Daniel Gaunt is New Zealand's latest Crown Lift Trucks New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champion after an action-packed weekend at the final round of the 2010/11 New Zealand Motor Racing Championship series at Taupo
Heading into the final series round the 25-year-old Auckland-based international had a 25 point lead over fellow former single-seater star Jonny Reid with defending series champion Craig Baird a further 13 points adrift.
But after following Baird and Reid home in the first race of the weekend on Saturday afternoon, then sacrificing a leading position in the second race (in which he finished fifth) to guarantee a front row starting position in the final, it was Baird who went into the reverse top six grid final in front in the series points, three ahead of Gaunt and Reid.
The decision to stake the title on the reverse top six grid final was not taken lightly. And Gaunt didn't mind admitting afterwards that he had his doubts.
"I was definitely sceptical, but it was a team decision and I have to say it was incredible how it played out. Normally with these things you plan it in motorpsort and it goes completely the opposite of what you anticipate. But not this time and for that I'd like to sincerely thank Michael Morton, Shane McKillen, Todd, Ian, Adam and everyone at Triple X Motorsport for making it happen. It's been a bit of a roller-coaster of a season, you know, three laps into it my car was in the wall at Pukekohe, but each time something has happened we've been able to respond."
Not to take anything away from Gaunt's emphatic lights-to-flag win - which included a fastest race lap - in the final, his job was made easier when season-long title rival Jonny Reid, of the International Motorsport team, was forced to pit to replace a punctured left rear tyre before he had completed a lap.
Reid got a blinder of a start from the inside of the third row (beside Baird) and was in third place behind Gaunt and pole man Hugh Gardiner as the field streamed into the first corner. Unfortunately as the 10-strong field sorted itself out Scott Harrison ran into the left-hand rear quarter of Reid's car, the impact ripping the stem out of the tyre's valve.
By limping round to the pits and changing the wheel and tyre Reid was able to salvage 10th place in the race but still lost second place in the championship points chase to Baird, who followed home his Triple X teammate Gaunt in second in the race.
Though obviously disappointed Reid was gracious about the way the cards fell.
"Going into the race it could have gone either way and, this time, it went Daniel's and not our's. But that's motor racing. That's why we do it. We all come together and throw it on the line and at the end of the day we gave it our all and when we come back we will come back better and we will come back stronger."
Consolation for defending and six-time series champion Craig Baird came in the round win, his third out of six this season.
Though Reid was quickest in testing on Friday Baird just pipped him to top the team sheets in qualifying on Saturday morning and won two of the three races, the first - which Reid led early on - from Reid and Gaunt and the second from Reid and Ant Pedersen.
Starting from the outside of the third row of the grid in the final was always going to make a clean sweep difficult. And when Gaunt got away at the start Baird knew the best he could do was keep his Triple X teammate in sight.
“I got boxed in at the start which let Daniel away with a lead I couldn’t catch,” he said. “He played an advantage with his points and tyre situation – making him unbeatable and the new title winner. After being shuffled off during early rounds of the season we’ve come back from being 170 points down to five behind and second overall – that’s a win in its own right.”
Third in the final, meanwhile, was 2010/11 Rookie of The Year Scott Harrison, the young Whangarei drive putting in another strong drive after himself being boxed in at the start.
Privateer Hugh Gardiner actually crossed the finish line in third place but was relegated to sixth once a five second time penalty was levied for a jumped start, leaving Ant Pedersen fourth and Mitch Cunningham fifth.
For most of the race Cunningham had shadowed Gardiner with Harrison and Pedersen joining the pair in a high speed four-car freight train but Pedersen got round both Harrison and Cunningham on the 10th lap then Harrison put a successful move for third on Pedersen a lap later.
While all this was going on, 996 Cup champion elect Simon McLennan was steadily pulling away from fellow young gun Simon Evans to claim another category victory. It was his second category victory in as many races and after blowing a tyre in the mini-enduro on Saturday the young Wellington driver said it was the perfect end to his second season behind the wheel of his 996. Final championship points
1. Daniel Gaunt 1042 points
2. Craig Baird 1037
3. Jonny Reid 1000
4. Mitch Cunningham 824
5. Scott Harrison 791
6. Simon McLennan 701
7. Simon Evans 567
8. Shane McKillen 540
9. Paul Kelly 449
10. Ant Pedersen 442
11. Hugh Gardiner 441
12. Mark Maddren 308
13. Mark Whyman 222
14. Michael Morton 220
15. Earl Bamber 169
16. Andrew Bagnall 117. 996 Cup
1. Simon McLennan 1244 points
2. Simon Evans 1022
3. Mark Maddren 557
4. Mark Whyman 441