Baird the best of the Kiwis in Australian GT qualifying
Craig Baird was the quickest of the Kiwis in the opening qualifying session for the Australian GT Championship at Highlands Motorsport Park this afternoon.
Baird was fastest in the morning practice in his Mercedes AMG and led for much of the second of two qualifying sessions until a fast charging Christopher Mies posted two quick laps in the closing stages to clinch pole position for the first of tomorrow’s two sprint races.
"The car was very good straight out of the box," said Baird. "Highlands is quite an unforgiving circuit but I reckon the track’s the best it’s ever been. Qualifying went really well but there’s no trophies for qualifying. The main event for us is the Highlands 101 come Sunday. If I need a pole, it’s for that one."
Just one second separated the top ten drivers with Mies the standout with a 1m 31.27s lap. Mies achievement was even more impressive considering his co-driver Tony Bates put the car in the wall in the previous qualifying session.
“I want to say a big thank you to my JAMEC PEM Racing team for fixing the car,” said Mies. “There was quite a bit of damage to the two left corners of the car. We needed a new bumper, splitter and wings and we just had under an hour between qualifying sessions to do it so it was a great job by the team. I was lying seventh with seven minutes to go in the session so I got my game face on and put in two fast laps and that was good enough to claim pole.”
The German driver obviously likes the Highlands circuit. He finished second in last year’s Highlands 101 and he looked in ominous form in the Audi R8 LMS during qualifying.
“The track is good but it’s difficult to get your setup right,” he said. “You have to give up some corners in order to go quicker in other sections. It’s challenging not only for the drivers, but for the teams and the engineers as well. There are so many great corners and the layout is good with the bridge and the tunnel.”
Mies missed too many of the earlier rounds to be in contention for the Australian GT Championship but the two sprint races tomorrow are ideal preparation ahead of Sunday’s Highlands 101.
“I would like to win all three races if I can but certainly the two sprint races are great for the team because we get in race rhythm which is always different from practice and qualifying.”
A couple of action-packed practice sessions in the morning saw two cars withdrawn from the weekend. The Nissan Nismo GTR GT3 of Michael Caruso and Matthew Simmons was the first to come a cropper when Simmons made contact with the concrete at turn 2. Simmons lost the rear of the car and the collision caused irreparable damage to the car’s suspension and drivetrain.
Not long after, Tony Walls lost his bearings on the approach to the bridge and smashed into the wall in the McLaren 650S GT3. The heavy hit left the McLaren looking the worse for wear but Walls walked away from the crash unharmed.
The Australian GT Championship leader Klark Quinn topped the first qualifying session in the McLaren 650S GT3 but his time was only good enough for seventh after the second session produced the top six times. Grant Denyer was second quickest with Garth Tander in third.