Premiere – podium – perfection! Orange1 Team GRT celebrated a third-place finish at Brands Hatch for their number 63 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO. In this first ever staging of the Blancpain GT World Challenge, a successor to the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup, Lamborghini works driver Mirko Bortolotti and co-driver Christian Engelhart secured a podium in the first race of the weekend and mounted a spirited charge from last on the grid to finish tenth in the second.
Podium in series premiere
An action-packed weekend at Brands Hatch featured two qualifying sessions on Saturday followed by two 60-minute sprint races on Sunday. Bortolotti was first out for the team in Q1. In chaotic conditions caused by alternating sunshine and heavy rain, the Italian was in contention for pole position. But disaster struck on Bortolotti’s final lap when he spun off the track, damaging the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO and depriving Engelhart of the opportunity to set a time in his qualifying session. That meant the German had to start Race 2 from the back of the field. There was, however, one big consolation: Bortolotti’s previous lap was enough to book second place on the grid for the first race.
As soon as the lights on the gantry went out, Bortolotti made a determined move to take the lead. Having drawn level with the pole-sitter, though, the veteran pulled out of the challenge to avoid an almost certain collision. There was no time for another attack, as the safety car was deployed almost immediately after that. At the restart, the Italian resolutely defended second place and made it clear from his pace that he was determined to win. When he pitted to hand over to Engelhart, the GRT Grasser strategists opted for a change of tyres to attack the race leader. Engelhart was champing at the bit but then lost another position during the pit stop period. Engelhart then spent his stint making sure of the P3 podium.
“I knew that my only chance to snatch the lead would come at the beginning of the race,” explained Bortolotti. “My start from second place was good. I was on the outside alongside the pole-sitter, but as early as the middle of the first lap, the safety car came out, and I had lost the chance of staging an attack. Overall, we had a good race and a good stop. We can be completely satisfied with third place, because the opposition were simply faster today.”
Pursuit with handicaps
Engelhart went into the second race at Brands Hatch with the handicap of starting from the last row of the grid. Yet he still managed to work his way through the field up to thirteenth position by the end of his stint. Unfortunately, there was a contact with an opponent during this onslaught, as a result of which he was handed a drive-through penalty – the car in front of Engelhart braked earlier than usual for a particular corner, and the German had no chance of avoiding a shunt. The penalty was served by Bortolotti immediately after the regular pit stop. The Lamborghini works driver ultimately saw the chequered flag inside the points in P10, thereby achieving some degree of damage limitation. The Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO duo are fifth in the drivers’ standings after the opening weekend.
“We knew that we were unlikely to get much out of the second race, given our difficult starting position,” said Engelhart. “Nevertheless, it was actually going rather well for us in the initial stages until a penalty dropped us back down the running order. So we lost the chance to make even further progress. We really got the maximum out of the first race with third place. After the stop, I kept pushing and was matching the front-runners for pace. Unfortunately, they then opened up quite a gap. Basically, it was a solid start to the season, with points from both races.”
Next weekend, Orange1 Team GRT are back in Blancpain GT Series action when they compete in the Endurance Cup at Silverstone.
Team boss Gottfried Grasser: “Overall, it’s been a positive weekend, because the performance was spot on. Unfortunately, we seem to be a bit jinxed at the moment. Mirko was on course for pole position in qualifying when he mounted the kerb and lost control of the car. In the first race, we messed up slightly at the pit stop, but that didn’t cost us too much time, so we’re happy about our great performance and third place. The second race was a bit chaotic. We had the fastest pit stop of the race and virtually had a podium sewn up when we got the drive-through penalty. From our perspective, it was more of a racing incident, because the driver in front of Christian braked much earlier than you’d expect. But all in all, the weekend was a positive one, and we are feeling upbeat about next weekend at Silverstone. Irrespective of results, I am extremely satisfied with our entire team. Everyone works together well, and the pit crew in particular did a great job again. What we’re missing is that little bit of luck. One thing I’m sure of, though: our time will come!”