Lamborghini is one of the most successful brands in GT3 in recent times, counting seven Blancpain GT championship titles in the Pro class and two Daytona 24 Hours victories amongst its success. With Grasser Racing and now also FFF Racing representing the Squadra Corse in international motorsports, the Italian powerhouse is always a threat, anywhere it goes.
It all started in Monza three years ago when Grasser Racing established itself as a team ready to win championships.
By the time the 2017 season comes around, Lamborghini has been in the GT3 sport for two years, taking sporadic wins but never stringing together enough good results for a title challenge. A new season in the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup is set to begin in Monza and with Andrea Caldarelli returning to Europe on the heels of a successful few years in Super GT and Christian Engelhart reuniting with Mirko Bortolotti following their victory last year in the season finale at the Nürburgring, Grasser Racing is coming in hot.
Qualification on Sunday morning brings the Austrian-Italian alliance second and fifth place on the grid, with Bortolotti starting the #63 Huracán from fifth, behind teammate Ezequiel Pérez Companc in the #19 ‘Lambo’.
At the green for the three-hour race, Ezequiel Pérez Companc tangles with Guy Smith in the Bentley Continental GT3 on the long straight to the first chicane, setting off a massive crash further back in the field. Bortolotti, looking at the back of Pérez Companc’s car when the Argentinian veers off at high speed, manages to escape the ensuing chaos unscathed and grabs third place before the red flag comes out.
After the restart, the leading SMP Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 of Miguel Molina and Bortolotti are split by the Bentley of Smith. For a little while, at least: the Bentley Boy is deemed responsible for the start crash and penalised, leaving the battle for victory to the Italian cars.
Bortolotti closes the gap to Molina before they enter the pits for the first round of pitstops nose to tail. As they go head-to-head, Gottfried Grasser’s crew sends the green bull out of the pits in front of the AF Corse-ran SMP Ferrari, giving Caldarelli the lead with some seconds to spare. Despite the advantage of new tyres every stint, Caldarelli and Engelhart still feel the presence of Molina’s co-drivers Viktor Shaytar and Davide Rigon in their back as the Lamborghini is never able to pull completely clear of the pursuing Ferrari. That is, until Rigon is handed a penalty in the final hour for overtaking under yellow, leaving the win to Lamborghini.
“I was able to lay the foundation for the success during the initial stint, when I went from fifth to second and pitted basically from the tail of Miguel Molina in the Ferrari, who was the leader at that point,” Bortolotti said after the race.
“The pit stop was very good; we passed the Ferrari in the pits and then were able to pull away afterwards.”
The Italian, who left Lamborghini for Audi in December of 2019 after five years in the service of the Bolognese sportscar manufacturer, noted the Pirelli tyres as an important factor in the result.
“We also had a very good tyre strategy. The decision was to take some risks [during the weekend] and save all-new tyres for the race. We all had a new set of tyres and this obviously also made a difference. This helped us to open a gap, especially at the start of our stints.
“The whole weekend was really well planned and executed perfectly on track. You can plan many things, but at the end of it you just have to do it, and this we did.”
It was only the first race of the year, but the question that followed was whether Grasser Racing could put everything together for a title challenge.
“That is a good question,” Bortolotti said. “We are here [to win races and the championship]. We aim high. We prepare thoroughly and have a super strong team with very good drivers. And we now have two years of experience. Our experience from the last two seasons can help us this year to make sure the bad things don’t happen again, and the good things are repeated.
“I think we have the experience, know-how, the potential and the complete package to be competitive and successful and that’s what we’ll go for.”
Monza indeed proved to be the turning point for the Squadra Corse. Continuing Lamborghini’s winning streak, Bortolotti, Caldarelli and Engelhart stormed to Silverstone glory for a hattrick. Another strong performance in the Spa 24 Hours – scoring points for second and first at the 6- and 12-hour marks – and a thrilling, most-important third place in the season finale in Barcelona was enough to clinch the championship.
In the years that followed, Lamborghini remained a top dog, with Andrea Caldarelli bringing his Asian team FFF Racing over to Europe for the 2019 season and immediately winning the championship in both Endurance and Sprint Cup, while Grasser Racing has added Daytona 24 Hours victories in 2018 and 2019 to its long list of wins that includes gold in ADAC GT Masters as well.
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