A rollercoaster ride for GRT Grasser Racing Team in the season opener of the ADAC GT Masters 2020 at the Lausitzring. After a long wait and intensive preparations, the three Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVOs prepared by the Austrian outfit were back in action last weekend. The Knittelfeld-based team come away from the first round of the season in the Super Sports Car League having seen signs of promise yet with regret about what might have been. Thanks to impressive pace and a great display of teamwork, the squad scored points for all three cars in the first race. By contrast, Sunday did not go as hoped.
Lamborghini works drivers Franck Perera and Albert Costa Balboa laid down a clear marker of intent on Saturday with fourth place in the 33-strong field of GT3 cars. In the second race, a puncture on the last lap halted the number 63 car’s charge to another top result. The rookie pairing of Tim Zimmermann and Niels Lagrange together with their more experienced team-mates Steijn Schothorst and Clemens Schmid were on impressive form in race one, finishing in the Top 15 and scoring championship points. Unfortunate timing meant they were unable to repeat their creditable performance in race two.
Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO #63 (Franck Perera & Albert Costa Balboa)
Qualifying 1: P13 – Race 1: P5
Qualifying 2: P4 – Race 2: P27
The GRT Grasser team leaders fulfilled the expectations resting on their shoulders on Saturday, opening their account with a heroic charge through the field and a first top result of the season. In the first qualifying session, Costa Balboa discovered the hard way just how competitive a series the ADAC GT Masters is. Although less than three tenths of a second behind the driver who took pole position, he still found himself starting from 13th on the grid. Undeterred, the 30-year-old Spaniard fought his way back in the race and made good five positions before handing over to his partner. Perera carried on the good work, eventually finishing fourth, a magnificent achievement in the circumstances.
On Sunday, the 36-year-old Frenchman was once again on impressive form, putting the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO on Row 2 of the grid in the second qualifying session. This time, the deficit on pole position was a vanishingly small 0.078 seconds. In the race itself, all the indications were that another top result was in prospect, but the last lap produced an unpleasant twist to the plot. Lying in fifth position, Costa Balboa suffered a puncture only three corners before the chequered flag, which spelt the end of his race. Despite the retirement, the duo are ninth in the championship standings after the first weekend.
Albert Costa Balboa: “Things didn’t go perfectly in qualifying, and the best I could manage was 13th on the grid. But we had a great first race after that. I worked my way up to P8, and Franck gained further positions after the driver change. Our race pace looked very good, and expectations for Sunday were correspondingly high. Franck secured us an optimum starting position in the second qualifying. Unfortunately, our race pace wasn’t quite as good as the day before, but we were still holding our own in the Top 5 when the puncture happened. I lost control of the car and spun off. It’s most unfortunate to miss out on a top result three corners before the end in this way. But looking on the bright side, we were fast and the Lamborghini has always performed well at the Nürburgring in the past. I’m 100 percent motivated to get back into the fight there.”
Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO #82 (Steijn Schothorst & Tim Zimmermann)
Qualifying 1: P22 – Race 1: P15
Qualifying 2: P19 – Race 2: P19
One of the two newly recruited GRT Grasser Racing Team driver pairings had their baptism of fire at the Lausitzring. Occupying the cockpit of the number 82 Lamborghini were GT3 specialist Steijn Schothorst and Tim Zimmermann. The 23-year-old rookie stepped up from the Porsche Carrera Cup to the ADAC GT Masters for the 2020 season and was on impressive form right away. In his first qualifying session, Zimmermann was only half a second off the pole. However, the meagre reward for this performance was a lowly 22nd on the grid. In the subsequent race, Zimmermann and Schothorst gave a good account of themselves, mounting a charge through the field to finish 15th and score a well-deserved championship point.
Schothorst booked 19th position on the grid for the second race. However, the 25-year-old Dutchman was unable to maintain the momentum from Saturday. In the first stint, he was stuck in traffic behind an opponent. The convoy was led by a car that was significantly slower in the corners and therefore all the faster on the straights due to balance of performance regulations. After the pit stop, Zimmermann once again found himself backed up in the same group and crossed the finish line where he had started, namely in 19th place.
Steijn Schothorst: “It was by no means an easy weekend for us – we had been expecting to do significantly better. The qualifying sessions were very tight. One or two tenths made as much as ten places difference, and unfortunately we were at the wrong end of the spectrum on both days. In the first race, we were still on course for a Top Ten result, but bad timing on Tim’s in-lap and my out-lap held us back. Our P15 finish at least meant we scored one championship point. Unfortunately, Sunday did not go at all well. After the start, I was in 19th position but then got stuck behind the Bentley which I couldn’t pass because of its BoP. Tim came out of the pits behind the same Bentley and had the same race as me. With clean air, I’m confident we would have been able to make it into the points again. But anyway, our pace gives us reason for optimism. We’ve got our sights set on the Top Ten at the Nürburgring.”
Tim Zimmermann: “As a newcomer to the ADAC GT Masters, I naturally had a lot to learn. I had only had two test days beforehand, and there were a lot of new things to familiarise myself with, such as the ABS of the car. The team’s expertise was very helpful in quickly getting used to the Lamborghini. Our results weren’t quite what we had hoped for, but from my perspective, it was a good weekend. I’ve taken some big steps forward and was very pleased with my performance. The potential is certainly there, and we intend to go flat out next time to convert that potential into actual results on the leaderboard. A big thank you to the whole team for this debut. I get along very well with everyone. Steijn is an excellent team-mate as well as being a really nice guy. I’m looking forward to the Nürburgring and everything to come.”
Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO #19 (Clemens Schmid & Niels Lagrange)
Qualifying 1: P27 – Race 1: P14
Qualifying 2: P21 – Race 2: P29
The second youngster partnership in the team’s ranks were also happy with having made a solid debut in the ADAC GT Masters on Saturday. Rookie Niels Lagrange was the last driver to set a lap in the first quali that was less than a second off the fastest time of the session. Starting from 27th position on the grid, the Belgian gradually made up ground in his stint and handed over to Schmid in the fiercely competitive midfield. The 29-year-old kept a cool head after the driver change to come home in 14th place and score their first two championship points after a flawless race.
On Sunday the third GRT Grasser Racing car experienced no better fortune either. Although Schmid and his co-driver went into the race from a more propitious P21 on the grid, things quickly took a turn for the worse. In a chaotic start, the Austrian fell back down the field. After the pit stop, Lagrange managed to catch up with a group of eight cars, but a puncture three laps before the end brought his challenge to an abrupt halt.
Clemens Schmid: “We had a difficult weekend because we couldn’t complete our preparatory programme as planned on Friday. On Saturday, we managed to make good progress. The car worked incredibly well, and we were very happy about the points. Unfortunately, we didn’t achieve the desired result in the second race. P21 on the grid was an improvement on the day before, but unfortunately I got hemmed in at the start and lost a few places. Towards the end, we suffered a puncture. So it was a classic case of a day to forget. I would still draw some positive conclusions from it, though. We learned a lot, and I’m sure we’ll look in better shape next race weekend.”
Niels Lagrange: “Everything was new for me this weekend. I’d never driven in an actual race at the Lausitzring before, and it was a huge challenge. We were very satisfied with the way Saturday worked out. We held our own in one of the toughest GT3 championships in the world and advanced from 27th place to finish in the points. Clemens did a mega job, likewise in the second quali. In Race 2, after the driver change, I got caught up in the midfield bunch, but before I could attack, I was forced to retire with a puncture. That was a disappointment, but I’m still looking forward to the Nürburgring. I know the circuit very well, and it should be a bit easier for me there.”
Team boss Gottfried Grasser: “After the long break, we were very happy to be back in action with the ADAC GT Masters. Although we knew before the weekend that it wouldn’t be easy due to the balance of performance, it still went pretty well in terms of pace. Our guys realised their potential on and off the track, getting the maximum in the qualifying sessions. The first race was very good for us. Number 63 was right up there with the front-runners, and the youngsters in our other cars scored points at the first attempt. You cannot ask for more than that. But as is so often the case in motorsport, things unfortunately went wrong on Sunday. We didn’t judge the tyre pressure perfectly. That cost us time and may well ultimately have caused damage to the tyre. If you get a puncture just three corners before the finish, it is obviously a massive blow. Despite the setback, it was a good start for us. We’ve picked up a few points at the start of the season, and we have high hopes for the next race. The Nürburgring should suit the Lamborghini, and we’re really looking forward to it.”
Source. GRT Grasser Racing/Photo. Axel Weichert