KIWI STAR TAKES EARLY LEAD, BUT RIVALS ARE CLOSE BEHIND
After a tight and tense season-opening double-header at the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai last month, the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia championship series has arrived in South Korea for round two.
Leading the championship is the world’s most successful Porsche pilot, New Zealander Craig Baird. Baird may be at the top of the points table but the pack is snapping right at his heels.
He leads Rodolfo Avila by only one point. One more point behind are Ho-Ping Tung and Martin Ragginger in a tie for third.
New to the series is another Kiwi, Chris van der Drift, who is having his first season in the rear-engined GT Cup car.
Craig Baird is in front by only one point after the series opener.
The New Zealander has established a reputation overseas as one of the best last-minute call-up blokes in single seaters and sports cars, and is now relishing the opportunity to race a full season.
It’s been a while since the former A1GP, AutoGP, Superleague and World Series driver has been able to settle into a full season, and he has experienced the highs and lows of motor racing.
Van der Drift scored an impressive second place on debut in the opening race, but was not able to make the start of race two and is sixth on the leader board 16 points off the lead.
“First of all it’s great to be involved in a team where I’m piloting my own car again,’’ said Van der Drift from South Korea.
“The Porsche is quite a bit different from anything GT-wise I’ve driven before and I’m still adapting my driving style to extract the most speed out of it.
“But it was great to rock up to Shanghai and take away a second place in my first race with zero knowledge of the car.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t do that in race two as we had mechanical issues and I never made it to the start.
“I feel a lot more prepared for this weekend’s races as I sort of know what to expect and I know the car much better now.
“Korea is a new track for me but I’ll work it out in no time.”
Someone who won’t have any trouble working out how a Porsche GT car works is Baird.
The Australia-based Kiwi has an added advantage over the majority of drivers in the 28-car field in that he’s also contesting the Australia one-make series, where he is second on the championship table.
“The cars are the same so that’s good from my point of view. It’s sitting on planes I don’t like,’ said Baird.
“It’s nice to be leading the championship after the first round but it’s early days. As always, you have to put the complete season together if you want to win the championship.
“The Carrera Cup hasn’t raced here [Korea International Circuit] before, but I have in a Ferrari GT car last year, so that might be to my advantage having knowledge of the track.
“It’ll be a busy weekend for me as I’m again racing a Ferrari in the GT category.”
Five drivers were on podium at the opening round in China and it’s shaping up to be a similar outcome this weekend.
Lack of track knowledge may cause a few drivers to come unstuck, but for the likes of Baird and Van der Drift it shouldn’t be too much of a problem as both have raced all around the globe.
Third-placed Martin Ragginger won’t be competing as he’s racing in the Nurburgring 24 Hours this weekend.
Taking his place is youngster Zhang Zhen Dond, who acquitted himself well last season.