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Battle of the titans for Porsche series at Taupo

 

New Zealand's Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship has consistently attracted the country's best professional drivers - but the third round of the 2006/07 series at the A1 Grand Prix World Cup of Motorsport meeting at Taupo's Taupo Motorsport Park between January 19 & 21 has raised the bar even higher.

New Zealand's Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship has consistently attracted the country's best professional drivers - but the third round of the 2006/07 series at the A1 Grand Prix World Cup of Motorsport meeting at Taupo's Taupo Motorsport Park between January 19 & 21 has raised the bar even higher.

Defending Battery Town champion and recently crowned 2006 WPS Carrera Cup Australia champion Craig Baird heads the 20-strong entry list while joining regular sparring partners Fabian Coulthard and Matt Halliday for the A1 meeting is top Australian Porsche GT3 Cup driver Alex Davison.

With Baird, Davison and Coulthard have won the lion's share of Carrera Cup Australia races over the past three years.

Davison won the title in 2004 and came back after a year in V8 Supercars to finish a close second to Baird in 2006, while Coulthard won both the Michelin Rookie of The Year and Michelin Driver to Europe awards in his debut year in 2004, then took an emphatic outright victory in 2005.

And Baird is quick to acknowledge the role his success in the Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship played in his victory in last year's WPS Carrera Cup Australia series.

"Yes," he said in an interview in the January 2007 issue of SpeedSport magazine, "the New Zealand series is in some ways more competitive than the Australian one. In Australia you are protecting and looking for points all year, but in New Zealand there is probably more street fighting in the races than in Australia."

Baird, Coulthard, Halliday and Davison are just the tip of the iceberg as far as the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport round of the 2006/07 Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship is concerned.

And series organiser Grant Smith, General Manager of New Zealand Porsche importer European Motors, says that the event has attracted one of the best fields he can remember.

"Even in Australia they are looking at our lineup and going 'wow! Fabian obviously made a big impression on the Australians in 2004 and has gone on to V8 Supercars on the strength of it but I don't think the Australians realised just how high the standard of our series over here is until Bairdo went straight into their 2006 series and won races against the likes of Alex and David Reynolds. We're very lucky to have drivers of the calibre of Craig, Fabian and Matt returning each year to compete here and I think one of the reasons Alex has been so keen to come out and join us for the A1 round is that he realises that these days there isn't an 'off-season,' you have to work on your game all year round."

Meanwhile further olstering the entries of 2006/07 series find Jody Vincent, category young gun Jono Lester and series regulars like Graeme Cameron, Andrew Bagnall, Paul Kelly, Rick Armstrong and Dean Cockerton. are Kevin Bell, Shane McKillen, Mike Morton and Pat Harrison.

Christchurch man Bell is an internationally-ranked endurance race specialist who is now very much the 'super-sub' of the Battery Town series.

He was one of the first drivers in this country to buy a Porsche GT3 Cup car, racing it here and in Australia with some success, finishing fifth overall in the 2003 Australian series.

And last year he, Baird and Carrera Cup Australia father-and-son combination Tony and Klark Quinn finished ninth overall in a Porsche GT3 Cup car in Germany's 24 Hour Race at the Nurburgring.

McKillen, Mike Morton and Pat Harrison are making their 2006/07 Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship debut at Taupo, though like Bell, McKillen and Morton have both competed in the series before.

In terms of form it is going to be hard to look past Baird and Davison though Fabian Coulthard has been the pace-setter at the first two rounds of the 2006/07 series, setting pole position and winning two of the three races at each round.

Baird and Halliday each won one race apiece with Baird's consistency giving him the points lead over Coulthard, series returnee Jody Vincent and Halliday.

Former kart star and experienced tin-top man Vincent has made a big impression at both rounds, taking the battle to the the series 'trio-at-the-top,' Baird, Coulthard and Halliday.

Teenager Jono Lester has also had a great start to his debut year in the Porsche GT3 category, setting the fifth fastest qualifying time at the second round and running competitively in the top six.

There is real strength in the mid-field as well with second year series competitors Rob Steele, Nick Gordon and Connell McLaren moving up to challenge the likes of Graeme Cameron and Andrew Bagnall, and David Mackrell and Jonathan King improving with every outing.

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, in the case of the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport meeting at Taupo, one on Friday, one of Saturday and the final on Sunday just before the main A1GP race.

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 six starters.

Pukekohe's Pukekohe Park Raceway hosted the first round of the 2006/07 Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Championship over the November 4/5 2006 weekend and the second round was held at Christchurch's Powerbuilt Tools International Raceway at Ruapuna Park on November 25 & 26 2006.

The new Taupo Motorsport Park hosts the third round between January 19-21 and subsequent rounds are set to be held at Feilding's Manfeild Autocourse in February, Timaru's Timaru International Raceway and Invercargill's Teretonga Park in March and Pukekohe Park Raceway in April for the grand final at the Placemakers V8 Supercar meeting.

2006/07 Battery Town Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Championship

Points after Rnd 2 of 7

1. Craig Baird 410

2. Fabian Coulthard 403

3. Jody Vincent 348

4. Matt Halliday 290

5. Jono Lester 252

6. Graeme Cameron 216

7. Nick Gordon 200

8. Andrew Bagnall 180

9. Connell McLaren 172

10. Paul Kelly 168

11. Kevin Bell 157

12. Ross Rutherford 150

13. Rob Steele 149

14. Jonathan King 148

15. Dean Cockerton 147

16. David Mackrell 130

17. Rick Armstrong 94

CALENDAR

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)



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