Race report interview: Mikaël Grenier From 2 poles in Zandvoort GT World Challenge Europe to Total 24 Hours of Spa testing to Indianapolis for the 8-Hour Intercontinental GT Challenge
NEEDLESS TO SAY GRENIER HAS BEEN A BUSY GUY BEHIND THE WHEEL IN THE LAST 10 DAYS WITH SOME HIGHS AND LOWS
The last race of GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup was held at Zandvoort(Netherlands) where Mikaël Grenier and teammate Norbert Siedler qualified on pole for both races.
From the highs of occupying pole to ending the first race far from the podium with a tire gamble that did not pay off in race 1 to leading in Race 2 and ending in second place on the podium to later have it taken away from them due to a penalty, the weekend had some positive and rather constructive outcome.
On to Spa immediately after for a 2-day test session in preparation for the Total 24 Hours of Spa scheduled for the end of October. Then hoping on a plane to fly to Indianapolis to take part in the Intercontinental GT Challenge for Team SunEnergy 1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3, we caught up with Mikaël as he was waiting for his flight to return to Europe for the next round of GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup this coming weekend at Barcelona.
Canadian Racers News(CRN): Mikael, it has been quite intense for you lately with the races and travel, How are you holding up?
Mikaël Grenier(MG): I’m feeling good, not feeling the jet lag much just taking one day at a time. I can’t complain about the traveling as I am very happy to compete in as many races. I’ll take some time off after Barcelona as there next one will be the Total 24 Hour of Spa at the end of the month.
CRN: Let’s rewind to Zandvoort where Norbert and yourself enjoyed some great moments but also some disappointments. You seemed to have a great set-up on your Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO. How did it feel to be on top in both qualifying?
MG: We confirmed, especially for the Sprint Cup, that we have improved quite a lot with the competitiveness of our Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO and especially with my first pole in GT World Challenge Europe for Race 1 which I am very happy about and then Norbert with his pole for Race 2.
CRN: Take us through Race 1 as the weather was very uncertain and you had to make a tire choice.
MG: The weather was difficult all weekend and for Race 1, we gambled on the fact the track was to dry out after the start. Unfortunately, there were light sprinkles of rain all race long that kept the track damp so it ended up not being the right choice and we ended Race 1 in 19th place.
CRN: in Race 2, again from pole, Norbert led the race early on and fought to stay ahead but their seem to be a little less pace than even your teammates Giacomo Altoe and Albert Costa in the #163. You still ended up on the podium but it then got taken away.
MG: We did not have much of a chance to run in dry conditions during the weekend so we had different adjustments to our car compared to our teammates. We went on the aggressive side and that hurt us during the mid part of our stint. The car performed really well for the first part and then with tire degradation, it became more difficult to drive. We still ended up in second place that gave a 1-2 finish for the team since our teammates won.
But following the race, we were given a 30 second penalty for what could be called an unsafe release. As the mechanic holding the lollipop let me go, there was still a mechanic stepping away from my car. And that was judged as an unsafe release. Especially in the Sprint Cup, every tenth of a second count and we just rushed the release of the car enough to cause the penalty. Something we have surely learned for the next time.
All in all, it still was a very positive weekend for us although we don’t get the points to show for it.
CRN: You mentioned the pitstops, it seems it is coming well together compared to the earlier part of the season where you were lacking in terms of rapidity and efficiency.
MG: There has been a good improvement on that side since the first races although there is still a little behind the WRT Audi Team whoo are rated as the best. We actually won the pitstop average time of both races at Zandvoort. So all the merit goes to the Emil Frey Racing crew for that.
CRN: On to Spa for the 2-day test. Spa is well know for changing conditions and that was also what happened during the test.
MG: It was a really good 2-day test as we were able to drive in different conditions; something we are most likely to encounter come the 24 hour race being in late October. So it was beneficial to test in all sorts of conditions throughout. We really focused on the car set-up with the longer stint in mind not the paying attention to fastest lap time per say. We did not even bother looking at competitors’ time.
Although Porsche and Audi seemed to be ahead, in testing, you can’t really compare as there are unknowns.
CRN: You said you concentrated on the longer stints. What would be the main differences between setting up a car for sprint races compared to endurance races?
MG: The main difference is the fact the relays in endurance racing are 1 hour. So we need to find a set-up that will make the tires last for the hour and be consistent. In sprint, since the stints are 30 minutes, we can be much more agressive in the set-up but then you have more tire degradation at the same time.
As well, in endurance racing you need to always keep in mind the changing weather conditions that could occur during a race.
CRN: Were there anything you that you had learned at the Nurburgring that you based you set-up with at Spa?
MG: We were really good with tire degradation at the Nurbürgring although Spa is a very different circuit we really focused on all possible conditions.
CRN: From Spa onto Indianapolis for an 8-hour race with a different car. How did your weekend evolved?
MG: It was a really good weekend and I was happy to race again with SunEnergy 1 Racing and Kenny Habul. As you said, it was a different car than the Lamborghini but it did not take me long before I felt confortable with the Mercedes AMG-GT3.
It was a slightly different approach for the Pro-Am category in term of car set-up but we started the race on a gamble that paid off this time as we opted for the wet tires compared to other competitors that started on slicks. As most headed for the pits after the start, we led the first fifteen laps. We then made some mistakes in terms of strategies and it made it a bit difficult for Kenny(Habul, team owner ndlr) who was racing for the first time since January. He did pull through very well and the main goal was to bring the car all the way to the checkered flag. Which we did.
For my part I mostly drove the later part of the race in the dry conditions. I was happy to bring the car to third place in PRO-AM class.
The team did a great job all weekend and really our focus was to give Kenny the chance to get back into the rhythm after a long time away from the track.
CRN: do you have any other races planned with SunEnergy 1 Racing?
MG: Maybe but I do not know at this time. I would love to race with Kenny and his team again. Although, I am concentrating on GT World Challenge Europe for the time being.
CRN: Now, looking ahead to Barcelona this weekend, what can be expected as there are three races on the schedule?
MG: Of course, we would like to finish the Sprint Cup season on a high note. I feel we had a good season with a bit of bad luck in Zandvoort. We will see where we are in terms of performance on Thursday but it would be great to maximise on available points, even get a podium. A win would be even better.
On this Mikaël had to get on his flight back to Germany then onto Barcelona on Wednesday to join his teammates at Emil Frey Racing.
Officially the weekend starts Friday October 9th with two free practice sessions followed by Q1 and Race 1 on Saturday. Q2-Q3 and Race 2-Race3 will take place Sunday.
All available on GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS’ YouTube channel
Images: Emil Frey Racing and Intercontinental GT Challenge