Their mission was never in any doubt. Conditions were perfect, and the start went absolutely according to plan. GRT Grasser Racing intended to win the 24 Hours of Dubai at the third attempt, but things turned out differently in the end. After 24 exciting hours filled with stress, Lamborghini works driver Mirko Bortolotti together with Christian Engelhart and Rolf and Mark Ineichen, crossed the finish line in fourth place, which sounds disappointing, considering original expectations, but in actual fact, the result was stunning and only made possible by a sensational charge up the field and a terrific team effort.
Pole position and battle for P1
The team from Knittelfeld in Austria immediately made their intention to win absolutely clear by taking pole position on Thursday. Bortolotti brought the Lamborghini home in first place, ensuring that GRT Grasser Racing were on pole for the second consecutive time in the Dubai 24-hour race. On Friday at 12 noon (CET), the lights turned to green, indicating the start of the race around the clock. Bortolotti defended P1 at the start, and for the next few hours, the green Lamborghini Huracán GT3 was constantly a contender for the lead despite having 20 kilogrammes of extra weight on board according to Balance of Performance rules.
After just under four hours of racing, though, the crew suffered a serious setback. Without warning, a Porsche skidded into the side of Rolf Ineichen’s car, damaging the rear axle of the Lamborghini Huracán GT3, necessitating a stop for repairs and another pit stop to check things out during a Code60 period. The hot favourites for the win before the race dropped down to P29.
Charge up field tinged with sadness at having to say ‘goodbye’
After that, they had to put the pedal to the metal and attack. At the half-way stage, the crew of drivers had already worked their way up into ninth place by posting lap times on a par with those of the front runners. A puncture two hours before the end caused another moment of shock but did not put the team off their stride, and they even managed to maintain position thanks to a two-lap lead on their nearest rivals.
It was an extremely emotional moment when after 24 hours, the Huracán GT3 finally crossed the finish line, because this was GRT Grasser Racing’s last race with this particular car. The team will field the next generation Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO in the 24 Hours of Daytona at the end of January.
Bortolotti: “I’m very pleased with my second consecutive pole position in Dubai. That got the weekend off to a good start. Our position on the grid for the race couldn’t have been better, but unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan, as we obviously wanted to be contenders for the win to the very end. I want to thank the whole team for all their terrific work. We stand and fall as a team together! But then, I don’t really see the result as a defeat. We achieved the maximum with fourth place, getting the year off to a great start even though we had, of course, hoped for more.”
Engelhart: “I feel very positive about Dubai. We were in contention to take P1 right from the start. The team did a great job and even managed to pull out a bit of a lead for us on the car behind thanks to good strategy. During the night, though, our car had a no-fault contact. Repairs took too long to complete and put us out of the battle for the win. Nevertheless, we never gave up and fought our way back up into fourth place. I had a lot of fun out on track and am very pleased with our successful start to the season. I intend to come back next year, for sure, and win again for a second time in Dubai!”
Rolf Ineichen: “We were well out in front after four hours until we were involved in an unfortunate incident that was not our fault. We spent 20 minutes in the pits, fixing a track control arm, which, of course, bumped us way down the field. As a result, we just missed finishing on the podium, but that’s good, considering where we started out. We finished the 24-hour race. Our crew and all the mechanics did a superb job, so we can be really satisfied.”
Team Principal, Gottfried Grasser: “We’ve raced this car in Dubai in the previous two years, and so, know the track really well, which certainly helped a bit. We produced a terrific performance in qualifying but never expected to secure pole position. The first four hours of the race went like clockwork. The drivers and the whole team did great, but unfortunately, a Porsche ran into Rolf Ineichen during his stint. We lost seven laps, because we had to pit twice and there wasn’t much we could do. To move up from P29 and finish fourth is an amazing achievement – there’s no doubt about that. But it’s always a bit sad to finish fourth. We’ve still got a score to settle in Dubai. This is the third year that we’ve raced there and been competitive every time. We’ll be back to try again!”
Source. GRT Grasser Racing/Photo. Petr Fryba