After missing out on the Blancpain GT Series title due to a late-season injury, Laurens Vanthoor is more motivated than ever to take home the 2016 crown, while still targeting a move to the LMP1 ranks, ideally with Audi, in the future.
The 24-year-old Belgian, a standout in the GT racing scene, was forced to miss the final two Blancpain Sprint Series rounds of the season after suffering multiple fractures from an accident in the Qualifying Race at Misano in October.
Vanthoor’s double leg and hip fracture took him out of the points lead and gave co-driver Robin Frijns the overall GT Series championship, in what he admitted was a frustrating time in his career.
“Last year when everything happened, I was leading two championships and on a very good way to win them,” Vanthoor told Sportscar365. “Then it got taken away.
“I’ve been working hard after the accident and since my comeback, things have been going really, really well.”
Victory in his comeback race, the Sepang 12 Hours, in December was followed up by a win one month later in the 24 Hours of Dubai, also with Belgian Audi Club Team WRT and the new Audi R8 LMS.
His win streak, however, came to an end in Bathurst, when arguably Balance of Performance played a factor in the outcome of the race, at least from Audi’s perspective. Vanthoor finished fourth in the Phoenix Racing-entered Audi.
The Audi GT factory driver is set for a busy year ahead, with at least 25 race weekends planned. It includes a return to WRT for the full 10-round Blancpain GT championship, with his new season-long co-driver set to be announced on Friday during the team’s 2016 presentation.
“The goal is to 100 percent win the championship,” he said. “As things are looking now with the lineup we’ll have, we will have a very good chance, especially in Sprint but also in Endurance. But in Endurance you need a bit more luck as they’re longer races.
“I think we have the cards in place to win, absolutely. But there’s a lot of work to do.”
With the arrival of new GT3 machinery such as the BMW M6 GT3, Mercedes-AMG GT3 and an influx of customer teams with the new Audi and Lamborghini Huracan GT3s, Vanthoor feels the Blancpain GT season is shaping up to be as competitive as ever, despite some expected changes in car count.
“There will be more customer teams in the past running those cars, which in the end is good because that’s the way it should work for the future,” he said. “It keeps costs low for everybody.
“At the moment it’s tough to say who will be the competition. For sure there will be strong cars. [Jeroen] Bleekemolen will be with Grasser in Sprint [Cup].
“I think Sprint will be more elevated than last year and Endurance with a little bit less cars, which is in the end good because last year was a little bit too much, to be honest.”
The Audi GT factory driver is also set to make his second start in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, again in a Honda-powered Ligier JS P2, but this time with Michael Shank Racing, which makes its Le Mans debut.
Vanthoor is hoping the drive with the longtime U.S sports car racing entrant could lead to future opportunities in races such as the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Twelve Hours of Sebring.
Remarkably, the former 24 Hours of Spa and Nurburgring 24 winner has yet to make take part in a race in America.
“It’s the first time Michael Shank Racing is going there and the drivers are unexperienced [at Le Mans], so realistically we will not be the favorite to go for the victory but you never know,” Vanthoor said. “I’m happy to be associated with them and to share with them my experience.
“I’m keen to race the four endurance races in America; it’s something I would really like to do in the future. Maybe doing [Le Mans] with Michael Shank would open up some opportunities for that in 2017.
“Just like a bucket list, I want to have things checked off and have those experiences in life. It’s the same thing about Australia, I’d love to do the three [V8 Supercars] endurance races. It’s not 24-hour races but it’s cool. Unfortunately it clashes again [this year].
“One day I want to check off all those boxes. In the end, I’m doing these kind of things because I love it.
“Being able to do these races all over the world and fight for victory, that’s something that will make me happy and proud on the day I’ll be old and sitting on my sofa. Now I have the chance and I will try do it.”
He also hasn’t made a secret about his aspirations of one day competing in the LMP1 ranks, ideally with the four rings.
Vanthoor said he was forced to turn down a test in the Audi R18 e-tron quattro, scheduled at the FIA World Endurance Championship post-season Rookie Test in Bahrain, due to his injury late last year.
“It was very hard to accept but the only thing I can do is do my work with them in GT3 racing,” he said. “I have to say that I’m very happy doing that. I have to do the best as possible and then wait for the next chance to come.
“I think I will have some kind of chance [if Audi brings back] a third car. Whether that’s next year, the year after or in five years… But it’s out of my hands. I would be happy if I was given a chance. To give it a shot and try it would make me very, very happy.”