The Lamborghini talisman leading his troops to DTM success

Since signing his first factory contract with the marque in 2015, Mirko Bortolotti has become Lamborghini's Mr Dependable. And after a short spell at Audi in 2020, the Italian is back with his long-time collaborators at the Grasser Racing Team and has made a strong start to life in the DTM.

The Lamborghini talisman leading his troops to DTM success
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A stealthy drive to sixth is never going to be the sort of performance that makes headlines. But for Lamborghini GT3 talisman Mirko Bortolotti, such instances as his Lausitzring race one recovery from being shuffled outside the top 10 on the long run down the first proper braking zone at Turn 2 “because were struggling a lot on straightline speed” could prove crucial in his goal of winning the DTM title at the first attempt.

“We knew and I think it’s quite obvious that we are not in a position to fight for the top this weekend unfortunately, but it’s the way it is,” Bortolotti explains as Motorsport.com sits down with him in the Grasser Racing Team’s truck. “You have to put your head down and get the maximum.”

Another sixth place in race two, having challenged for second on the opening lap, means the pre-event championship leader will head to home turf at Imola next month second only to Lausitzring dominator Sheldon van der Linde, continuing a consistent start to the season that yielded two podiums in the opening round at Portimao. Together with van der Linde, Maro Engel and Laurens Vanthoor, Bortolotti is one of only four drivers to score in all four races so far in a topsy-turvy season. Such consistency could prove invaluable in the final reckoning.

He may be new to the DTM, but the Italian has become a part of the furniture at the GRT outfit with which he debuted the Huracan GT3 in the 2015 Blancpain Endurance Series.

“Back then we only had one team, which was GRT, so it was quite natural that I would start the journey with them,” says Bortolotti, who has raced with numerous other customer teams down the years too. “Being here in 2022 and still being part of the team pleases me a lot. It’s also not something you should take for granted, it means that probably we work together well and we like to work together, which is important from both sides.”

Since the start of their partnership, Bortolotti has won at least one race with GRT in every year he’s driven for it – 17 in all. Together, they claimed the 2017 Blancpain GT Endurance and overall titles, took back-to-back Daytona 24 Hours GTD class victories in 2018-19 and added the Sebring 12 Hours to his CV in 2019. It’s little wonder that team boss Gottfried Grasser thinks highly of his charge.

“Again here you see it, especially in this incredibly strong field what he can still put out of the car what is not at the moment there,” the Austrian tells Motorsport.com in the lull after the Lausitzring opener. “When you compare this result of him to other ones [Lambo drivers], you see again another step. This is simply Mirko, he is a class of his own.”

Bortolotti scored his first of 17 wins with GRT at the ADAC GT Masters Red Bull Ring round in 2015 alongside Zaugg - Grasser joins them on the podium

Bortolotti scored his first of 17 wins with GRT at the ADAC GT Masters Red Bull Ring round in 2015 alongside Zaugg - Grasser joins them on the podium

Photo by: ADAC Motorsport

After finishing second with the fastest lap on his DTM debut at Assen last year, in a cameo with fellow Lamborghini customer T3 Motorsport, Bortolotti came into the year with high expectations, though stresses that his familiarity with the team “is not necessarily the key factor” behind his strong start.

“I’m not here just to participate, I’m here to compete, to try and fight at the top,” he says. “I know what it means to fight for a championship, having this experience under my belt is definitely important.

“But expectations are one thing, the only thing you can manage is the work you do, how you work, the quality of the work, which will ideally be into the results at the end of the day. The target for me is to maximise and constantly improve the package we have.”

There’s no question that the former Red Bull junior is a spearhead for GRT, galvanising his team and leading by example. But in 2020 he was competing against Grasser’s squad when he spent the year at Audi, before being brought back into the Lamborghini fold for 2021

Part of that will be about getting the most out of not only working with engineer Nicki Laa – “You can go more into details in a championship like [DTM] because you’re not necessarily needing to do compromises, you can really follow what you need and what you like,” he says – but also what Bortolotti calls the “working group”, with three team-mates and their engineers feeding in.

Added to that brain pool this year is newly-appointed team manager Manuel Reuter, the 1996 International Touring Car [nee DTM] champion and two-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner another fully paid-up member of the Bortolotti fan club, further strengthening GRT’s ranks.

“Every single member of our organisation is important, everybody plays his role in the final result,” says the 32-year-old replies when Motorsport.com ponders whether Reuter can be the team’s secret weapon. “Everyone needs to focus on its job and trying to score his own pole position every time and that will bring us closer to the target.

“Having experienced guys in the team that know their business, that have been through it maybe in previous days for themselves in case of Manuel Reuter, is important. Every input that can help us to minimise mistakes and maximise potential. Manuel is doing his part, but it’s not a single guy that makes the difference, it’s the entire team.”

Reuter's addition to the team gives another driver perspective for Bortolotti to lean on

Reuter's addition to the team gives another driver perspective for Bortolotti to lean on

Photo by: Andreas Beil

There’s no question that the former Red Bull junior is a spearhead for GRT, galvanising his team and leading by example. But in 2020 he was competing against Grasser’s squad when he spent the year at Audi, before being brought back into the Lamborghini fold for 2021.

Acknowledging that it was “not an easy decision” to accept the offer from Lamborghini’s sister brand, Bortolotti says: “We are in professional sport at the end of the day, so the decisions you take you have to do on a professional basis. Audi had the big interest to sign me, the talks started already a few years before that. The moment was right to make this change.”

A year Bortolotti describes as “extremely positive” showed he was more than a Lambo specialist, taking a podium at the Daytona 24 Hours and winning the GT World Challenge Europe Imola round (both with WRT) when the COVID-delayed season finally got underway in July. There was also a second place in the Nurburgring 24 Hours for the Car Collection team, falling just 15 seconds short of the winning Rowe Racing BMW after pitting a lap too late amid the changing weather. Sharing with top Audi aces who “really pushed me a lot”, Bortolotti held his own.

“It was a great change to take, I’m really happy that I took it,” he says. “Unfortunately we missed the important wins by a little, but I’m quite happy with the work we did and still have a good relationship with friends at Audi, the respect is always at the maximum level.”

But Lamborghini motorsport boss Giorgio Sanna was immediately keen to get him back at the conclusion of Bortolotti’s one-year Audi deal.

“After Imola on Sunday evening I got a phone call from Giorgio,” he remembers. “The relationship to Lambo was always there, the friendship that you built over the years will never get broken just because you take your own professional decisions.

“The talks immediately started because [Sanna] knew that I signed for just one year with Audi for 2020. Lambo immediately did everything they could, going to their limits on trying to convince me to come back. The duration of the talks were, I think, half a year.

“I got a really important offer on the table again from Lamborghini looking into my future and it wasn’t difficult to accept because I knew exactly what I was going to find. I think they knew also what everybody has to improve, so definitely it was positive to have all this kind of talks.”

Victory alongside Matthieu Vaxiviere and Kelvin van der Linde at 2020 GTWCE Imola race prompted a call from Sanna about a Lambo return

Victory alongside Matthieu Vaxiviere and Kelvin van der Linde at 2020 GTWCE Imola race prompted a call from Sanna about a Lambo return

Photo by: SRO

For his part, Sanna tells Motorsport.com “any kind of new experience can give us something in addition, something important”.

“The experience that Mirko did one year in Audi was a positive one that helped him also to grow,” reasons the Italian. “Then I think as we agreed at the time to do this kind of experience, after one year we agreed again to continue together.

“Even when he was driving for Audi in any case he was still part of our family. For the relationship we have with Audi of course, but because he started with us since the beginning and he was like he is still today a huge asset for us. Mirko was, is and will be always a big part of our history.”

I’m just focusing on the present, focusing on GT3. The competitive level is so close that if you do a small mistake you can end up in the midfield or even in the lower parts of the grid so it’s really demanding to be successful

 Mirko Bortolotti

“Everyone has his reasons in that situation and made his own decisions,” offers Grasser when asked about Bortolotti’s Audi spell. “Over so many years, this doesn’t make a cut in the relationship you have with someone, everyone has to do his experiences. At the end, we are happy as it is now!”

And likewise, so is Bortolotti. These are exciting times for Lamborghini, with the revamped GT3 package arriving next year and the eagerly-anticipated LMDh programme due to commence in 2024.

Bortolotti admits he “got goosebumps” when Lambo’s LMDh commitment was officially announced earlier this month. His upcoming Le Mans 24 Hours debut in a WRT-run ORECA LMP2 car next month alongside Dries Vanthoor and DTM team-mate Rolf Iniechen is well-timed.

“Of course, I am curious to see what the future holds,” he says. “Definitely it looks great to be doing this step, but at the same time I’m just focusing on the present, focusing on GT3. The competitive level is so close that if you do a small mistake you can end up in the midfield or even in the lower parts of the grid so it’s really demanding to be successful.”

Bortolotti has made a superb start to life in the DTM so far. And although he’ll be hoping that valiant salvage-jobs like Lausitzring race one don’t become the norm, Bortolotti can certainly be relied upon to keep delivering for GRT when it counts.

Bortolotti has scored points in all four DTM races so far this year and currently lies second in the points

Bortolotti has scored points in all four DTM races so far this year and currently lies second in the points

Photo by: Andreas Beil

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