Buoyed by their P2 finish in the Sprint Cup on Detroit’s street circuit, GRT Grasser Racing travelled to Watkins Glen in the USA at the weekend (June 24th to 27th) for the fifth race weekend in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship and the fourth round in the Endurance Cup of the top-class sports car championship. However, the endurance classic on the ex-Formula 1 racetrack did not bring the team the success they had hoped to achieve. The strong pace of the #19 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO was to no avail after being forced to retire early.
The Detroit result and experience gained from the event gave the squad and its crew of three drivers the impetus needed to get the weekend started. The focus from the outset was on finding the right race set-up for Sunday as they made their preparations for the 6-hour race at the famous 5.47km circuit in New York State. In practice, Misha Goikhberg, Franck Perera and Tim Zimmermann gradually improved their standing once again in the strong GTD category.
IMSA specialist Goikhberg was knocking on the door of the Top Ten with P11 in the first practice. In the second session, Lamborghini works driver Perera showed that they were on an upward trend with P8, providing ample testament to the fine quality of the work produced by GRT Grasser Racing’s mechanics and engineers in the United States. Goikhberg qualified in tenth place, putting the team in a good starting position for the endurance classic.
Goikhberg also had the honour of taking the first stint on Sunday. The Russian-born Canadian once again used his experience to good effect when the race got under way at 10.40am local time. He worked his way steadily up the field during the first stint with consistent pace, keeping a watchful eye on events around him in the heavy traffic. After the first hour of racing, the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO from GRT Grasser Racing was in seventh position.
Zimmermann took his place in the cockpit of the GT3 racing car for the second stint. The 24-year-old Lamborghini Junior had set the fastest time earlier in the warm-up, confirming his strong form from the word go in this year’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. He made the most of the car’s race pace and posted the fastest lap of the entire race during the second hour with a time of 1:46.844 minutes, putting two tenths of a second between himself and the second-fastest team in the GTD class.
After his stint, Zimmermann handed the car back to 34-year-old Goikhberg, who maintained the pace initially. However, the challenging roller-coaster of a circuit at Watkins Glen was to prove his nemesis on Lap 74 when he went into the barriers on the final turn. The Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO was badly damaged, ending the team’s race at an early stage.
Still, GRT Grasser Racing will get a chance to make up for their disappointment with the result in just few days’ time when they will be back racing at ‘The Glen’ (July 1st/2nd) as they compete in the third round of the Sprint Cup in the American sports car championship. Friday’s race will be over usual time of 2 hours and 40 minutes. As always, fans can watch the action live on the official IMSA website.
Misha Goikhberg: “I’m very gutted for the team. We had a killer car, we were fast and were able to complete passes. I think a podium was very realistic and maybe even a win. But it’s a strong team, we will rebuild the car and finish this unfinished business at Watkins Glen. Sometimes having these very difficult weekends bonds us together and forges for future success. We will do everything in our power to be a factor in all the remaining races.”
Tim Zimmermann: “It’s a pity about the retirement, because our pace was excellent. I had found my rhythm in the warm-up and confirmed that later on by posting the fastest lap in the race. The car was terrific and we could really have achieved a lot with it here, but problems seem to keep popping up somehow this year. Fortunately, Misha suffered no ill effects in the smash. You just get unlucky sometimes, but the season still has a long way to go. We’ll keep working hard to finally get the results we deserve. So far, I’ve really enjoyed driving in the IMSA and feel very comfortable in the Lambo, which makes me feel very optimistic about our results.”
Franck Perera: “We’re all very disappointed, but the main thing is that Misha is okay. It’s a shame, because we all did a great job. Watkins Glen was new to everyone. We managed to get the car’s balance spot-on. Every session was like practice for us but we improved in the warm-up and worked again on set-up immediately before the race, and our Lamborghini was fantastic after that. We had the fastest car, so it’s a shame that we couldn’t fight to the end, but that’s motor racing. We’ll work hard to come back stronger and show that we can win.”
Team Principal Gottfried Grasser: “Our pace in the race was fantastic and our car ran really well. The team did everything right once again as they prepared for the weekend. Our race went according to plan for the first few hours, but unfortunately, Misha then had an accident in the final turn. He hit the barriers quite hard, but the most important thing is that he’s okay. Obviously, it really upset us all. Our car in the Endurance Cup has always been mega so far this year but we’ve never been able to convert that into good results. We’ll now do all we can and work flat-out, 24 hours a day if necessary, to prepare the car for this next weekend. I’m confident that we’ll manage it in time. As always, we must keep our eyes firmly fixed on the future. We’ll have another crack at it in just a few days’ time when we hope to finally turn things around.”