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VANTHOOR: A Long Time Coming

Laurens Vanthoor files his latest Sportscar365 column following his first IMSA win…

Photo: Porsche

I didn’t know much about Mid-Ohio when I arrived. The conditions at the test day for Earl [Bamber] and Patrick [Pilet] were bad, so we had limited information.

It was difficult to say beforehand how we would perform. I think historically it’s been a good track for Porsche, but that doesn’t help us much.

We were quick right away and led all the practice sessions, but we qualified fourth.

In the race, when I got back on track after my stop it was Patrick behind me and David [Brown], my engineer, was giving me the gap.

All of a sudden, I hear that it was Westbrook chasing me and after my second pit stop, we had a 10-second gap with 40 minutes to go.

I knew that, for us, it would be easy to burn up the front tires there, so I had to find a way to not let him get too close, but not burn up my tires, especially if there was a late yellow.

Unfortunately, during Earl’s stint he was hit by a Prototype, which took off our winglets on the front, so the car had a bit of understeer, which didn’t help with the tire management.

With 30 minutes to go, my engineer tells me, ‘the BMW has excited the pits in second on new tires. He is eight seconds behind.’

Photo: Porsche

My first thought is… well I probably shouldn’t say exactly what my first thought was, but I knew we were in trouble.

My tires were 30 minutes old and he was on fresh tires and he was going to chase me down.

The question was: How quick would he get there and would he still be quick when he caught me? That was a very stressful moment, especially when I got into some bad traffic and lost a chunk of time.

I knew that he would be quick at first on the new tires, but I know that the BMW uses their tires a bit more, so I expected him to catch me quickly, but for his pace to slow when he did. That was the theory in my head.

Any driver, I don’t care who he is, when he hears the gap close from eight, to seven, to six, five, four, three seconds and you can see your competitor in your mirror, you are worried.

The last five laps I noticed we were driving on our own and he wasn’t catching me. Then I knew, I just needed to stay in control, not make mistakes and I would be fine.

Photo: Porsche

When I crossed the finish line, I just screamed out of joy. I noticed my throat kind of hurting afterwards. It was such an extreme relief.

Like I said in my previous columns, I race cars to win races. I don’t do it to come second.

It’s been a long time coming for this IMSA win. Long Beach was really hard. I almost burst into tears. So you can imagine the joy I had at this point.

Finally! Not just for me, but for our whole crew. They’ve done a flawless job. The joy came out in yelling and fists flying all over the cockpit!

When I got out of the car in the winner’s circle, it was kind of funny, I didn’t know what to do. I was waiting for Earl and the mechanics to show up so I could celebrate with them! That was the main thing I wanted.

Photo: Scott LePage/IMSA

I’m pretty introverted, so I’m not the kind of guy that’s going to do a backflip standing on the car.

Actually, I really wanted something to drink, because when I pushed the drink button in the car, the pump didn’t stop, so it all spilled out and I only drank once in the car in one and a half hours. I was quite thirsty!

This win, it wasn’t Le Mans, or Daytona, but it’s really enjoyable, because when you have to wait for something so long, it’s extra special.

Like I’ve said before, I’ve learned that good times are followed by bad times and bad times by good times. That’s how life works.

It wasn’t necessarily a bad time, but just a period without wins and some frustration.

Now, I feel the good times are back and there are more to come. I’m happy and I know there are more good times ahead, so I’m going to enjoy this moment.

I got home Monday and went on a bike ride. We’re doing some renovations on our house, so Tuesday I finished some stuff and arranged for more to be done while I’m gone and ended the day with a nice barbecue with friends and family, including Earl, who all came for my birthday.

Photo: Porsche

Now I’m on my way to Nürburgring!

I’m looking forward to Nürburgring. I think it’s the hardest race on the planet. A lot of things can go wrong, but in VLN this year, we managed to put the car on pole twice.

We won once and unfortunately we had a crash in the second one that was my fault. I won the race in 2015. It’s always a lottery there. It doesn’t make sense to stress about it.

I anticipate some rain, but in the end, it always turns out different from how you expected.

Laurens Vanthoor (@VanthoorLaurens) is the 2019 IMSA GT Le Mans champion and former FIA GT World Cup champion driving for Porsche GT Team in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

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