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Baird and Koundouris start 2013 on topPorsche Carrera Cup Australia: Round 1, Friday, Race 1

Four-time Porsche Carrera Cup Australian champion Craig Baird has began his 2013 campaign with victory at the season’s opening race at the Clipsal 500, while Elite Class race winner James Koundouris was pleased with his top-10 race finish.

Baird, who started the race alongside pole-sitter Nick Percat, led into the opening corner and quickly took control of the race lead ahead of Percat, Steven Richards, Warren Luff and Shae Davies.

Baird was unchallenged at the front in the opening two laps until the safety car was called onto the track after Duvashen Padayachee made contact with Marc Cini at Turn 9, ending the race for both drivers.

The race resumed on Lap 7 and was shortened to just nine laps, leaving a two-lap sprint to the finish.

After the restart, Baird retained the lead of the race until the chequered flag from debutant Percat, Richards and Luff.

Behind the leading quartet was a close and exciting battle pack between several newcomers, with Davies holding off Karl Reindler, Matt Kingsley and Steven Johnson to the finish.

Baird’s 49th victory in the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia championship hands the New Zealander the early lead in the 2013 standings.

“It’s great to get my first Carrera Cup race win of the year. Your first race win is always the hardest victory of the season. Once you’ve won one race, the monkey is off your back. I’d hate to be half way through the year and not win a race, and I’ve been there before,” said Baird.

“I don’t think the car is perfect yet; we can make it a little bit better. It’s good but the balance is not quite right so we need to get it into that sweet spot for tomorrow’s race.”

Baird was also quick to praise the efforts of Percat, who finished second in his debut Carrera Cup race after claiming pole position yesterday.

“Nick did a really good job yesterday; I don‘t think I’ve ever seen someone who hasn’t raced in these cars before come along, gain pole position, be clean, fast and absolutely professional like he has. I’m not saying I’m surprised by his speed, he was quick in single seater racing, but to get pole postion and second place in his first race, I think he should be pretty happy with that.”

Elite Class race winner Koundouris finished ninth from Max Twigg, Tony Bates and class pole-sitter Damien Flack, while Michael Patrizi moved from the rear of the field at the start of the race to 13th by the chequered flag in a limited amount of race laps.

While Koundouris was pleased with the Elite Class win, he was equally rapt with taking a top-10 finish in what he suggests is one of Carrera Cup Australia’s most competitive driver line-ups.

“It was nice to get the first race of the season over and done with and finish first in the Elite Class with a top-10 finish. Now we can go into tomorrow with a bit of confidence,” said Koundouris.

“Ninth place is great in this field. It’s one of the strongest Carrera Cup fields I’ve ever raced in. In a tough field like this I’m very happy to place ninth.”

With many of last year’s top Elite Class drivers competing in this year’s championship, Koundouris expects a tough battle for the 2013 class title.

“The Elite Class is going to be tough this year. Damien Flack has proven that he can mix it at the front of the class, Tony Bates improved out of sight last year and my old nemisis Max Twigg is driving very well, so it should be a good fun battle.”

Michael Loccisano, who managed to narrowly miss the Lap 2 accident, finished 14th from James Bergmuller, Tony Walls, Stephen Grove, Shane Smollen and Renee Gracie in 19th.