In the standout fixture of the 2021 GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup last weekend (29th July 1st August), GRT Grasser Racing put in a heroic effort that sadly went unrewarded. The team gave yet another demonstration of its indomitable fighting spirit on the occasion of the legendary 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. After a crash in qualifying, the crew rebuilt the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO in record time to ensure participation in the endurance classic. Clemens Schmid, Kikko Galbiati and Alberto Di Folco pushed forward relentlessly from last place on the grid. Until they were forced to retire after 15 hours, they had made up no fewer than 28 positions.
The weekend on the history-steeped 7,004-metre circuit in Belgium got off to a promising start for the team. In the first free practice session, the drivers took fifth place in the Silver Cup. In the overall classification, they left 37 opponents in the ultra-competitive GT3 field in their wake. In pre-qualifying, they were once again among the Top Five, with everything to play for in the four-part qualifying session on Thursday evening.
In Q1, Di Folco was again fifth fastest on the Silver Cup leaderboard. The 25-year-old handed over to Tim Zimmermann for the second session. However, the Lamborghini Junior was wrong-footed by the Ardennes rollercoaster as he chased lap times, crashing at high speed in the notorious Eau Rouge section. Thanks to the impeccable safety standards of the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO, the 24-year-old was uninjured in the 50G impact. On doctors’ instructions, however, he was ruled out from further participation in the event.
For the mechanics and engineers of the GRT Grasser Racing Team, the incident had set the clock ticking, as the GT3 car had to be rebuilt from scratch to ensure that the remaining driver trio would be on the starting grid at 16:30 CEST on Saturday. The crew worked tirelessly day and night and were grateful to have the support of Herberth Motorsport. With this extra manpower, they managed the impossible – against the odds, the number 16 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO was rolled out into the pit lane on Saturday for the pre-race inspection.
When the lights went out on the gantry, Schmid entered the fray from the pit lane. The Austrian managed the critical opening laps with professional skill and kept his cool even during an early rain shower. At the end of the first two hours, GRT Grasser Racing were already up to 31st in the general classification. Schmid handed over to Di Folco after three strong stints. He and his Italian compatriot Galbiati proceeded to consolidate this position in the following hours.
In the early morning of Sunday, the trio advanced into the Top Ten of the Silver Cup. With eight and a half hours remaining, however, the forward momentum was brought to a juddering halt. Schmid was about to finish his two-hour double stint when he misjudged the track and hit the tyre barrier. The resulting damage prevented him from returning to the pits under his own power, which meant an early end to the race for GRT Grasser Racing.
The team will have a next chance to make amends in five weeks’ time (3rd 5th September) when the Nürburgring hosts the fourth round of the 2021 GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup. The six-hour race on the GP circuit in the Eifel Forest is the penultimate event on this year’s race calendar for the prestigious endurance series.
Tim Zimmermann: “First of all, let me say how incredibly relieved I am to have survived the accident uninjured. I am thankful for the high safety standards that apply in GT3 racing and, of course, to the Lamborghini engineers who designed such a safe car. The damage was really heavy, and I sincerely apologise to the entire GRT Grasser Racing Team for the mistake I made. I am very sorry, and I can only say thank you for the support and solidarity in this difficult situation. What the team achieved between then and the race was amazing. They overcame numerous hurdles, and I would have liked to give them something back for this incredible effort. Unfortunately, I was forbidden to start on doctors’ orders. I will do everything I can to make it up to them in the next race.”
Clemens Schmid: “Our mechanics deserve a lot of praise. The way that they got the car ready to race again after the crash was sensational. Lamborghini Squadra Corse were immensely helpful, and on top of that, we also received support from another team. It was quite moving to experience the sense of solidarity in the paddock. Obviously, we were intent on returning the favour on the track. We had excellent pace and weren’t going to let the situation get us down. Unfortunately, I made an error on my third stint, which ended our race. I’m obviously very disappointed with this outcome, and I feel very sorry for the team.”
Kikko Galbiati: “This weekend has been one of the most challenging in my life, and I am very happy that I was able to share it with GRT Grasser Racing. It was a shame that we had to retire eight hours before the finish, because the team had been incredible. After the accident in qualifying and all the effort they put in, we really wanted to be there at the chequered flag and get a top result in the Silver Cup. Unfortunately, we didn’t succeed in that regard. I would like to thank the whole team for their hard work and also my sponsors and family for sharing this intense experience with me. We will come back even stronger at the next race.”
Alberto Di Folco: “The team did a fantastic job to rebuild the car in just one day. It was crazy, and the mechanics deserved to see us finish the race and get a strong result. I think that, without mistakes, our pace would have put us in contention for the podium. The result was a huge disappointment, but we gave it everything we’d got. The race was a really tough one, and I’m glad I came through it error-free. It’s been great fun competing for GRT Grasser Racing. The team is a really special bunch of guys and is exceptionally well organised. I’d like to thank Gottfried for this opportunity and wish everyone the best possible finish to the season.”
Team Principal Gottfried Grasser: “The 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps was a very tough race, as indeed it is every year, and unfortunately it was not the race we had planned. The car was heavily damaged in Tim’s accident in qualifying. It was an incredible achievement by our people to rebuild it in less than two days. I would like to say a special thank you to Herberth Motorsport who were a great help. We made it onto the pit lane at literally the very last minute to be allowed to go through to the race. Things actually went very well from that point on, although we were definitely missing Tim. Kikko, Alberto and Clemens did a superb job, but the conditions were extremely difficult for all the drivers, including the front-runners. Our three had a lot of responsibility riding on their shoulders, and it can’t have been easy for them, either physically or mentally. Unfortunately, Clemens made a small faux pas late on in the race that ended up with us having to retire. It was, of course, a regrettable way to go out, but I am still very proud of the whole team. Everyone gave their absolute best, and team spirit of this kind is sometimes worth more than a single result. We will take this setback on the chin and look ahead. Next weekend, we have the IMSA at Road America, and we’ll be back in full attack mode there.”
Source. GRT Grasser Racing/Photo. Alessandro Galli