Race report interview: Mikaël Grenier Magny-Cours weekend

POSITIVE WEEKEND FOR GRENIER WITH A SECOND PLACE PODIUM FINISH IN RACE 1 AND SEVENTH PLACE IN RACE 2

With travel restrictions in place, Mikaël Grenier has traveled to Switzerland a couple of weeks ago to join his Emil Frey Racing teammates to participate in the following rounds of the GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS starting at the Nürburgring.

The 6-hour Endurance Cup race, although promising in terms of performance, came to an abrupt end for the #14 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO drivers of Mikaël Grenier, Norbert Siedler and Riccardo Feller. Feller, having just taken over for his stint, felt unwell all of a sudden due to suspected fuel vapours inside the cockpit of the Lamborghini and was able to stop the car near a course marshall’s post.

This past weekend at Circuit Nevers Magny-Cours saw a much better conclusion as the duo of Grenier/Siedler completed the weekend with two top ten finish in this Sprint Cup event, one being second place in Saturday’s night race.

We caught up with Mikaël as he has some time off and recuperating with his teammate in Austria.

Canadian Racers News(CRN): Mikaël, before talking about this past weekend, we did not have a chance to speak after the Nürburgring race which ended with Riccardo Feller feeling unwell as he was just starting his stint for the #14. How is he doing now and did the team identify the problem encountered?

Mikaël Grenier(MG): Riccardo is doing very well. It is very unfortunate what happened. We’ve had this problem since the beginning of the race and it was Riccardo’s first stint and probably not expecting this situation to be as intense as it was. We don’t know how or why but there was a broken gasket that caused the fuel to leak into the cockpit when the car was full of fuel, something we rarely do in practice. There was constantly this strong smell in the car which Norbert and I also had to deal with during our stints and especially for me in my second stint that lasted 65 minutes and made it difficult to complete.

CRN: Nürburgring being a 6-hour endurance race, was the team able to take some of the race experience in preparation for the Total 24hr of Spa coming in 6 weeks time?

MG: Indeed, it gave us the opportunity to put our mind into the 24hr race especially in regards to the car set-up as we will most likely encounter similar weather at Spa in October. We ran quite a bit in the rain as well which could well happen at Spa especially at the end of October the weather might be very unpredictable. It was good for the team as well in completing several pit stop during the race. We are getting more efficient with our pit stop.

CRN: Now about Many-Cours, you had a chance to test on the Thursday before the official weekend.

MG: It was actually just one 2-hour night session. Not a lot of track time and an awkward way to learn the track driving in the darkness. we also had a second night session on the Friday.

CRN: Was this your first time driving the Nevers Magny-Cours circuit?

MG: Yes, it was. It is a very nice track. Although I had driven it through the simulator and… many times when I was a kid playing on my Formula One video game it was one of the tracks!(Mikaël laughing, ndlr).

It is a great track that does not allow mistakes with its gravel traps when you put a wheel off instead of the more recent tracks with paved run-off areas. I liked it better as I find it more challenging with the gravel traps as it presents a bigger challenge unlike the newer tracks.

CRN: You qualified the car in Q1 and were shown in second place on the one lap then seventh on the next then back to second at the end. It was an extremely competitive qualifying for you.

MG: The weekend in itself was very competitive, something we don’t see often. It was great to qualify in P2 and it ended up being quite crucial for the race with what happened in the mid-pack during the first lap(several cars making contact at the hairpin, ndlr). As much as qualifying second was great, it was a bit frustrating to end up missing on pole by 0.077s. But the the Mercedes(#4 HRT Mercedes AMG GT3, ndlr) was too strong during the race anyways.

CRN: Speaking of performance, it looks like Emil Frey Racing has worked hard to make the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO more competitive compared to the first race.

MG: All the credits go to the team, especially since Imola where it was a bit of a wake-up call in term of where we were performance wise. What was encouraging was at Nürburgring we had a better base set-up to start with and we took the same approach for Many-Cours. We also understand the Pirelli tires much better than we did at the first race and that helps a lot as well(the team ran Michelin last year in GT Open, ndlr).

CRN: At the start of race 1, you seemed to be able to stay with the #4 Mercedes until they opened the gap to about three seconds.

MG: The beginning of the race was correct as we distanced the third place car early on. There was a local yellow flag in sector 2 where we could not push to much. But then, when the incident cleared, the Mercedes had too much rhythm ahead of me. At that moment the gap opened up and knowing I would have to take some risks in trying to stay with him, I decided to drive conservative having to deal with a car that was a little difficult to drive. And since we had a good lead over third place, it was best. Until the safety car came out shortly before the pit window. At the restart our lead had vanished and we were a little nervous for the second stint as we know we are slightly behind in terms of tire change and duration of our pit stops compared to Audi. Luckily, I was able open up a little gap before I came in the pit lane and the team had the best pit stop so far this season.

CRN: Your teammate, Norbert Siedler, had to battle with Dries Vanthoor in the Audi for most of the second half of the race with a Lamborghini that was not as stable as wanted.

MG: Norbert did a super job keeping the five Audi behind him. It shows that he has a lot of experience driving these GT cars. He surely demonstrated his know-how Saturday night.

CRN: How was it to race in the dark for Race 1 in terms of the visibility?

MG: It went well. It is probably hard to see from the tv viewer’s point of view, certainly. we do have to make adjustments compared to racing in daylight. It gave us the opportunity to prepare for 24hr of Spa certainly as there are not light whatsoever. We had a new headlight set-up on the car. The start was a little stressful but luckily being on the front row, we did not have to deal with the pilling up behind us.

CRN: Second place finish in Race 1, is this a result the team expected before the weekend?

MG: Not necessarily, although we were confident following how better we performed at Nürburgring and even more so following the night practice Thursday. At that moment, a podium finish became our objective but it is not as simple as that with the competitiveness of this Championship.

As an exemple, Norbert qualified P10 on Sunday for race 2 and was only two tenths off pole time. You really need to have the complete package to perform well in this series. Everything need to work together.

CRN: Having started Race 2 in 10th place, Norbert brought the car in from eight place at the pit stop for you to then go out for your stint. At that point the #14 just over 6-7 seconds from seventh place. You eventually caught up and passed the #2 Toksport WRT Mercedes-AMG GT3 to take seventh.

MG: Yes, we were about 6-7 seconds behind when I came back on the circuit. Unfortunately, we lost a good three seconds during the pit stop as the car stalled when I came to leave the pits. Quite unusual as we are still looking into it.

CRN: Lap after lap, you were getting closer to seventh place. Do you feel there was more to it than seventh?

MG: For sure I try to make it to sixth place but just to make the pass for seventh took me several laps more than I thought. It would have been different without the 3 seconds we lost in the pits, certainly. There are no guarantee I would have passed for sixth place but surely the opportunity would have been there. We are still very satisfied with the result.

Yet, in Race 2, we had the quickest car out there, were able to push for the 30 minutes of our stints and came out with the fastest lap of the race. That was very positive for us. It proves once again that qualifying is most important to get right.

CRN: It seems the car is getting better at every race as the team and drivers are adjusting to the competitiveness of the series, it looks promising for the coming races.

MG: As you say everything is working better and that is a good sign. Also the car had been working well at the Nürburgring and it is encouraging with how the car performed at Magny-Cours that we are in the right direction in terms of performance. We will work on confirming the potential in two weeks time at Zandvoort.

CRN: The next race at Zandvoort, on September 25-26 is another Sprint Cup event. Have you had the chance to drive this circuit prior to the event?

This will be our first time racing at Zandvoort. We did have a test day back in July which was not as successful as we expected it and we know why now. There will be not test session prior to the Friday of the event. It will a difficult weekend as for the schedule. It is condensed over two days with both races on Saturday. The reason being the event takes place at the same time as the 24hr of the Nürburgring and several GT World Challenge Europe drivers will be racing there as well.

CRN: Last, you mentioned you are to compete in the 8-hour of Indianapolis on October 2nd. Is this a last minute opportunity that came up?

MG: I’ve known this for a couple of weeks now. But with the COVID-19 situation, I had to confirmed my travel plan first. It is with Sun Energy 1 Racing; the same team I have raced with since 2018 in IMSA and Intercontinental GT Challenge. Now that everything is confirmed, the next couple of weeks will be intense as I will have three races over three weekend and the 24hr test at Spa.

Images: Emil Frey Racing

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