Although the outcome of the ADAC GT Masters drivers’ championship had already been decided at the Hockenheimring, there was still plenty at stake on the last weekend of the season at the Sachsenring. 25,000 spectators came through the gates to witness a racing spectacular in which several contenders would be battling it out for the team title. Despite the customary heroic endeavours of the entire crew and the two driver pairings Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart, Franck Perera and Rolf Ineichen, Orange1 by GRT Grasser fell agonisingly short of winning the team championship. Meanwhile, in the drivers’ classification, Bortolotti and Engelhart clinched the runner-up spot after two intense and thrilling races. Perera and Ineichen finished the campaign in tenth place. The duo of Michele Beretta and Marco Mapelli, who were not present this weekend, took P18 in the drivers’ championship.
Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO #63 (Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart)
Qualifying 1: P7 – Race 1: P5
Qualifying 2: P7 – Race 2: P6
There were mixed feelings for Lamborghini works driver Mirko Bortolotti and team-mate Christian Engelhart on Saturday. The two switched their usual running order for the Sachsenring weekend, and so it was the German who sat behind the wheel of the number 63 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO in Saturday’s quali. Engelhart booked a perfectly reasonable P7. But because of a ten-place grid penalty imposed by the stewards for having racked up three cautions, the Orange1 by GRT Grasser driver was obliged to start from 17th. In the race itself, however, the two of them were in sparkling form. As early as the first corner, Engelhart had gained four positions and eventually handed over to Bortolotti in twelfth place. The Italian once again showed flashes of brilliance. As fast as a speeding arrow, displaying the requisite level of aggressiveness while keeping it fair – that was again the recipe for success on Saturday. Bortolotti battled his way through the field and crossed the finish line in fifth position.
An impressive milestone faded somewhat into the background against the thrilling chase for the team trophy: on Sunday, Bortolotti and Engelhart were due to contest their 100th race in the ADAC GT Masters, a round number and an impressive career achievement. Bortolotti seemed unmoved as he set the seventh fastest time in qualifying. In the race, the Italian and his German team-mate then fought to make the impossible possible, because their main rivals in the team classification were starting the race from pole position. After a heroic and flawless performance from both drivers, Engelhart eventually crossed the finish line in sixth, thereby making sure of the runner-up title in both the drivers’ and team classifications.
Mirko Bortolotti: “It was essentially a difficult weekend. Our objective, of course, was to win the team championship and make sure of second place in the drivers’ championship. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite manage to become team champions, but Christian and I are at least runners-up in the drivers’ championship. For that reason, I would describe myself as 50 percent satisfied. The weekend was pretty difficult from the start. The performance we produced was the maximum that our package could deliver. Of course, it may be that this track does not suit us as much as it suits others. But now we have to analyse why things didn’t work quite so well for us at the Sachsenring as they did on previous weekends. In terms of grid position, the first race was phenomenal and the second race was solid to very good.”
Christian Engelhart: “All things considered, my feelings about the weekend are positive – I’ve a twinkle in one eye and a tear in the other! We came to the Sachsenring with the intention of winning the team championship. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be. But by way of compensation, we hung on to our runner-up spot in the drivers’ championship. That was really not straightforward, because the Mercedes-AMGs were very fast. The second race was not easy, and tactics played an important role. We managed the situation well and got ourselves across the finish line. To have competed in my 100th ADAC GT Masters race is really quite something. The series has come along really well. Every year since I started, it has taken a step forward. The racing is very fair, but also very combative. The opposition leave you enough room, and it’s fun to drive here.”
Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO #82 (Franck Perera and Rolf Ineichen)
Qualifying 1: P24 – Race 1: P11
Qualifying 2: P9 – Race 2: P22
The driver pairing of Rolf Ineichen and Franck Perera found themselves in a similarly tricky starting position for the first race. In wet track conditions, the Swiss half of the duo in the number 82 car qualified 24th. He then drove the first stint of Race 1. Because of a penalty imposed on an opponent, Ineichen was promoted to 23rd on the grid. He went off like a rocket, surprising opponent after opponent and advancing to 14th – a gain of nine positions on the first lap alone – but he then dropped back a few places as the stint progressed. After the driver change, it was up to Perera to close in on the points. The Frenchman did so in style. Perera moved steadily through the field with each successive lap of this demanding track and finally saw the flag in eleventh.
Lamborghini works driver Perera and his team-mates in the sister car were under great pressure going into the second race. After all, the team title was within their grasp but not yet assured. The Frenchman booked ninth on the grid in qualifying – not quite the strongest position with the title at stake. He got off to an excellent start and was involved in a prolonged battle for sixth place with one of the Mercedes-AMGs. Then a puncture changed everything. He had to make an unscheduled pit stop for a change of tyre, which meant that a top result was no longer achievable.
Franck Perera: “It was important for the team championship that we pushed hard, and that’s what I tried to do. In the first race, I was very close to Mirko. He was blocked in at the start, so I had to take the first corner on the outside, and at the same time I was trying to gain as many positions as possible. At the beginning, I was very fast and I was putting the Mercedes-AMG under pressure. At some point, I realised that something was wrong with a tyre and that it was losing air. As a result, of course, I slowed down, but then I totally lost control of the car and skidded off into the gravel. Anyway, I made it to the pits and, with a new tyre, everything was OK again and we were once again fast. It’s a pity that we missed out on a decent result, though.”
Team boss Gottfried Grasser: “I have to admit that the championship-winning car was just a bit too strong for us. The whole weekend didn’t go as we had imagined. We didn’t quite nail it. But the bottom line is that there are 17 teams that we have kept behind us and 32 driver pairings that finished behind Mirko and Christian. So it’s by no means a bad outcome.”
Source. GRT Grasser Racing/Photo. Axel Weichert