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Baird storms back into Porsche series contention

 

Defending champion Craig Baird's 2010/11 New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship campaign is back on track, the 40-year-old Queensland-based Kiwi claiming the overall win at the third round at Invercargill's Teretonga Park Raceway over the weekend

After finding himself playing second fiddle to teammate Daniel Gaunt at the first two rounds, and again in qualifying and the first race at Invercargill on Saturday,  Baird beat fellow front row starter Gaunt fair and square in the weekend's second GT3 Cup race on Sunday morning before running away with the 16 lap reverse top six grid final, making light of the streaming track conditions to lead home current series runner-up Jonny Reid, Gaunt and Christchurch driver Paul Kelly.
 
Having only just been pipped for pole position in qualifying and set the fastest race lap on the way to second place behind Gaunt in the first - 38 lap/100km - race of the weekend on Saturday afternoon Baird was in the perfect position to capitalise on a less than perfect start from Gaunt in the 12 lap sprint race on Sunday morning but it was in the wet 16-lap final in the afternoon that he was able to really drive home the advantage.
 
Though the reverse top six grid format meant he had to start the race from P6 on the grid Baird was in front as the field streamed out of the first corner and had built up a five second buffer on fellow fast starter Gaunt (the latter having gridded up in eight place after a time penalty saw him relegated to ninth place in the second race) by the end of the second lap.
 
From that point on the interest in the race lay in the battle for second place.
 
Initially Gaunt held the advantage over Jonny Reid and Mitch Cunningham but first Cunningham found a way past Reid before closing on Gaunt, then Reid returned the favour on Cunningham - in a gutsy move around the outside at The Loop - and had his own go at Gaunt round the back of the circuit.
 
Once he was in front of Gaunt Reid then closed the gap on Baird, setting the fastest race lap and crossing the finish line just four-and-a-half seconds behind.
 
Gaunt was a further 11 seconds back with Paul Kelly taking over fourth place after Cunningham slipped off the track at the final corner with just a lap to go.
 
Pole man Simon McLennan, meanwhile, capped off a great weekend with fifth place from fellow young guns Scott Harrison and Simon Evans.
 
Triple X team boss Shane McKillen had been running in sixth place but was called into the pits for a drive through penalty after tapping protege Harrison into a spin at the Elbow.
 
Fortunately for Harrison, he was able to continue, and work his way back up to sixth place, his consistency across the three weekend races earning him the final step on the round podium behind Baird and Gaunt.
 
Despite having his five-race winning streak ended, Daniel Gaunt retains a strong lead in the series points standings, heading to the fourth series round at Timaru next weekend with 606 points, 102 more than second placed Jonny Reid and 131 more than Baird who has moved from sixth place to third.
 
Strong finishes from Simon McLennan in each race - including a fifth in the final - have also seen a change in the 996 Cup category with Simon McLennan taking over the lead from Mark Whyman, and Simon Evans slotting into second place.
 
Whyman remains third and is looking for a  better run at Timaru after failing to finish the weekend's first race after slipping off the track and grazing the barriers then failing to make the grid for the third with a broken gear selector.
 
With his first round win of the season now behind him Baird is looking forward to continuing to close the points gap on teammate Gaunt at Timaru next weekend.
 
"As I've been saying since the first round, we havn't exactly been struggling for pace this season, it's luck that's been in short supply.  Daniel has certainly stepped up but at the same time I've put myself in positions where I probably shouldn't have and paid the price.  What I have to do now is just keep on pushing at each round and see how far it takes me."
 
For his part Daniel Gaunt says he never expected it to be easy and he too will continue to take each race one at a time.
 
"The plan for the weekend  was to finish so I was driving at a very comfortable level, for instance, to finish that last race. There was no need to push in those conditions, it is still early in the series and we have a lot of racing still to do."
 
And Scott Harrison?
 
In only his second full season on the New Zealand motor racing championship circuit the 22-year-old from Whangarei claimed his second podium spot in three meetings with another polished performance, one he is happy to share with his fellow drivers and members of his team.
 
"It's an awesome series to be a part of and for that I'd just like to thank Shane and all the guys at Triple X Motorsport for giving me the opportunity to be a part of it. I still haven't quite got my starts right and I'm not yet confident enough on cold tyres but the plan is to continue to be consistent, keep out of trouble and like today let the results look after themselves."
 
Championship Points (after Rnd 3 of 6)
1. Daniel Gaunt 606 points
2. Jonny Reid 504
3. Craig Baird 475
4. Mitch Cunningham 428
5. Scott Harrison 421
6. Shane McKillen 410
7. Paul Kelly 317
8. Earl Bamber 169
9. Hugh Gardiner 153
10. Ant Pedersen 147
11. Andrew Bagnall 117
12. Mike Morton 45

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