Reigning champion Craig Baird has claimed a light-to-flag victory in the opening Porsche City Index Carrera Cup Australia race of the Albert Park round, with Elite Class driver Max Twigg executing the ‘race of his life’.
After starting second on the grid, Baird jumped to the front of the field from the start and opened a gap to pole-sitter Jonny Reid, with championship leader Alex Davison, rookie James Davison and German import Heinz-Harald Frentzen behind.
A mid-race safety car was called to recover the car of Shane Smollen, who received substantial damage after contacting a barrier, and consequently bunched the field leaving a four-lap battle to the chequered flag.
Baird again led at the restart but struggled with a flat-spotted tyre after an earlier brake lock-up, before going on to take the victory ahead of fellow front-runners Reid and Davison.
“The car was sensational. I was absolutely cruising and gapping the field before I flat-spotted the tyre. I dropped the right front onto a damp patch going into turn six and peeled a tyre, so it had a flat spot for the rest of the race,” said Baird.
“But sometimes you get the car right, and it was absolutely spot-on. I’m not touching it for tomorrow.”
Behind the leading trio, the battle for fourth through to eighth heated up in the final laps.
In the final stages of the race, Frentzen was gaining on James Davison, with Mark Skaife and Elite Class leader Twigg close behind.
Frentzen then challenged for fourth position entering the final lap – a battle that continued up until the turn three complex, where Frentzen ultimate snared fourth position and Davison in fifth.
Twigg capitalised on this four-way battle by passing Skaife for sixth position, where he remained until the finish, while Skaife finished in seventh.
James Koundouris, who was running with Twigg earlier in the race, and 16-year-old Andre Heimgartner finished eighth and ninth, while Daniel Gaunt and Steven Richards recovered from an opening lap incident at turn three to finish 10th and 11th, respectively.
After crossing the finish line with six-time Bathurst 1000 victor Skaife in his rear-view mirror, Twigg quickly declare the opening Albert Park race the best of his career.
“That was the best drive I’ve ever had in my life. To run with those guys and sit in that battle there is something I never really thought I’d achieve,” said Twigg.
“It was by far my best drive and most satisfying drive of my career. I was doing a Mark Webber down the radio. I think everyone’s tyres started to go off with three laps to go, Skaife’s included. I think they all started dicing and forgot about me. That race was so satisfying; something I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”
The ultimate beneficiary from the battle for fourth was Frentzen, who capitalised in the final laps to take fourth position in his debut Carrera Cup race.
“It was a very nice experience and great racing; it was good fun to drive here in Melbourne,” said Frentzen.
“It was an exciting race. I saw that James Davison had some difficulties after the safety car to get his tyres hot enough. I put pressure on him straight away and he had to go very defensive; that was my chance. I finished fourth, that was a good result.”
The second Porsche City Index Carrera Cup Australia race from the Formula 1™ Qantas Australian Grand Prix event will be held on Saturday at 12:30pm.
Saturday March 17
12:30pm – 12:50pm Race 2 (8 laps)
Sunday March 18
2:10pm – 2:30pm Race 3 (8 laps)
Porsche City Index Carrera Cup Australia – Race 2
Date: Saturday March 17
Channel: One HD/Ten
Porsche City Index Carrera Cup Australia – Race 3
Date: Sunday March 18
Channel: One HD/Ten