Reigning Blancpain GT Series champion Laurens Vanthoor is in a great position to score a unique double in the world of endurance racing this weekend, as he’s looking to add the Total 24 Hours of Spa to his Nürburgring 24 win from May.
While many regard Audi as the clear favorite to score a fourth win in five years at Spa, both the German manufacturer and the Belgian ace try to push BMW, and in particular Marc VDS Racing, into that role.
“We thought at the beginning of the week we would be pretty far behind BMW, but in the end it’s been really close on pure one-lap performance. Now we have to see how it will pan out in the long runs,” Vanthoor told Sportscar365.
“I would say BMW is still the favorite. Everything is extremely close if you look at the front of the field, and maybe another brand that is three or four tenths off on new tires, can be quick in a long run.”
Having scored a debut 24-hour win at the Nürburgring, the new Audi R8 LMS has nowhere to hide, though both races obviously have their own unique character.
The difference in tires could particularly play a crucial role in deciding whether or not Audi will be able to repeat their Eifel performance, as the single compound Pirelli rubber differs quite a bit from Michelin’s development tires.
“We now understand the Pirellis for 90 percent, and that’s as far as we can go, because we need to learn the last 10 percent in racing conditions,” Vanthoor said.
“Testing has been positive so far, even in the long runs. But we have yet to find out how the tire is going to evolve, react to temperatures and the different conditions the race might trow at us.”
To make things even more difficult, cooler temperatures and rain are expected for the race, with the R8 LMS having even less mileage on these tires on a wet track.
Audi has reunited the winning trio from last year, with René Rast and Markus Winkelhock once again teaming up with the 24-year-old Belgian.
While his German teammates are not in the hunt for the Blancpain title, Vanthoor is very much is and with 12 points on offer at both the six and 12-hour marks, there might be a conflict of interest at hand, as Audi is mainly interested in the overall win.
“It’s not really the goal for Audi to collect those points, but it is for me and WRT,” Vanthoor said. “I hope Audi will take this into account to help us out in the championship.”
In only its fourth attempt, the Belgian WRT squad beat the much more experienced Phoenix Racing team on its home turf at the Nürburgring in May, but with Audi looking on, the main goal is to make sure the trophy will return to Ingolstadt.
“With Audi in charge, both teams work together here at Spa,” Vanthoor said.” We have our technical meetings together and share opinions and data.
“But in the end, Vincent Vosse and Ernst Moser still want to be in front of each other. So we work together, but there’s still a competition between us.
“It’s the same with the drivers. I’m racing with René Rast and Markus Winkelhock, but I still want to be quicker than them, which is normal.”
On the subject of choosing a favorite between both races, Vanthoor couldn’t give a straightforward answer.
“As a global package, like the way everything is organized, I prefer Spa. But pure from a driver’s point of view I would pick the Nüburgring.
“Spa is still a place with a lot of history, but as you could see during practice and qualifying, there are a lot of problems with the track limits.
“It makes things safer, but replacing a wall or a gravel trap with asphalt makes it less interesting and easier for everybody, which takes away a bit of the fame of the track.”