard played in the weekend's proceedings.
"You certainly can't take anything away from Fabian," he said. "We got the win but we did it with reliability and consistency rather than ultimate pace."
Team A1Grand Prix driver Matt Halliday made up for an early off in the first race and a come-from-behind fourth place in the second with a good win in the third, but third place was enough to give series returnee Jody Vincent (Koken Tools/Pak n Save) third overall for the weekend.
After admitting that nerves got the better of him in qualifying, where he set the eighth fastest lap time, Vincent, from Pukekohe, put on one of the most impressice performances of the weekend in the races, finally getting the better of an entertaining race-long dice with Dean Cockerton on the last lap to finish fourth in the first race, then finishing a fighting third in both the second and the third races.
In the latter, reverse top six grid 16 lap race, he had the large Pukekohe crowd on their feet when he leap-frogged front row starters Cameron and Cockerton and proceeded to pull away, remaining in front for three glorious laps until fellow second row starter Matt Halliday finally caught and passed him.
Halliday found himself in catch-up mode over the weekend after a clash with fellow front-row starter Coulthard in the first race, but was buoyed by his win in the final race.
All three Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge races provided close, exciting racing through the field with Ross Rutherford (Bartercard/Vehicles Direct GT3) leading home Vincent, Dean Cockerton (PBT GT3) and Andrew Bagnall (Holiday Shoppe GT3) in the first race, Vincent leading Halliday, Cockerton and Graeme Cameron (Camco Fence GT3) in the second, and Rutherford, Cockerton and Cameron in the third.
Porsche stalwart Cameron endured incredible pressure from youngsters Rob Steele (Plug Advertising/Solid Audio GT3) and Jono Lester (Blackwoods Paykels GT3) in both Sunday races, with Lester and Steele finishing line astern in the 10-lap race in the morning and Lester and Andrew Bagnall repeating the feat in the second.
Steele, now in a newer '04 model car after making his Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge debut in an earlier '01 model last season, briefly got past Cameron in the third race only to spin off the track immediately afterwards.
Unfortunately, a spectator over the weekend was 2004 Carrera Cup Australia champion Alex Davison (Glenfords Tools) who was sidelined when he slewed off the track and into a barrier after a tyre blew in the final testing session on Friday afternoon.
This season the Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship series is again one of the lynchpins of MotorSport New Zealand's premier Mike Pero Motorsport Series programme with seven rounds alongside the Parker ENZED NZ V8s Championship, Toyota Racing Series, Nicibo Production Racing Series and new MINI Challenge.
Each weekend there will be three Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge races, one on Saturday and two on Sunday. Traditionally the third and final race has always been over a longer distance, and this year that format will be enhanced by reversing the grid for the top 10 starters.
Pukekohe's Pukekohe Park Raceway hosted the first round of the 2006/07 Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Championship this weekend with subsequent rounds at Christchurch's Powerbuilt International Raceway at Ruapuna Park, the new, extended Taupo Motorsport Park at Taupo, Manfeild Autocourse at Feilding, Timaru International Raceway and Invercargill's Teretonga Park before a return north for a high profile final back at Pukekohe Park Raceway at the annual Placemakers V8 Supercar meeting.
An undoubted highlight this season will be the January 19-21 2007 meeting at Taupo where the Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Championship will be one of the categories supporting the inaugural New Zealand A1GP World Cup of Motorsport round.
2006/07 Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Championship
Rnd 1 Pukekohe Park Raceway Pukekohe Fri/Sat/Sun Nov 3/4/5
1. Fabian Coulthard (Auckland) 58.440
2. Matt Halliday (Auckland) 58.605
3. Craig Baird (Queensland) 59.674
4. Ross Rutherford (Hamilton) 59.674
5. Nick Gordon (Auckland) 59.803
6. Dean Cockerton (Auckland) 59.832
7. Graeme Cameron (Auckland) 59.954
8. Jody Vincent (Auckland) 59.980
9. Andrew Bagnall (Auckland) 1.00.096
10. Jono Lester (Palmerston North) 1.00.500
11. Paul Kelly (Christchurch) 1.00.961
12. Connel McLaren (Auckland) 1.01.037
13. Jonathan King (Auckland) 1.01.633
14. David Mackrell (Auckland) 1.01.820
DQ. Rob Steele (Auckland) 1.00.012
1. Fabian Coulthard 9.58.898
2. Craig Baird +7.609
3. Ross Rutherford +9.068
4. Jody Vincent +13.890
5. Dean Cockerton +14.214
6. Andrew Bagnall +20.602
7. Graeme Cameron +21.641
8. Nick Gordon +22.468
9. Jono Lester +22.878
10. Paul Kelly +25.737
11. Matt Halliday +25.767
12. Rob Steele +26.172
13. Connel McLaren +34.356
14. David Mackrell +40.975
15. Jonathan King +58.715
Race 2 (10 laps)
1. Coulthard 9.57.120
2. Baird +5.985
3. Vincent +9.762
4. Halliday +13.298
5. Cockerton +14.738
6. Cameron +20.017
7. Jon Lester +20.161
8. Steele +22.111
9. Rutherford +31.146
10. Gordon +31.398
11. Kelly +32.476
12. McLaren +33.466
13. Mackrell +1.26.233
14. Johnathan King +1 lap
1. Halliday 29.32.666
2. Baird +5.898
3. Vincent +7.652
4. Rutherford +15.063
5. Cockerton +17.119
6. Cameron +29.591
7. Lester +30.096
8. Bagnall +33.061
9. Coulthard +37.702
10. Kelly +38.178
11. Steele +38.541
12. McLaren +39.288
13. Gordon +55.923
14. Mackrell +1.02.414
15. King +1 lap
Rnd 1 Nov 3-5 2006 Pukekohe Park Raceway Pukekohe
Rnd 2 Nov 24-26 2006 Powerbuilt Tools International Raceway at Ruapuna Park Christchurch
Rnd 3 Jan 18-21 2007 Taupo Motorsport Park Taupo
Rnd 4 Feb 16-18 2007 Manfeild Autocourse Feilding
Rnd 5 Mar 2-4 2007 Timaru International Motor Raceway (Levels) Timaru
Rnd 6 Mar 9-11 2007 Teretonga Park Raceway Invercargill
Rnd 7 April 20-22 2007 Pukekohe Park Raceway Pukekohe (Placemakers V8 Supercar meeting