Dries Vanthoor said it was a relief to come away with the GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Sprint Cup championship with his Team WRT co-driver Charles Weerts after a “very stressful” triple-header season finale.
Vanthoor and Weerts arrived at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya with a 6.5-point lead over their nearest rivals Maro Engel and Luca Stolz, but needed to overcome several setbacks to clinch WRT’s first drivers’ title since Robin Frijns and Stuart Leonard in 2017.
Their weekend got off to a rocky start when Vanthoor crashed heavily after tangling with a Lamborghini Super Trofeo car during Thursday testing, which forced WRT to transport a replacement Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo down to Spain from the team’s base in Belgium.
Vanthoor and Weerts’ points advantage was then eaten into during Races 1 and 2, as Albert Costa and Giacomo Altoe took consecutive on-the-road wins to emerge in the mix while Haupt Racing Team’s Engel and Stolz beat the WRT Audi on both occasions.
However, post-race penalties for both challengers after Race 2 took them out of the championship hunt and left AKKA-ASP’s Timur Boguslavskiy as the only other contender.
Although Weerts crossed the line second in the third and final race behind Boguslavskiy’s Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo, the WRT duo had enough points in hand to wrap up the title.
“It was very stressful,” Vanthoor told Sportscar365.
“I said to everybody afterward that hopefully next year we can just be the hunter instead of the guys who are leading.
“Going into the last round being the championship leader is not the easiest thing because you don’t want to make mistakes or ruin it.
“This was my first title in GT racing so I’m very happy with that. I’ve been very close in 2017 [with Marcel Fassler] and 2018 [with Will Stevens]. We lost our way in the last few rounds, especially in 2017 in the last five minutes, so I’m very happy to have finally brought it home with Charles.”
Vanthoor revealed that a puncture affected his performance in the second half of Race 1 on Saturday, but the Belgian driver was able to bring the Audi home in sixth.
“Race 1 was very hectic,” he said. “I was behind Maro, so I wasn’t worried that we would lose too many points. I was actually fighting with him a bit, and I felt I had more pace.
“But a bit over halfway my front-left tire had a slow puncture, so that was a very nerve-wracking last 20 minutes.
“After Race 2, we saw that the Lambos had great pace and I did not know before I got in the car for Race 3 that they [Costa and Altoe] had a penalty. I had no clue that they didn’t score points.
“I only got this confirmed on the formation lap of Race 3, so that was quite hectic.
“We had to finish in front of the Lambo and we could not finish outside of the top three, if the [AKKA-ASP] Mercedes won. But the luck was on our side.”
Vanthoor suggested that the third race would likely have been played out differently had Emil Frey Racing and HRT not received penalties after the Race 2 checkered flag.
The change to the results promoted Vanthoor and Weerts from fourth to second, giving them an extra 4.5 points and increasing their breathing room at the top of the table.
While Boguslavskiy and Marciello dominated Race 3, Vanthoor and Weerts finished second after their WRT teammates Kelvin van der Linde and Ryuichiro Tomita tactically kept the charging pair of Emil Frey Racing Lamborghinis from mounting an attack.
“Hearing that they had the penalty changed the whole feeling for me,” said Vanthoor.
“It was just a bit more relaxed and I knew I had to just not make any mistakes to bring it home.
“If that was not the case, I would have been pushing from lap one until the end non-stop to make sure the gap was big enough for Charles. If they finished in front of us, it would have been very close.
“At the end it worked like we hoped it would work, with them finishing behind us. Of course we got a bit of help because they made an error in Race 2 that made life a bit easier for us.
“Life wasn’t easy the whole weekend, to be honest, so we’re just happy that we did it.”
Praise for Teenage Champion Weerts
Vanthoor added his praises for his 19-year-old co-driver Weerts, who became the youngest overall series champion in GTWC Europe history.
The pair joined forces for last year’s round at Misano, where they took a win, before linking up on a full-time basis in 2020 for programs in Sprint Cup and ADAC GT Masters.
“He’s like a second brother, to be honest. I see him more than my own brother!” said 22-year-old Vanthoor.
“He’s very young but very motivated and committed to what he’s doing. It’s very impressive what he’s done this year.
“‘We started off very well at Misano, where we had a great race weekend. That’s where we made our lead in the championship enough to go into the last round how we did.
“The team is also very helpful in everything we do. I think it’s just a good combination of everything together.”