Kiwi Craig Baird is gunning for his record sixth title at the final round of the 2009/10 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge in Taupo this weekend
Craig Baird is a three-time winner of the New Zealand Grand Prix and a four-time champion in the New Zealand Touring Car class.
The 39-year-old won his first New Zealand Porsche GT3 Cup title in 2005 and since then he has made the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship his own, claiming his fifth consecutive title last season.
Heading into the meeting Baird has 1172 points, 182 more than round five winner Jonny Reid with Daniel Gaunt third just four points behind Reid and Matt Halliday fourth a further nine points back.
Baird got his 2009/10 title defence off to the best possible start at the opening round of the series at Pukekohe in November last year. But it was Triple X Motorsport teammate, dynamic young Australian driver David Reynolds, who won the second and third rounds in the South Island.
Baird came back to win the fourth round at Timaru late in January but the penultimate one, at Manfeild last month, went to the International Motorsport team's well-credentialled series rookie Jonny Reid.
Long-time Baird sparring partner Matt Halliday has also played a key role in the championship points chase this season, outqualifying Baird, Reid et al at Pukekohe and Manfeild and joining Baird and Reynolds on the round podiums at Christchurch and Invercargill.
Then there have been the first-time race winners this year; young gun Courtney Letica at Timaru, and Reid and Daniel Gaunt at Manfeild. Not to mention strong mid-field performances from the likes of kart and TRS champion Mitch Cunningham and established series players Shane McKillen, Andrew Bagnall and Paul Kelly.
This situation has been mirrored in the 996 Cup for drivers of earlier model 996 GT3 Cup Cars.
In that case though category pace-setter Hugh Gardiner has been on the backfoot - points-wise at least - since the second round when he failed to finish the second of the season's four double-points/$10,000 prize money 100km mini-enduro races.
While the extra prize money has been a bonus this season, it's the double points on offer in those races (at Pukekohe, Christchurch, Invercargill and again this weekend at Taupo) which have cast the longer shadow.
Had fastest qualifier Halliday not clashed with Paul Kelly and punctured a tyre in the first one at Pukekohe, eventual race winner Craig Baird would not have left the meeting with as handy a lead in the series points standings.
And had Gardiner not run out of petrol - literally - within sight of the chequered flag at the second round he would not have had to play catch-up with impressive category newcomer Simon McLennan for the rest of the summer.
Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship action at Taupo Motorsport Park begins with testing on Friday. Saturday sees qualifying in the morning and the final 100km mini-enduro of the season (over 30 laps) late in the afternoon.
There are then two shorter races on Sunday, a 10 lap 'fastest-to-the-front' sprint in the morning and a 12 lap top-six-reverse-grid final in the afternoon.
2009/10 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship - Points after Rnd 5 of 6
1. Craig Baird 1172
2. Jonny Reid 990
3. Daniel Gaunt 986
4. Matt Halliday 977
5. David Reynolds 914
6. Courtney Letica 662
7. Andrew Bagnall 642
8. Mitch Cunningham 627
9. Shane McKillen 620
10. Simon McLennan 571
11. Hugh Gardiner 555
12. Simon Evans 435
13. Paul Kelly 423
14. Ant Pedersen 394
15. Colin Caldwell 312
16. Alan Dippie 166
17. Rob Steele 111
18. Mike Morton 108
19. Gene Rollinson 95