Race report interview: Mikaël Grenier Imola weekend
LONG TIME COMING FIRST RACE FOR GRENIER AS TEAMS AND DRIVERS WERE NOT EVEN SURE IF THERE WAS TO BE A 2020 CHAMPIONSHIP
First race of the season, new series(GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS, NDLR), same partnership with co-driver(Norbert Siedler, NDLR) and team(Emil Frey Racing, NDLR), Canadian Racers News contacted Mikaël Grenier to share with us how the weekend evolved.
Canadian Racers News(CRN): Mikaël, How did it feel to be back in action this weekend?
Mikaël Grenier(MG): It’s great to go back racing although a little weird to be at our first race at this time in July where we were originally supposed to be at Spa for the 24 hour race with the original calendar. Also, we were in doubt for a while, when this COVID-19 erupted, as we thought the season might have not taken place at all. Fortunately, GT World Challenge Europe organizers came up with a great calendar for the remaining of the season. We originally had 15 races on the calendar and they managed to get 14. They worked it out so we have the same amount of race time as the initial calendar mind you they re-worked the weekend format at some events like adding another 3-hour to the Nürburgring round to make it a 6-hour race and adding sprint races to others so to make it three sprint races in a weekend instead of two.
CRN: How has the adaptation to the GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS been especially with the Pirelli tires compared to last year’s Michelin on the car?
MG: We had done some testing prior to the race. But testing without any competitors around makes it more difficult to gauge the performance. The conditions this weekend had changed quite a lot from when we tested. We tried a different approach on set-up and it did not work at all. It wasn’t what we expected and it made for a difficult qualifying session.
CRN: How has the BoP affected the performance of your car?
MG: We knew before the weekend it was to be more difficult for the Lamborghini teams in terms of performance. Since Lamborghini won the championship last year, The BoP was not favouring Lamborghini for the first weekend as they had to carry more weight than other competitors. Carrying more weight affects the car handling in corners making it slower out of the corners and then less straight line speed at the end of straights combined with a smaller intake restrictor.
When you look at qualifying times, the first 26 cars were separated by less than a second. With a more favourable BoP, this could help gain a tenth here and there to get closer to the top positions. Even for the race, a more favourable BoP will help with tire degradation.
I just went for it. I took some risks but I had no choice, I needed to gain positions.Mikaël Grenier
CRN: How did the race unfold for the #14?
MG: Starting 25th, it was difficult for Norbert even has he had good pace. There were lots of safety car periods and that did not help either. Norbert drove really well but unfortunately, Imola is a difficult circuit to pass and he was stuck behind a Bentley for his entire stint. The Bentley has great straight line speed, so even though Norbert got close in the corners, the Bentley drove away on the straights. Our pit window for the first stop happened at the same time as a full course yellow. With a field of over 40 cars, everyone then came in for their stop. It was so busy in the pit lane and there was not enough space to fit everyone at the same time. We usually time ourselves with teams on either side of us for when we were to come in but that went out the window when the yellow came out. We did end up loosing time there. Our team did a great job for the pitstop and I replaced Norbert for the second stint.
From 26th place when we came in, I rejoined the track in 39th place. I knew the middle stint was going to be important for the latter part of the race and I had to gain as many position as I could.
CRN: Tell us a little more about your stint as we were watching the live timing to keep track of your progress. You did managed to go from 39th to 17th during your hour behind the wheel!
MG: The car had good pace for the race and we were able to gain several positions. I have to say the car was much better in the race than any other sessions we had. What helped during the stint was the fact there were no safety car periods which gave me the opportunity to take advantage from the car’s performance. I gave it all I had especially being this far back and knowing only the top ten gets points for the championship. I just went for it. I took some risks but I had no choice, I needed to gain positions.
CRN: Having pushed hard during your stint, did you have anything left in your Pirelli tires when you came in for your stop?
MG: It was actually still pretty good, even though I had been in traffic through mainly the first half of my stint. Being in traffic and fighting to gain spots does affect the tires and when you add to the mix the ambiant temperatures (37 degrees at race time, NDLR) it doesn’t help either. Everyone is in the same boat towards the end of an hour stint. Let’s just say it was about time for me to pit(MG laughing, NDLR)
CRN: During the second stop, Ricardo Feller took your place and from 17th came back on track in 12th place…
MG: We had a great stop and driver change. Back when we did our test at Imola a while back, we focused on practicing driver relays to a great length as we knew it is important during an endurance race.
Ricardo also had a great stint taking advantage of the car’s pace to gain a couple more position. Unfortunately, he lost a couple towards the end and we ended up 12th. Nonetheless, a great result for us considering where we started from.
CRN: For a first race as a team, Emil Frey Racing must be happy being the top Lamborghini Squadra Corse team the two cars in the top twelve with #163 (Franck Perera, Giacomo Altoè, Albert Costa) in 10th place and #14 in 12th?
MG: Our main goal at Emil Frey Racing this weekend was to be the best representative of the Lamborghini SC teams ahead of The Orange 1 FFF Racing Team(championship winning team form last season, NDLR) who didi not have a great weekend. Still, we achieved that. So, yes we are happy with the result.
CRN: What is to be expected at the next round at Misano?
MG: It is to be a sprint cup race, and there are 23 cars registered for that one from the initial 33 because of COVID-19. That’s unfortunate since the maximum grid is 33 cars and it was going to be a full grid. Different approach for the race as the relays are of 30 minutes so you really have to push hard. There will also be three sprint races throughout the weekend which will make it more intense. We are still in the unknown as for BoP adjustment and the pit stops will be extremely important as there are no minimum time and there is no fueling to be done. The pressure will be on the crew to perform a fast tire change but also for us drivers to complete the driver change most efficiently.
CRN: With traveling being somewhat more difficult at the moment, are you heading back home or staying in Europe for a while?
MG: At the moment, I am staying with the team in Switzerland as the next race is in two weeks. It does not make sense for me to go back home as I would have to complete the required quarantine. Following the next race at Misano, I will then fly back home as the next race is scheduled for early September. Then, the calendar is very busy with lots of races so I will stay in Europe for the remaining races.
CRN: How will you be preparing for the Misano race?
We have a simulator session scheduled for this week as well as briefings with the team to talk over the Imola weekend and then concentrate on Misano. We also have work-out sessions to keep physically prepared.
CRN: Have you driven at Misano previously?
MG: It’s a track I know well as I have raced at Misano several times in the past. We have not done any testing there in two year. The last time we ran Misano was 2018 and nothing as changed since then.
As Canadian Racers News concluded the conversation with Mikaël, we could not help but congratulate him again on a great drive as we watched him gain positions lap after lap during his time at the wheel and how thrilling as a driver it must have been to pass all these cars. To this, he responded laughing: “It was motivating for sure!”
Canadian racers News will keep you informed throughout the season as we follow Emil Frey Racing and Mikaël competing at the highest level of GT3 Racing in Europe.
As we completed the writing of this interview, Emil Frey Racing released an updated result review as follow:
Emil Frey Racing adds the following addendum to Sunday evening’s press release: Although the team was informed after the race was finished that the ongoing investigation against the #163 would have no consequences, the Stewarts decided afterwards to impose a 30-second penalty on the #163, which set it back to 18th position. The Spanish driver Albert Costa thus crossed the finish line in tenth place, but lost eight positions due to a contact with the #4 Mercedes (driven by Luca Stolz). For this reason the final and correct results are P18 for car #163 and P11 for car #14.Emil Frey Racing
Images: Emil Frey Racing