One of the more intriguing newcomers to the GT scene in 2016 will be Dries Vanthoor, with the 17-year-old Belgian preparing for his Blancpain GT Series debut at Misano next weekend.
Despite some encouraging results in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC, Vanthoor (pictured above, center) decided to call it a day on single seaters very early on and instead focus on GTs, with hopes of following in the footsteps of his older brother Laurens.
“I was supposed to do another year open wheel racing chasing the title, but of course Laurens’ switch to GT racing was a major factor in my decision to move on,” Laurens Vanthoor told Sportscar365.
“In a way, the people around me were expecting me to do the same after a certain time.
“The fact that even Stoffel Vandoorne had difficulties to immediately get in F1 after what he’d shown also played a role in the decision.
“I wanted to become a professional pilot and race at Le Mans one day. So I decided to make the switch to GTs at a very early stage in my career.”
His first laps behind the wheel of an Audi came at the end of last season, when he tried the first-generation R8 LMS ultra at Zolder, his home track.
“The first tests at the end of last year went very well, I was very close to Laurens, which nobody was expecting.
“That was actually decisive in setting my mind on GTs.”
Together with WRT, Vanthoor did an extensive testing program to prepare for the new season, and during the official Blancpain GT Series test days at Paul Ricard he was immediately on the pace, posting the quickest time in the first session.
In the Blancpain Endurance Cup, he will crew the No. 1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS with his brother and fellow countryman Frédéric Vervisch, while Robin Frijns will be his teammate in the Sprint Cup in the No. 4 car.
“Of course I don’t know Frédéric as well as I know my brother, but we’ve been friends for a while now,” Vanthoor said. “He’s a calm person who can show great pace.
“I rate him very highly. He showed his capabilities behind the wheel of an Audi last year and left a good impression with the guys at WRT by finishing third in the Zandvoort season finale, his first time with the team.”
Surrounded by the most successful team in Blancpain history and proven teammates, the Belgian has set himself ambitious goals, while at the same time realizing there’s not much room for mistakes either.
“There’s some pressure, but it doesn’t need to happen in the first race,” Vanthoor said. “The main thing is that I need to avoid making mistakes and just need to prove myself now.
“Everything is new for me and I have to adapt to the new surroundings. I’ll try to make progress consistently. If I’ll manage that I think there will be a future for me in GT racing, but it’s still early days of course.
“I think I can be satisfied with my season if I can win some races this year. It may sound a bit optimistic, but I hope to fight for a top three in the championship.”
With a name like his, a lot of eyes will be on Dries Vanthoor this season, as he’ll compete both with (Endurance) and against (Sprint) his brother this year.
“I hope I can follow in his footsteps, but it still remains to be seen,” he said. “At least I have the right people around me and I’m very grateful for that.”