GRT Grasser Racing left the Circuit Paul Ricard on Saturday with mixed feelings. In the third round of the 2019 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup at Le Castellet in France, the crews of the two Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVOs did not have the best of weekends, despite their strong pace. Lamborghini works driver Mirko Bortolotti and his team-mates Rolf Ineichen and Christian Engelhart in the number 63 car still finished the race with a respectable P7 in a field of 49 GT3 sports cars.
The number 19 sister car, however, was out of luck. Three weeks ago, Lucas Mauron, Gerhard Tweraser and Arno Santamato celebrated a spectacular Silver Cup victory at Silverstone. In the six-hour race at Le Castellet, which extended into the night, a podium finish was again within reach. But as a result of a no-fault collision, the trio were forced to retire halfway through the race, which constituted a considerable setback to their championship aspirations.
Car 63 scores first points in the 2019 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup
After two pole positions in a row, Bortolotti, Ineichen and Engelhart this time didn’t have a smooth quali which put them eleventh on the grid: their quest for a pole hat-trick was thwarted by a gearbox problem. It was a minor setback which the number 63 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO soon recovered from as the race got underway.
Ineichen was already up to fourth position ninety minutes after the 6pm start. But the forward momentum was interrupted by a problem with the refuelling system, which cost valuable time at the pit stops. Engelhart and Bortolotti nevertheless held their own in the Top Ten.
After six hours, the driver trio crossed the finish line in seventh place. In the circumstances, Bortolotti, Ineichen and Engelhart got the maximum out of a difficult situation. This Top Ten result eventually brought them their first championship points of the current season after DNFs in both of the two previous races.
Mirko Bortolotti: “I am very satisfied with our performance on the track. We squeezed everything we could out of our package but lost a lot of time in the pits every time we stopped. This is a really bitter pill to swallow, because we were definitely capable of more. We have to sit down with the team and analyse the issue. We need to find the cause for it, so that we can convert our potential into a matching result. As always, the pace was right. So there are a number of positives we’ll take away with us from France.”
Car 19 on course for Top 10 finish but forced out by collision
Mauron, Tweraser and Santamato again put in a solid qualifying performance to book P25 on the Circuit Paul Ricard grid. The result was also enough to secure seventh place in the Silver Cup, which put the number 19 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO within striking distance of the podium.
The race started promisingly. Santamato took the first stint and steered well clear of a spate of collisions in midfield as the race got off to a chaotic start. At the 90-minute mark, he was up to 19th. Having already finished eighth in the general classification at Silverstone, a Top Ten result at Le Castellet was a realistic prospect.
The hopes and ambitions of the three GRT Grasser Racing pilots were then shattered after two and a half hours. Tweraser was involved in a collision for which he bore no fault and which brought a premature end to the race for car number 19. Despite the DNF, the trio retain third place in the Silver Cup.
Lucas Mauron: “Unfortunately it was a relatively short weekend for me. We were really unlucky to be knocked out at such an early stage by a collision for which we were not to blame. For me it was bitterly disappointing, because I was booked to drive the last stint, so my services weren’t actually called on in the end. The positive aspect is that our pace was very good again. The car was superb, and I feel confident we would have made further progress through the field. Things were looking good for us, in both the Silver Cup and the overall standings. But that’s the way motor racing goes from time to time. Now we have to focus on the next race and do our best again.”
Gerhard Tweraser: “We had good race pace and looked to be back on course for a podium. At one stage, we were actually up to fifth in the general classification and leading in the Silver Cup. I got past the Lamborghini of another team, and a few laps later he took me out. The car was so badly damaged in the collision that I was unable to continue. I get frustrated by this sort of thing, because it’s really not necessary. We’ve now lost vital points towards the championship, which will make it very difficult for us to win the title. But we’ll do our very best at Spa to get back on the podium.”
The next opportunity for GRT Grasser Racing to regain traction in the 2019 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup comes in the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps on the weekend of 25th – 28th July. The endurance classic, in which triple points are awarded, is traditionally the standout fixture of the racing series. In the meantime, though, there is another race weekend in the Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe (12th 14th July at Zandvoort) and a home race for the team in the ADAC GT Masters (7th 9th June at Spielberg).
Team Principal Gottfried Grasser: “What a mixed weekend that turned out to be. It didn’t start too well for our number 19 car, but in the race itself, the boys made good progress through the field. Unfortunately, Gerhard got taken out on the hairpin by the Lamborghini of another team through no fault of his own. Qualifying went OK for our number 63 car. It was just a bit of a shame, because a minor gearbox problem cost Mirko a potential pole on his lap. I feel sure that there was more we could have got out of this session. In the race itself, they were matching the front-runners for pace, but a problem with our refuelling system was costing us between five and eight seconds at each stop. We have to get to the bottom of the problem. Once again, we’ve missed out on a Top Three finish, which is a pity, but we’re not going to let it get us down. Next weekend, we have our home race at the Red Bull Ring. We’re really looking forward to it and are feeling positive.”