The #63 Lamborghini’s gritty victory at Silverstone reinforced their status as a Blancpain GT powerhouse this season, and the dominance of the Grasser squad has prompted critics to question whether the SRO are doing their job with keeping the Balance of Performance.
To put the #63 car’s dominance into perspective, there have been six races this season of which four have been won by Gotfried Grasser’s team. Also don’t forget that at Brands Hatch Mirko Bortolotti made the GT3 lap record look mediocre. But to actually understand what Lambhorghini, specifically the #63 car, have been doing well we must first look at how they have triumphed we must look at how they have won. In reality, their three victories have been quite different.
The victory at the endurance season opener may have seemed dominant, but in fact it was a tale of a little luck and some excellent strategy. Bortolotti took the start and had effectively moved up to 2nd place by the exit of the Retiffilo. Bortolotti then trailed Miguel Molina for the rest of the first hour, with the two cars blazing away from the rest of the pack and pitting with fifteen seconds in hand on the other 52 cars. This was no lack of pace from Bortolotti. The Italian probably could have fought Molina, but instead he bided his time. The Blancpain GT series is a hotly contested series, and the further away you are from the rest of the field, the easier it is to win.
A slick pitstop allowed Andrea Calderelli to take over the car in the lead, 5 seconds in front of a quick but still amateur driver. The cars that pace-wise were really a threat during the middle stint couldn’t even see the rather conspicuous Lamborghini on the kilometre long main straight. Calderelli subsequently said a proverbial ‘ciao’ to his competitors, and the attention of the TV cameras. By the end of the 3 hour race, Lamborghini had cruised to comfortable 30 second lead.
But this wasn’t really due to the performance of the Huracan. It was just being in the right place at the right time. What if the pile-up at the start never happened? What if Lathouras hadn’t have skated off at the start? What if the Bentley wasn’t penalised? What if the Lamborghini hadn’t have jumped the Ferrari in the pits? The third of the four scenarios I have put forward would particularly have made the race a lot less straightforward since the M-Sport Pit Crew, Olly Jarvis and Steven Kane would’ve been able to keep up the sustained challenge which the SMP Ferrari unfortunately couldn’t do. Ultimately, this wasn’t the utterly dominant performance which the 30 second winning margin suggested. Instead this was simply good racecraft, as show by the #63 car’s qualifying position of 6th place.
The triumph at Brands Hatch was, on the other hand, a very simple case of the Lamborghinis being hooked up at the undulating Kent circuit, to the surprise of many. Don’t forget that there were three cars in the top four from the Italian Marque for much of the qualifying race. It wasn’t just the #63 car which had a promising weekend, although the #19 and #66 both capitulated when it seemed they were on target for a solid result.
The Silverstone triumph was quite different, although if it wasn’t for a multitude of minor strategy errors the victory could’ve been a lot more comfortable. Firstly, Bortolotti should never have started the car. Although Engelhart and Calderelli are excellent, talented drivers, Bortolotti is one of the finest drivers GT3 racing has ever seen and if he was in the car for the final stint Maxi Buhk’s late charge would have probably looked rather irrelevant.
Grasser were their own worst enemy at Silverstone. Let’s suppose they got their strategy a bit more correct. Suppose Engelhart started the car. He may not have been able to make a pass for the lead in his opening stint, but he would’ve inherited it anyway when Seralles picked up a one minute penalty. So when a safety car came out 50 minutes into the race, Grasser would have made up just as much ground as they actually did, but without having effectively used up their greatest asset.
If they then had exited the pits in the lead, Caldarelli would have been able to do what he did in Monza and open up a gap to Micheal Meadows, albeit not quite as drastically as he did on Shaytar. This would mean he would’ve pitted from the lead with a 7 or 8 second gap to the second placed Mercedes. Bortolotti would end up with the simple job of bringing the car home with a gap of near double figures.
The underlying issue here with slapping BoP on the Lamborghini is that it would not just be the #63 car that is punished, but every Lamborghini in the field. How have they been doing in comparison? The three races have again told quite a different story. It is impossible to really tell how well the cars were running at Monza as the #19 and #66 cars both had dramas before the race had even really got underway. The #19 did have a promising qualifying position though, sharing the front row of the grid. Maybe if Ezequiel Perez Companc wasn’t impertinently shoved off the track before turn one I would be more able to tell you exactly how much better the #63 car was than the others. The only real evidence to look at is the Orange 1 Lazarus Lmborghini which ran third in the hands of Fabrizio Crestani before falling down the field. The overall pace wasn’t near the #63 though.
Brands Hatch was a more straightforward affair as the Italian marque’s car was the car to have. During the first 30 minutes of the qualifying race, when a cars speed is really on show, there were three cars in top four. Silverstone was a complete contrast, as there was no threat at all from the ‘other’ Lamborghinis with one exception. The Barwell Lamborghini driven by Adrian Amstutz, Patrick Kujala and Martin Kodric impressively took pro-am honours. The class simply doesn’t have the same amount of competition as the pro class, but this was still proof of some pace from the other Lamborghinis scattered around the field.
(Bortolotti in the centre, with Caldarelli to his left and Engelhart to his right)
In reality, it seems that the #63 is very much the only consistent challenger. Other Lamborghinis haven’t been devoid of promise, but poor finishes have reinstated their position as a subordinate to the car piloted by Engelhart and Bortolotti. We have seen a very visual demonstration of this, when Engelhart rapidly pulled away from Companc at Brands Hatch. The 20 second gap opened by Engelhart in less than half an hour really showed the difference between the two cars.
So what is it about the #63 that makes it so superior to the other cars? The obvious answer would be to look at the driving talent. Bortolotti is indeed one of the finest talents in GT3, even though his extravagant driving style rather hinders his consistency and tyre saving sometimes. This was exposed at Misano when Bortolotti’s tyres fell of the cliff just 25 minutes into the sprint qualifying race.
Engelhart, on the other hand, is a much more docile driver, who is quick and good at nursing the car. He struggles in the way Bortolotti came into his own, when he has to up the pace. Engelhart is a very technical, consistent driver but he doesn’t have the ability to push in the same way as his Italian team mate. So it would seem illogical to put Engelhart in for the final stint in Endurance rounds. There is a caveat though. Engelhart has proven his defensive prowess frequently. He has won every endurance race he has raced in with Grasser and two thirds of them have involved him holding off one of GT3’s finest drivers in the final half an hour.
Then there is Toyota and Lamorghini factory driver Andrea Caldarelli, who joins in for the endurance rounds. He, along with Bortolotti, is considered as an Italian prospect who was unlucky not it make it to F1. In the past two years Calderelli had used his Massive Japanese payday to fund his own racing in Lamorghinis, and now he is paid by Lamorghini to drive five races for them. Unlike his teammates, he doesn’t spend his entire time driving and providing feedback on Lamborghinis, so the fact he is on the pace provves the talent he is, not that his Super GT exploits haven’t proven that already.
Drivers, as you can see, play a big role in making the #63 such a formidable car, but it certainly not the only factor. Firstly, Grasser Racing have certainly proven themselves as the most adept team at running Lamborghinis. The most conspicous example of this was at this years Daytona 24 hours. While other Lamborghinis from seven other teams blended mundanely into mid-pack obscurity, the Grasser run car ran in 5th, competing for the lead until a mechanical failure ended the car’s hope of impressing beyong showing promise.
This car is also likely to have a special relationship with Lamborghini. All three drivers are fully fledged works drivers, Bortolotti is their most prized asset and Grasser were the first team to run the Huracan GT3. The #63 car has often picked up criticism for throwing away victories after showing impressive promise. It is in Lamborghini’s best interest to support this car and make it as successful as possible. An array of Italian engineers will always be assisting the running of this car.
This whole situation is very difficult to handle for the SRO. The #63 is a deceptively average challenger. Take F1 from 2014-16 as an example. We always called the Mercedes dominant, but we never said a particular Mercedes driver was dominant, even in 2015, a rather torrid year for Nico Rosberg. The situation is not identical with Lamorghini, but there are many parallels to draw between the two. If the SRO were to reduce the Lamborghini’s restrictor by 5mm and make the car carry an extra 20kg of weight, it would not just be the #63 car which would be affected.
This also brings up the question of the purpose of GT3 Balance of Performance in the first place. It was introduced to cut costs by making it impossible for one GT3 car to become all too dominant. It is about keeping parity between the different car. This is different to the success ballast system seen in some championships around the world, which aims to penalise cars who do well and make it difficult for them to win. If the SRO are to put BoP onto any car, they must be able to prove it is to prevent that make of car from becoming too dominant, not simply penalise them for success,.
We’ve seen ‘dominance’ from a single manufacturer in Blancpain GT on a much larger scale before. Take 2015 as an example, where every race had an Audi up front, particularly the formidable #1 car, or 2016 where Mercedes were pinned to the sharp end of the field. It is difficult to actually apply BoP correctly, and in reality, nine times out of ten the SRO get it right. They have to find a balancing act in their own application of Balance of Performance. It should effect the actual speed of the car, but it must not effect the cars driveability. That is the underlying issue with the existence of BoP in the first place.
In reality, all this article has been able to prove is the fact that BoP is great in theory, but in practice it can be an onerous balancing act. All I can suggest is that the SRO don’t do anything particularly radical, and the fans, drivers and team members of all parties should remain relatively content. They also need to understand BoP is no magic panacea to a good team running a good car piloted by good drivers winning rces..
So I though why not devote the last paragraph to actually congratulating Lamborghini, and particularly the #63 car for their impressive success, and the fact they have finally managed to establish themselves as a more consistent, more measured, and more formidable front-runner in Blancpain GT. Less than two months ago I was considering writing an article titled ‘when will Lamborghini bring their constant capitulation to an end?’. This was in light of a start to their 2017 season reminiscent to all their previous seasons.
They qualified second for the Dubai 24h only to have a mechanical issue, an almost identical issue hit them at Daytona, they ran out of fuel on the last lap at Sebring, and another issue prevented the #66 car from actually benefiting from the pole position Marco Mapelli had expertly earned. When Bortolotti fought his way into the fray tire issues and collisions hounded the cars chances of even a podium. It just seemed like success was never going to come. Even when success finally came Grasser’s way it was though that this was the aberration we often see at Monza. But instead the #63 proved they had developed a more tactical approach, and wins followed suit. Winning four races in a row is a phenomenal achievement in one of the most, if not the most, competitive racing series in the world. Instead of disdaining Lamborghini, why not congratulate their brilliance.
Pictures Courtesy of DailySportsCar, Lamborghini and ForceGT.