In the sunshine of northern Italy at the legendary Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Super GT superstar Andrea Caldarelli traded in his blue and pink Wako’s Team LeMans Lexus LC500 for something more fitting for the venue: A bright-green, V10-engined Lamborghini Huracán GT3 prepared by top customer squad Grasser Racing Team.
Together, Caldarelli, and co-drivers Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart, endured quite the eventful race, surviving a multi-car pileup on the opening lap, and scoring the victory in the Blancpain GT Series 3 Hours of Monza, the first round of the Blancpain Endurance Cup.
In contrast, Nissan Super GT star Katsumasa Chiyo never even got to turn a racing lap at Monza, when his #23 Motul Team RJN GT-R was taken out in the first-lap melee in his return to the European circuit.
Caldarelli’s GRT Lamborghini started fifth, Chiyo’s GT-R started 26th, with former Super GT driver and GT Academy maiden champion Lucas Ordoñez starting the #23.
But at the front of the field, contact between the #7 M-Sport Bentley Continental and the #19 GRT Lamborghini, the sister car to the #63, triggered a multi-car accident that took out a dozen cars before they’d even turned a lap.
In amongst them, the #23 GT-R of Chiyo, Ordoñez, and Alex Buncombe, who failed to take the restart after a 20 minute red flag, with Chiyo, the 2015 Blancpain Endurance Cup champion – the first Japanese driver to win a major professional sports car championship outside of Asia – not driving a single lap in the race.
The #22 Motul Team RJN GT-R of Matt Parry, Matthew Simmons, and Struan Moore would finish 13th overall to at least salvage a result for the premier Nissan team.
For Guy Smith’s part in starting the collision on the opening lap, the #7 Bentley was given a 15-second stop/go penalty after the race restarted. When Vincent Abril failed to serve the penalty in a timely manner, the team was told to park it and go home.
That left Super GT alumnus Oliver Jarvis in the middle, and out of the race.
The race restarted with the #63 Lamborghini battling it out for the lead. Caldarelli took over the Huracán in the second hour of the race, and with quick, consistent driving during his turn at the wheel, the Italian was able to build a lead margin of over twenty seconds, before turning the wheel over to co-driver Engelhart.
Engelhart took the GRT Lamborghini home to a commanding victory by nearly 30 seconds over the #50 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3, and the #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3.
It was a win on the two-year anniversary of the Lamborghini Huracán’s very first GT3 racing victory, and for Caldarelli, already a three-time race winner in Super GT, it’s his first in Blancpain GT, and his first as a full-fledged Lamborghini factory driver.
“Obviously this is an incredible result,” said Caldarelli after the race. “Thanks to Lamborghini Squadra Corse and Grasser Racing Team for the support.”
“The guys made an excellent job in the pit-stop as my teammates did on track. It was my maiden Blancpain GT Series race and I knew the level was really high, but I wasn’t expecting like this. I didn’t run in qualifying so I couldn’t push 100% during the race, by from the wall were saying my gap was improving, so I just took my pace. It has been a such amazing result and I’m really happy for this, the best way to begin this adventure.”
Caldarelli, who finished second for Lexus Team Wako’s LeMans at the opening round of the 2017 Super GT season in Okayama, will return to the #6 Wako’s LC500 on May 3-4 at the Fuji 500km, and will return to the GRT Lamborghini squad on May 14 at Silverstone Circuit for the next round of the Blancpain Endurance Cup.