DESPITE COMPETITIVE TIMES IN PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING THIRD FOR THE FIRST RACE
Friday’s results from the free practice sessions took to believe a good performance for qualifying and both Emil Frey Racing drivers did not disappoint in Saturday’s first timed session. The Canadian Mikael Grenier put the #14 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO, which went into the race with a 15-seconds penalty, into a promising third place. Team-mate Albert Costa Balboa set the fifth-fastest time in the sister car #63, heading into the 70-minute race without a handicap.
The start already was thrilling. Three cars went parallel towards the first corner. In the mix-up, Grenier lost a position and was forced to go wide through the off-track areas. Costa Balboa was luckier at the start, racing closely behind his team-mate going up the hill toward Turn 2, in which Costa Balboa past Grenier in a fair maneuver.
Therefore, the Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini were running in P2 and P3. Costa Balboa managed to close-in on the two seconds to the leading McLaren, whilst also having gained an advantage of about two seconds ahead of team-mate Grenier. Grenier for his matter also had a comfortable gap of 2.5 seconds ahead of the #59 McLaren before the pitstop window opened.
The Canadian pitted first and local hero, Norbert Siedler, returned to the track in P12 following the 15-seconds penalty time. Costa Balboa inherited the lead on lap 19, coming into the pits two laps later to hand over the #63 Lamborghini to team-mate Giacomo Altoè. The Italian re-joined in P2, taking the lead of the race on lap 27.
Siedler managed to make up ground and was fighting of various overtaking attempts by the #96 Aston Martin whilst running in fifth place. However, an additional time penalty of 12 seconds (Stop time at pitstop too short, overcrossing the white line at pitlane exit) threw the #14 back into seventh place eventually.
Meanwhile, Altoè controlled the race, extending his lead more and more and coming home with a gap of more than 13 seconds to the second-placed car. After the second win of the season for the number 63, the driver pairing Costa Balboa and Altoè have taking over the championship’s lead once again.
The second qualifying on Sunday was extremely tight. Giacomo Altoè reached the third-quickest time in the number 63, whilst team-mate Norbert Siedler landed in 9thplace with only 0.3 seconds Altoè.
Both Altoè and Siedler lost one position at the start. The race was without any problems for the Italian in the number 63 Lamborghini until the pitstop – although he was not able to close the gap to third place, he managed his fourth position well. Siedler, who was first to stop at the Emil Frey Racing garage, improved by one place until his pitstop. Grenier returned to the track in tenth place. Shortly after the number 63 pitted as well and following the 15-seconds handicap due to the victory from Saturday, Costa Balboa re-joined in 12thplace.
The gaps between the various competitors were much closer than seen in recent races. Both Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini were able to improve on their positions after the pitstops and showed great overtakings.
Whilst Grenier was running in fourth place, Costa Balboa took over fifth position on lap 26, running two seconds behind his team-mate.
On lap 32, both Grenier and Costa Balboa, who had meanwhile closed the gap to the Canadian, went past the #20 car of Pierburg. The fight for positions was heating up with ten minutes to go until the end. Whilst the race lead was safe in the hands of the #96 car and second place occupied by the number 17, the fight for the last remaining podium step in the 200thrace of the International GT Open had begun.
Costa Balboa had the direct championship competitor Martin Kodric in the #59 McLaren right at his tail and whilst trying not to lose any time to Grenier had to avoid giving Kodric a chance of overtaking.
The drama took place on lap 36. Grenier´s number 14 started to slow down all of a sudden going towards Turn 3, enabling Costa Balboa to take P3. With three minutes to go until the finish-flag, the Emil Frey Racer was slowing down and returned to the pits right before the end of the race. The #14 car suffered an electrical problem that caused misfire and then gear selection problems.
The close fight between Costa Balboa and Kodric was hit with a beat on the very last lap. The #10 Mercedes quietly running in P5 suddenly made a move and did not only take the place of Kodric, but also managed to pass Costa Balboa who was forced of the ideal race line. The podium finish in the historic race was now out of reach within a matter of corners left in the race, with the Spaniard crossing the finishing line in fifth place.
Following the disappointing result on Sunday, Giacomo Altoè and Albert Costa Balboa are now sharing the lead of the championship with 70 points alongside Kodric and Chaves. The head-to-head fight will continue at the next round at Silverstone.
Mikaël Grenier has turned the page and now focusing on Silverstone. “It is a disappointing weekend from our side, after a good qualifying result on Saturday we were hoping to score many points. Saturday´s race was good except my mistake on the pit entry when I crossed the white line, and today we were looking like third place for us, but we had a mechanical issue. We had to retire with three laps to go. Our focus is now on Silverstone.”
The International GT Open will resume on September 8-9 at Silverstone.
Excerpt and image from Emil Frey Racing press release
Photographer & Editor