Triple X takes Porsche title battle south
With Triple X Motorsport driver Daniel Gaunt taking an early lead in the 2010/2011 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge, his fiercest competition will come from team-mate and defending champion Craig Baird for this weekend’s second round at the Powerbuilt Raceway near Christchurch (26-28 November 2010).
The first of three South Island events, in the six round series, will be one of the hardest for the new championship leader. Gaunt’s early 25-point lead has him in the coveted position the rest of the field would like to claim – including six-time champion Baird.
"It’s elbows out,” says the Melbourne now Auckland based Gaunt. "It’s only the beginning of the championship and way too early to think about the size of the lead. You’ve got to think about the big picture and try to win races. While it’s a nice buffer it’s by no means enough.”
That’s despite badly damaging his original car in the first practice at the series opener early in November. Having won two of the three Pukekohe weekend races in the loaned Michael Morton Outlaws Bar Porsche 997, Gaunt will be back in his original MPD Porsche 997.
"You have to give 100% and not think about anything else or get distracted for the slightest moment. And that’s where I have to thank Michael Morton for loaning me his car at the first round and the Triple X Motorsport team for getting my car ready. Repairing a damaged car is never a quick job – and given the time pressures the team have had to put some long days in to getting my car, along with all the others, ready.”
Tyre failure and a controversial drive through penalty has left Baird languishing in fifth place after the opening round. The six-time New Zealand Porsche champion says the 48 point gap to the lead is just the sort of stimulus the series needs.
"Winning races is very important and that’s what I have to do – so there will be a lot of passing – particularly in the final top-six reverse grid race of the weekend. That will make it very exciting for the spectators and have heart’s pumping for the drivers – there’s a lot at stake,” said the Gold Coast based Kiwi.
"If Daniel Gaunt is going to have his elbows out then we’re going to see pressure poured on. With the cars so evenly matched it’s a battle of driver skill, ability to conserve and manage tyres, along with prowess.”
Gaunt agrees, citing Baird as the ‘master’ at rattling drivers to make a mistake that relinquishes their position.
"Pukekohe showed guys like Jonny Reid and Mitch Cunningham are right there, but Bairdo is still the one to beat – so no-one will be consolidating their position.”
Notoriety earned by Whangarei’s Scott Harrison saw him finish on the podium twice in the first three races of the season driving the #5 Mad Butcher Carpet One Porsche 997. Having only raced the South Island tracks once before in a Suzuki Swift, Harrison’s progress marks him as a reliable finisher for the six-car Porsche team.
Followed in the overall standings by team principal Shane McKillen, the businessman and VnC Cocktails mogul similarly had a sterling start to his fourth season with the team he founded late in 2007. Racing wheel-to-wheel with the championship superior Mitch Cunningham, McKillen comfortably kept the #4 VnC Cocktails Porsche 997 ahead of the junior at the Pukekohe final race for his best result of fifth.
Christchurch businessman Paul Kelly, with four car dealerships bearing his name, will have the benefit of a home weekend. Continuing the consistency theme in the #90 Paul Kelly Motor Company Porsche 997 by finishing every race, he is placed seventh equal out of 12 competitors in the series. While still dealing with earthquake related damage, of his extensive vehicle inventory only his race car suffered damage. Housed in his service workshop, a gas cylinder toppled to lightly dent the front-right fender of his Porsche in the 4 September incident.
Team director and Mad Butcher CEO Michael Morton will return to his original #8 Outlaws Bar Porsche 997 after loaning it to Daniel Gaunt for the Pukekohe series opener. Originating from the earthquake devastated Canterbury region, Morton has not raced his previous home circuit since 2008.
Upping the Auckland based operation to seven cars; Auckland’s Hugh Gardiner will join the team for his first race meeting in the 997 model Porsche after several years in the earlier 996 version. Gardiner, last season’s 996 class champion, missed the opening round, with the team having to repair accident damage from pre-season testing. The 28-year-old will start the Ruapuna weekend with a clean tally as he plays catch-up.
At 3.33 kilometres, Powerbuilt Raceway at Ruapuna Park, 13 kilometres west of Christchurch, is known as a technical circuit that drivers either love or hate. Flat in nature with great views for spectators, the variety of corners rewards drivers who set the car a corner ahead of where they are aiming.
While the magnitude 7.1 earthquake, centred 24 kilometres away, has not left any significant damage to the circuit, Gaunt, Baird, McKillen, Harrison, Morton, Kelly, Gardiner and the rest of the field will still have to learn the state of the track and any unique changes compared to previous visits. With two test sessions on the Friday, the drivers get a chance to relax and entertain hospitality guests and prize winners with hot-laps late in the afternoon. Saturday morning returns to business with qualifying in the early afternoon setting the grid for the 29-lap race that starts at 3:05pm.
Sunday starts with a 10-lap race in the morning with the top-six reverse-grid race of 14 laps set to start at 3:10pm. Each race is worth 75 points for the win.