Gary Grossenbacher, one of the pivotal team members who led Holbert Racing to multiple IMSA GTP titles in the 1980s, died Monday at the age of 65 after a battle with cancer. The Ohio-born race engineer represented something new for Al Holbert, whose skills as a driver, engineer, and designer, made him a legend among contemporaries in sports car racing.
But Holbert’s multitude of talents also served to draw his attention away from focusing on his job inside the cockpit, and with Grossenbacher (pictured fifth from left, above) brought on to take some of the engineering and design load from the IMSA star (third from left), success continued in the form of numerous championships. Grossenbacher’s talents were also applied to the team’s expansion in open-wheel racing with the factory Porsche CART IndyCar Series effort before Holbert’s death in 1988.
“Gary was the first engineer Dad hired at the shop,” Holbert’s son Todd told RACER. “I do believe Gary was hired because he had an emphasis in school on aerodynamics. In fact, although he did a lot of mechanical engineering work, I think his biggest enjoyment was aero. I think it took a little while for he and Dad to figure things out; sometimes engineers need time to fit in, but Gary was soon part of the other things the guys were doing. When they weren’t racing, practicing or working, Kevin Doran, Alex Herring, Gary and others did deep dives into RC cars and racing karts. Gary always had his tweaked up a bit more than the others — I remember he had built an undertray and tunnel on his kart!”
Outside of Grossenbacher’s engineering and development work on the Holbert Racing Porsche 962s, his expertise was needed to find answers with the problematic IndyCar chassis and to help define the aging 962’s replacement.
“Gary was one of the Holbert Racing guys ‘borrowed’ to the Porsche Indy effort,” Holbert continued. “I don’t know how it would have gone, and if Dad would have let him stay, because Gary was also going to be a primary resource for the new open-top sports car concept Dad was just kicking off. Gary and our body guy, Michael Wessner, had templated the 962 and built a scale body to serve as the competitive baseline for the aero development planned to take place in the UK later in ’88.”
After Holbert Racing’s IMSA effort ended and the Porsche IndyCar project wound down after 1990, Grossenbacher moved on to new teams and new engineering challenges.
“After Dad passed, Gary went to Truesports and stayed through Rahal’s acquisition,” Holbert said. “He was instrumental in developing the really cool Truesports 91C IndyCar chassis, mostly in aero development. Then Gary hired me and my college roommate right out of college in 1996 at his company G2 Racing. At Lehigh University, we had started a Formula SAE program, and through those years, we leaned on some guys from the old race team. Wessner, Kevin Doran, and Gary were the three primary resources. Interestingly, all three of them also worked together on various race programs, like the Ferrari 333 SP Doran ran for Gianpiero Moretti and for Fredy Lienhard, and on the Doran DP car.”
Through his G2 Racing company, Grossenbacher would find new opportunities in NASCAR.
“Gary had a deal going with GM with an aerodynamic support program that included a scale model,” Holbert added. “He and a guy named Craig Mullins designed and built a 3/8 model of the GM NASCAR race car and would advise some of the smaller teams on aerodynamic configurations.
“That ‘on the ground’ relationship with those teams, and the positive effect, had them asking him for other help, on chassis builds, data acquisition, etc. Gary says, ‘I know some kids that I could place at these teams, and extend the reach of this GM program.’ GM was on board and we started late in the ’96 season, with myself at Bill Davis Racing. After a year, the teams poached Gary’s two guys — me being one of them — but he continued to work in NASCAR, starting his own team to run in the Xfinity Series, then began a bit of a journeyman contract engineer path, and got back into sports cars, recently doing some work in LMP3.”
Holbert, like many who worked with Grossenbacher, will miss his presence and influence.
“Gary added a lot to every program he was involved in,” he said. “He was passionate about improving and learning, and engineering was his tool to do that. As with everything I saw him in, he was enthusiastic, positive, and excited about what he was working on.”