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VANTHOOR: Still on a High from Le Mans

Laurens Vanthoor reflects back on his historic 24 Hours of Le Mans class victory with Porsche…

Photo: Porsche

Winning Le Mans has been quite special in every kind of way.

I know this column is a little later than usual but it has been non-stop since Le Mans. I also wanted to take some time to consider what just happened.

With Porsche, I think this is by far the biggest thing I’ve been a part of. If you could see the number of team members there… it felt like I didn’t know half of them.

With all the preparation we did before the race I felt like I was back in school studying. We had so many meetings.

At one point, I was surprised there was still anything left to talk about. I just wanted to go racing.

In the end, all the preparation and hard work was worth it. You could feel the only goal for Porsche was to win and that was the only result that would make us happy. They really put the effort in and that effort was repaid.

Photo: Porsche

Porsche entered four cars and we all worked together. We knew we were going to be strong with the preparation and work we’d put in, so for sure, there was some internal rivalry.

There were four cars with a chance to win and everyone wants to be the one that does it. There was lots of collaboration, but we all pushed each other and made each other stronger. So, I would say overall the pressure was a positive thing.

The Pink Pig livery was cool on its own, but since we won it’s an even bigger deal. The drivers actually got to pick which livery we wanted back for Le Mans and we knew this one would stand out. There was a huge feedback from the fans.

I could see on social media there were so many people cheering for us just because of it. It will always be a special memory now to have won in that car. It goes to the Porsche Museum now to retire, so it will be fun to go see it there.

Earl, Patrick, Nick and all of my IMSA crew guys and engineers were with the Nos. 93 and 94 cars. It was strange to see everyone from my American team in the other garage. You always want to be on good terms with your team, but it was kind of weird.

It’s like you’re in a room with two girlfriends and you’re scared if you talk too much to one, that the other one will get angry. It’s a bit awkward. But I felt a lot of love from my IMSA teammates after the victory and I felt bad about how their race went.

They seemed to have a lot of bad luck, but their effort was great. I hope we continue winning together in North America.

Photo: Porsche

The race was interesting. We had a slightly different strategy, tire-wise and pit stop-wise, from the beginning compared to others. We stopped a lap earlier and we got lucky with the safety car, because it gave us a one-minute lead.

Now, normally if you’re a driver and you’re in the car, you drive at 100 percent without thinking too much about everything else.

We had a one-minute lead after the safety car and by midnight we had a two-minute lead and at that point the race changed. You switch to be an endurance racer, to eliminate the risks, you are even more careful in traffic and not take the curbs too hard. You’re not chasing a lap time, you’re being safe and trying to maintain a gap.

It’s difficult, especially for your ego. You want to be quick, you want to set the fast lap time, but if someone is faster than you or catching you, for me, in my head, there’s a little devil saying ‘you can go quicker than them,’ but you shouldn’t because at that point, it’s completely irrelevant.

At the end, when you win, that’s what matters and is important to everyone, so you need to keep that in your head and be smart. I find it to be extremely difficult.

I threw away a race like that once. We were leading the 24 Hours of Spa, I was in traffic, somebody pissed me off and I lost my temper and I wanted to be quick and I crashed the car and the race was gone and that’s the most stupid thing you could do.

For a small moment you want to be the hero, but you lose the big picture.

Photo: Porsche

In the end, Kevin, Michael and I are smart and experienced enough to know what it takes. The drivers and the team didn’t make any mistakes.

There was zero contact on track and no penalties on the track or in pit lane. Yes, we were a bit lucky with the safety car. I’ve seen some people complain that we only won because of that and I have two answers; yes we were lucky, but we were due some good luck.

Second, everything about our race was perfect and to give you an example, at night there were three of four hours of green running and we extended our lead by 30 seconds, so pace-wise, I think we were quick.

When I got out of the car, after my last stint, it was strange. Honestly, until the last 20 minutes, you feel nothing. You don’t feel any emotions, because you never know what’s going to happen.

I knew inside it was going to be a good race, but still it’s not over until it’s over. Five minutes before the end, I started to feel a little joy inside. Finally, I was on the pit wall with my wife and Kevin as we watched Michael cross the finish line and I got tears in my eyes.

Photo: Porsche

We were screaming and all my emotions just came pouring out. There were people with cameras and questions and—sorry to them—I said ‘no, I just wanted to celebrate with my team.’ It was very emotional to be on top of the podium at Le Mans and see all the people and hear the anthem and know we just won GT. You get goose bumps and it’s pretty freaking awesome!

I don’t drink very often, but Earl started handing me drinks at 6 p.m. and I think it was by 11 p.m. that I was speaking a language nobody could understand. Luckily my wife was smart enough to know it was time to take me to bed.

In an interview I once said something I want to do in my career is win the big endurance races: Le Mans, Spa, Nürburgring and Daytona.

I am now one step closer to that. I’m pretty proud to see those three trophies [Le Mans, Spa, Nürburgring] at home. Like I said previously, racing has its ups and downs. I think the good times are here and I’m going to keep them going as long as possible.

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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