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Mystery continues on Bortolotti’s DTM Nurburgring 'technical problem'

The exact nature of the technical issue that prevented Lamborghini ace Mirko Bortolotti from contesting the second Nurburgring DTM race remains a mystery after the end of the 2023 season.

Car of Mirko Bortolotti, SSR Performance Lamborghini Huracán EVO GT3

Car of Mirko Bortolotti, SSR Performance Lamborghini Huracán EVO GT3

Alexander Trienitz

SSR Performance driver Bortolotti was unable to take the start in the second Eifel race in August after his Lamborghini Huracan GT3 stopped on track in qualifying earlier in the day. The problem occurred at the worst-possible time for the Italian, as he had underlined his title credentials just the previous day with a lights-to-flag win in mixed conditions.

Bortolotti went on to finish second in the standings, 33 points behind Porsche's title winner Thomas Preining, indicating the significance of the DNS in deciding the outcome of this year’s championship battle.

Several months on, there is still no clarity as to why Bortolotti was consigned to the garage on a day Lamborghini had a car capable of winning the race, as attested by Maximilian Paul’s shock result with the Grasser team.

"We are not commenting on this," was SSR team boss Mario Schuhbauer’s response when Autosport’s sister title Motosport-Total.com asked if the squad was now willing to provide more information about Bortolotti’s technical problem last month.

The team had also remained silent when repeated attempts were made to reach out for an answer in the immediate aftermath of the race.

Lamborghini has also refused to profile any clarity on the situation, stating “we don't release details about a single tech issue that happened months ago".

At Hockenheim, another Lamborghini spokesperson told Motorsport-Total.com that the cause of the failure was ‘throttle bodies’, the part of the air intake system that controls how much air flows into an engine’s combustion chamber.

The second Evo version of the Huracan GT3 that was introduced in 2023 has ten electronically-actuated throttle bodies with titanium valves, whereas the predecessor only had two throttle bodies, one per cylinder bank.

Mirko Bortolotti, SSR Performance

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Mirko Bortolotti, SSR Performance

It doesn't sound unusual for a new part to have a problem. What is curious however, according to those familiar with the car, is that it's neither particularly difficult to recognise such a problem nor to solve it quickly. Given Bortolotti was SSR’s main candidate for the title, the team would have left no stone unturned to get his car ready for the race.

Is it possible that the problem was unrelated to the throttle body? Lamborghini is said to have been talking about engine damage, as Motorsport-Total.com learned from a reliable source. This would also partly explain why the issue is being kept a secret.

For marketing reasons, manufacturers don't want a broken engine to be seen as the root cause for a driver missing a race - and potentially losing out on the championship,

Allegedly, there was a so-called piston seizure, which would also explain why Bortolotti skidded off the track a few minutes into qualifying with his wheels locking. This type of problem occurs, for example, when there is no more oil left in the engine. It could mean the team simply forgot to put lubricant in an otherwise reliable engine.

Any of these reasons could be behind Bortolotti’s withdrawal from the race, and provide a possible explanation to the secrecy. But there is another inconsistency: the team did not ask permission from the race organisers to break parc ferme rules and start repairing the car earlier.

Qualifying began at 9:05am and Bortolotti’s car broke down in the Mercedes Arena with two minutes and 50 seconds on the clock. Following a brief red flag, the session officially finished at 9:30am and the cars were then not allowed to be touched until 10:55 due to the parc-ferme regulations.

However, SSR made no effort to start the repair work early, with a spokesperson for the German Motorsport Association (DMSB) confirming "there was no request from the team to get the car out earlier".

Breaking the parc ferme rules would have meant a breach of the regulations and disqualification from the session. But without having set a lap time, Bortolotti was going to have to start from the back of the grid anyway.

Mirko Bortolotti, SSR Performance Lamborghini Huracán EVO GT3

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Mirko Bortolotti, SSR Performance Lamborghini Huracán EVO GT3

According to an expert, it takes between two-and-a-half to three hours to change in engine in latest Evo spec of the Lamborghini Huracan. If the car was towed back into the SSR pits by 10am at the latest and a spare unit was in working order, then the team would have had three-and-a-half hours to change the engine before the race start at 1:30pm.

SSR initially announced that Bortolotti would take the start from the pitlane, before deregistering the car entirely from the race. This meant that the car was not checked by the officials after the race. So why did the outfit not try to fix the problem in time?

"There are only two possibilities," said one paddock insider behind closed doors. "A lack of experience or expertise, or they didn't want to start and might have been disqualified."

Bortolotti on retirement: "I don't understand it yet"

Even Bortolotti remains puzzled as to why he was forced to miss the race on a weekend that he finally rose to the fore after a slow start to the season.

"The Nurburgring Sunday was very strange, very negative, very weird. I still don't understand it, but it's part of it," he told broadcaster ran.de.

“We simply couldn't start. We tried to check everything until just before the race, the whole pit was on my car. Those are the kind of days that are part of it, that was also a bit strange for me."

Bortolotti could have scored a maximum of 28 points at the Nurburgring without the technical problem, while also taking points away from eventual champion Preining.

Given the 33-point margin between the two at the end of the season, and the fact that fellow Lamborghini driver Paul won the race in his first race appearance of the year, that Sunday was a case of ‘what could have been’ for the 33-year-old.

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