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VANTHOOR: The Four 24-Hour Classics

In his latest Sportscar365 column, Laruens Vanthoor compares the four 24-hour endurance classics…

Photo: Porsche

I’ve now done all the big 24-hour races this year: Daytona, Le Mans, Nürburgring and Spa. It’s the first time I’ve done all of them in one year. It’s a dream for a lot of drivers. I’m grateful to have that chance to do them all with Porsche.

People like to talk about which is most beautiful or the hardest and so on, so I thought this was a good opportunity to share my opinion.

For me, Nürburgring is the hardest. There’s nothing else in the world like that track. The other part is there are so many cars, which makes for lots of slower traffic.

Then there’s the weather; a couple years ago we even had snow and ice in the middle of summer.

The problem is, the track is so long, that you can get through four corners and it will start raining, but now you have to go the rest of the track on slick tires. On that track there is no room for mistakes. It’s not for nothing that they call it ‘The Green Hell.’

Photo: Porsche

My first time doing the race I prepared big time; for two weeks, I went five times a week to track days with an Audi R8 that Audi gave me to learn the track. I also watched a lot of videos. My speed was good. I was fast even compared to the experienced guys.

What you can’t buy is experience and that showed in the race.

It was a really tough edition that year. I was driving at night and it started to rain really bad. There was so much water on track I was aquaplaning everywhere and I went off.

There was a red flag. I came in. They repaired the car. I was in for the restart from the red flag. There were surface flags in all the corners, but I didn’t feel anything on the track in the first few, but then I got to a corner and there was oil and I went off again.

It was my first race for Audi, so I thought I was fired for sure. That one was definitely the hardest.

The 24 Hours of Spa is the most competitive in my opinion because there are so many cars in one class. I think we had 30 Pro cars this year. That’s 30 cars with professional lineups and teams and lots of different brands. There’s no race like that in the world.

GT3 is the main class. For me, it’s definitely the biggest GT race at the moment and it’s hard to win.

Photo: Porsche

The blue flags don’t get much attention, so you’re fighting all the time, even if the car ahead of you is five laps down. It’s a difficult race, and having a good performance there is helpful because it’s a sprint from beginning to the end.

I want to say that after Spa, I mentioned on Twitter that I was disappointed with the level of driving in that race.

Some people took it out of context and thought I didn’t want amateurs allowed in the race. That’s not the case. I know they are an important part of our world and always will be.

The gentleman driver has been a cornerstone of sports car racing from the start and adds so many positives to the sport. I was just saying that it’s a super big race, but every year you’ll have two or three people that you look at their driving and wonder ‘should they really be here yet?’

They’re probably a danger to themselves and others at this point in their career and another year of experience would benefit them.

You can tell they are panicking to be in such a field. They don’t know where to go when all the cars are passing them. I’d probably do the same if I didn’t have experience. It’s like if you put me in a cage with a bunch of MMA guys, I wouldn’t know what to do either.

Every year there has been one very big crash where someone is injured. I came along to that crash in Eau Rouge and I honestly thought someone wasn’t alive.

Luckily that wasn’t the case. What caused the crash was cold tires on a restart and an inexperienced driver who lost control and caused a big chain reaction. That type of thing has happened the last three or four years and someone has ended up in the hospital.

That’s what I was referring to. I didn’t intend to insult anybody.

Photo: Porsche

The most prestigious 24-hour race is definitely Le Mans. It’s maybe not the hardest or most competitive, but it’s still Le Mans.

It’s so famous and there’s so much history. Everyone knows Le Mans. That means there’s a lot of pressure and a lot of effort. The effort Porsche put into it this year was insane for me.

It’s probably the biggest project I’ve been a part of. There are so many fans and everyone follows it. That race is super important for everyone.

I don’t have a lot of experience at Daytona and those experiences weren’t so positive. We weren’t in a position to win. Daytona is special though. It’s a race where all the details count.

Photo: Porsche

In the past, you might say that you have to stay out of trouble and stay on the lead lap and then race for the last two hours.

Daytona might have been that way for a long time, but this year there were no cautions and it was a sprint race from the beginning. Daytona is special in that way. Strategy is important.

On the one hand you want to have a quick car on the straights, but you have the infield too, so the setup is quite important and difficult.

The first time I came to Daytona and I saw the grandstands, it was pretty spectacular. All of America is watching and history is made there.

I’ve been lucky enough to win Le Mans, Nürburgring and Spa. It’s been my dream to win four, so I have to work on Daytona now.

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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