Baird dominates to win Highlands 101
Craig Baird and co-driver Michael Almond dominated the final round of the Australian Endurance Championship to win the Highlands 101 at Highlands Motorsport Park in Central Otago on Sunday November 13
The win rounded off a remarkable weekend for the veteran Kiwi racer who also claimed a first and second in Saturday’s Australian GT sprint races.
“We had a good start, a good strategy and the team worked really well together,” said Baird. “The main thing for me is we picked up a couple of trophies for (team owner) Scott Taylor. It’s just fantastic for him after injuring his leg at the Gold Coast.”
Taylor was involved in a nasty crash at the end of October which ruled him out of both the Hampton Downs and Highlands 101 meetings.
It was also a memorable weekend for Baird’s co-driver Michael Almond, who picked up the drive in the Mercedes AMG just over a week before the Cromwell race.
“Michael drove fantastic all weekend,” said Baird from the podium. “He came into a really high pressure situation driving someone else’s car.”
Greg Murphy chased Baird home over the last 30 laps but never got close enough to mount a real challenge in Tony Quinn’s Aston Martin Vantage GT3. It was the first time a Quinn hasn’t finished on the top of the podium after Tony’s back-to-back wins in 2013 (with Fabian Coulthard) and 2014 (Garth Tander) were followed up by Klark Quinn’s win last year with Shane Van Gisbergen.
It was a dominant performance from start to finish by Baird and Almond. Nathan Antunes and George Miedecke headed the field in the unique 250m Le Mans sprint to start the race and their codrivers Greg Taylor and Andrew Miedecke were the early pacesetters.
The Baird and Almond pairing lost a few places in the foot race to give up the pole position advantage they’d earned in the morning qualifying session but within four laps Baird had moved from fourth to first.
The former NZ Grand Prix winner and Porsche GT3 Cup series title holder maintained the blistering pace he showed in the Mercedes AMG in Saturday’s Australian GT sprint races to lap a full second or two quicker than the rest of the field in the early stages, opening up a 21-second gap on Taylor in second, with trans-Tasman duo Peter Hackett and Dominic Storey’s Mercedes AMG in third and Morcom and Denyer in fourth.
Meanwhile there was no repeat of Saturday’s form for Klark Quinn and co-driver Mike Whiddett who started from the back of the field after a puncture in the warm up lap delayed their start.
After winning his third Australian GT title the day before, Quinn spent several laps in the early stages of the race with an overheating engine, putting paid to his and Mike Whiddett’s chances of driving themselves back into contention and the McLaren was back in the pits and their race over by Lap 43.
Craig Baird flies to victory in the Highlands 101.
Klark Quinn won a title on Saturday but was an early dnf in Sunday’s Highlands 101. Like father like son. Pit stop for the Andrew and George Miedecke Aston Martin.
Winners are grinners. Baird (right) and co-driver Michael Almond.
The co-drivers sprint to tag their car to start the race.