Christian Engelhart called his debut at the 24 Hours of Spa a „great and crazy race, where the whole Grasser squad once more delivered perfect teamwork, flawless by everyone….” Mirko Bortolotti loves Spa, „even as Spa did not love us this time and a technical problem cost us a possible victory after 17 hours. But the atmosphere, the fans, the circuit, the level of competition – that´s all just fantastic.” And team principal Gottfried Grasser, who like the whole GRT team had been looking forward to the highlight of the season for weeks and put a lot of effort into the preparations, finally had to consider: “It´s a pity that we did not get the well-deserved reward for our effort. But Spa was nevertheless a hammer race for us. It´s such a great event, in my opinion one of the best sportscar and GT races worldwide.”
From the very beginning GRT Grasser Racing Team proved to be very competitive: “Already during free practice we were able to show our potential. In qualifying we managed to get the 63 car into “Superpole” of the Top 20 on the last set of tyres. There Mirko Bortolotti showed real fireworks and put the car into the first row of the grid.” Qualifying turned out to be more difficult for car number 19 with Rolf Ineichen, Ezequiel Perez Companc and Raffaele Gianmaria, who finished in P56 within the field of 63 starters. “But we were well aware in advance that it would be very difficult to qualify well without a one hundred percent professional driver in the car. It´s just so close. The Top 20 lay within 0.4 seconds. With 10 manufacturers and on such a long and demanding track like Spa, that´s extraordinary. I think we really have to congratulate the SRO organisation for that. That´s a BoP other series can only dream of”, Grasser was adamant.
The race started very promising for both cars: “Within the first two hours Rolf Ineichen was able to make up 20 places, while our professionals in the other car consistently remained within the leading group. After six hours, we were in P2, after twelve hours even in P 1.” Which was also a result of Christian Engelhart was one of the few drivers who stayed out on slicks when it started to rain: “With this impressive stint we were able to tale the lead.” An important achievement also for the championship, as points are awarded at Spa for the six and twelve hours´ classification also: “So we could at least get 21 valuable points and keep the lead in the team classification,” Bortolotti, Engelhart and Andrea Caldarelli consoled themselves later on, with the first two mentioned also still being in a very good position in the drivers’ championship, only three points behind the new leader, Bentley driver Vincent Abril.
The place on the rostrum which seemed to be in reach for such a long time, in the end did not come true for the trio. “Everything seemed to be going according to plan, we were able to match the speed of the others and we were on a good strategy as well”, said Grasser. But then suddenly came the big shock: “Sorry guys, it´s over, Christian Engelhart radioed in after more than 17 hours. Due to an ABS failure he could not do anything about it, was simply a passenger when the car hit the tyre wall.”
Car number 19 in the end saw the chequered flag in P 18, an improvement of no less than 38 positions towards qualifying: „ Already within the first twelve hours Giammaria, Companc and Ineichen were able to move up into the die Top 20. Unfortunately a total of six penalties threw them quite far back a few times, otherwise even a Top 10 position would have been possible. For a car with no real professional driver on board this is quite remarkable in such a strong field.” In general, Grassers resumed that “we never have been so close to a podium finish like this year. But you never give up trying to succeed in the 24 hours of Spa. We will be back in 2018 and we are already looking forward to it.”
But for the moment the season for the Grasser Racing Team continues this weekend at the Nürburgring with the ADAC GT Masters with the already well-known driver line-up: Mirko Bortolotti and Ezequiel Perez Companc will share the wheel in the Lamborghini Huracán number 19, Christian Engelhart and Rolf Ineichen in the sister car number 63. „The sprint circuit of the Nürburgring is one of the more difficult tracks for us, but doing a good job I think we can still get into the Top Five”, Grasser is rather optimistic. “At least that is what we are definitely aiming for!”
Source. GRT Grasser – Wolfgang Koepp/Photo. SRO Motorsports Group