The reigning overall Blancpain GT Series champions have declared themselves pleased with the first day of testing at Circuit Paul Ricard as they gear up to defend their titles in 2018.
Grasser Racing duo Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart guided their Lamborghini Huracan GT3 to the outright series title in 2017, also combining with Andrea Caldarelli to clinch the Endurance Cup crown.
Bortolotti and Engelhart remain together for the Sprint Cup this term, with Caldarelli returning to their unchanged Endurance crew as well.
The #19 Grasser Lamborghini ended both the morning and afternoon sessions on the fringes of the top 10 on Tuesday, but the reigning overall champions declared themselves happy with their work following the first day of official testing in France.
“It’s been a really good day for us so far,” said Engelhart shortly before climbing back into the Huracan late in the afternoon session. “The first test is the kick-off for the new season, so it’s always exciting.”
“We’ve been running in the top five all day so I’m happy with the performance and how the car behaves,” added Bortolotti. “Tomorrow our line-up won’t be driving so we had to get the maximum from today.”
The drivers explained that their primary focus during day one had been the new-spec Pirelli tyre that all Blancpain GT Series teams will be equipped with for the 2018 season.
“We need to try to understand this new tyre in terms of pressures and just carry out the basic work,” said Engelhart. “It’s always this way at the beginning of the year and it’s important that you do it properly, because the whole season is based on it.”
“With the chance to drive on a track that we’ll race at later this year, and which has been completely resurfaced, it was really important to run in good weather today,” Bortolotti added. “Luckily we got that, so we really focussed on trying to understand the tyre as much as possible and adapt the setup of the car to different conditions.”
Having clinched the outright Blancpain GT Series title in 2017, Bortolotti and Engelhart naturally enter the new campaign as favourites. They could become the first two-time champions in series history, but Engelhart is adopting a cautious approach to his crew’s title defence.
“Obviously last year was fantastic for the whole team, but now the clocks have been reset,” said the German ace. “Everyone has zero points again and we have no clue how we’ll look in the first race.
“We’ll try to push and work as hard as we did last year and then in the first qualifying session we’ll see where we are in the order, he added.
Teammate Bortolotti gave a more precise explanation.
“We need to score more points than the competition,” quipped the Italian, before adding more detail about the challenge that lies ahead.
“Obviously the championship is long and it’s not going to be won in the first race at Zolder,” he said.
“We showed last year that that potential is there, but the competition is not resting and the level is really high in the Blancpain GT Series. We’ll really try to focus on ourselves and do our homework as best as possible and be well prepared. Then we need to take our chances, be consistent and quick throughout the year.”
Following a second day of testing at Paul Ricard today (Wednesday), the Grasser Racing crew will begin their title defence at Zolder, which hosts the opening Sprint Cup event on 6-8 April.