Motorsport to the public often appears quite glamorous – the cars, the historic venues. We often overlook the countless hours by hundreds of people that go into making man and machine contend for a win.
With that said, this column starts with the many months and last days spent preparing for the event with Automobili Lamborghini and GRT Grasser Racing.
The first round of the 2015 Blancpain Endurance Series in Monza marked the first time in its history that Lamborghini would be entering a racecar that was developed in house with a customer supported race team.
One year ago, Head of Motorsport of Automobili Lamborghini, Giorgio Sanna, mentioned to me the possibility of having an American as part of their newly incepted GT3 racing program. From that moment forward we put our heads down and pushed to develop the Huracán GT3 in time for its European debut.
Testing in our development car through the fall and winter at racetracks across Europe (Vallelunga, Jerez, Aragon, Monza and Paul Ricard) proved valuable for the team and drivers.
At each test we tweaked and developed the car alongside our German family member Audi. We determined the final configuration of the car after the test and Balance of Performance evaluation at Paul Ricard in March.
Now it was time to build the two official racecars that we would use this season. The team returned to Sant’Agata Bolognese to focus on the final build.
It was a real challenge to get the new race cars built and for the next few weeks. The crew worked like crazy pulling a few 24-hour days to finish the cars and have them delivered to the track on Thursday. Saturday’s FP1 was the first time I got to drive the actual racecar!
Unfortunately, just prior to the race, SRO made a last minute change to our BpP, mandating a 10 mm higher ride height front and rear.
This change essentially negated the winter testing we had done and made the new car drive completely differently.
After FP1, all the drivers agreed we had a lot of work to do. We made setup changes completely counter to what we had been testing.
Going in to Sunday’s qualifying session, we had only had two practice sessions with the cars and were unsure if we could match the pace of the Ferraris and other brands.
Saturday night was filled with press and media events for Lamborghini. With 600 VIP guests for the weekend, we needed to perform on track and engage with customers off track.
When Maurizio Reggiani (Director of Research and Development) and Stephan Winkelmann (President and CEO of Automobili Lamborghini) take you aside and say now it is up to you to perform, the weight of what you are doing sinks in. They would be with us in our pit during the race, and we wanted to do well on home soil.
Sunday morning arrived and unlike some U.S. racing, where it seems we have been on track the whole week, this was only the second and last day of driving.
I was first in the car for qualifying, and Q1 was plagued with full course yellows. I knew I would not set the top time as I had the heavy fuel load.
Fabio Babini drove in Q2 and set a blistering lap that would ultimately stand for P3 even through Q3. It was shaping up to be a fully Italian battle as P1 and P2 went to Ferraris on the lighter fuel loads in Q3. The changes we had made to the car’s setup were working, and we were ready.
Race time came shortly, and before long Fabio was already pitting from the lead ready to hand the car to me for the middle stint.
My time in the car was riddled with traffic every lap from the 59-car field. Managing traffic is something that I have learned to love, so I settled in and methodically worked through my stint.
With one hour left, I pitted in the lead and handed the car off to my teammate, Jeroen Mul. As I shut the door, I used a phrase taught by a friend and said, “Keep her on the dance floor.”
I then watched with the entire team and many executives from Lamborghini counting down the minutes.
With five minutes to go, the magnitude of what we might accomplish started to settle in – we were in first place, on Italian soil, beating a Ferrari in the first ever race for Lamborghini!
When the checkered flag flew, emotions were high and the Italian spirit took over. We had won. Unfortunately, our race win is currently under appeal after post race tech and we await a fair and timely response.