Battle-hardened New Zealander Craig Baird has led all the way to win the opening Carrera Cup race at the 2012 Formula 1 Qantas Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park.
Despite being stalked most of the journey by polesitter Jonny Reid, Baird didn’t hit the panic button once as he completed the 10-lapper with 0.6268 seconds to spare, while current championship leader Alex Davison finished in a strong third position.
Baird has now won three Carrera Cup races in a row at Albert Park, after also tasting success in the last two events of 2011.
“That was a great way to start the round,” said Baird. “I felt the pressure the whole way from Jonny, but I was able to hold my nerve and get the job done. I’m now looking forward to continuing that form tomorrow and into Sunday.”
The introduction of the safety car on lap five saw the field bunched together ahead of the final run to the finish and, in addition to Reid keeping Baird in close contact, the fight for fourth between former F1 star Heinz-Harald Frentzen, James Davison, Mark Skaife and Max Twigg also enjoyed some zest.
Frentzen, making a one-off appearance at Albert Park, eventually willed himself to the head of the rolling scrum, with Davison, Twigg and Skaife flashing over the line in quick succession.
Meanwhile, Steven Richards and Daniel Gaunt, who qualified in third and fifth respectively, both left the track on lap one and finished well down the field.
Eighteen of the 20 starters completed the full distance, although former Formula Ford front-runner Nick Foster limped across the line with a blown rear tyre.
Reid set the fastest lap with a 1:59.3795, achieved on lap four.
Race two will be at 12.30pm tomorrow.