Laurens Vanthoor has admitted he rather claim victory in this weekend’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour than defend his Intercontinental GT Challenge championship, as the newly minted Porsche factory driver is set for his first experience in a rear-engined 911.
The 25-year-old Belgian, who claimed the inaugural IGTC title just eight weeks ago in Sepang, returns to Bathurst, but this time in a Walkinshaw-entered Porsche 911 GT3 R alongside fellow works drivers Kevin Estre and Earl Bamber.
Despite the off-season switch from Audi, Vanthoor said his goal remains the same in his fourth attempt at the around-the-clock enduro.
“At the moment, I’m targeting to win Bathurst because it’s a race that we came very close to [winning], which didn’t work out,” Vanthoor told Sportscar365. “Two years ago we were really close.
“It’s like unfinished business here and it’s definitely on my dream list to have a victory here.
“It’s more on my mind than defending the Intercontinental [GT Challenge]. To be honest, I would rather win here than defend the championship.”
The unknown heading into the weekend for Vanthoor is the car itself, as he makes his debut at the wheel of the rear-engined Porsche 911 GT3 R.
It comes just one week after his first race with the German manufacturer altogether, having finished sixth in the GT Le Mans class alongside co-drivers Estre and Richard Lietz in the brand-new mid-engined 911 RSR in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
“I think it’s biggest question mark, which makes you very curious, to see how the car is because there’s always a lot of talk about a rear-engined car,” he said.
“I’ll be able to discover that. It won’t be so easy to do this in Bathurst.
“But I think we have a good shot of winning. We have a good car, with a lot of support from Porsche. Walkinshaw is a good team and we have a good lineup.”
With a total of 55 cars entered, including 14 GT3 cars in the new-for-2017 GT3 Pro class, Vanthoor realizes the task may be more difficult than in past years.
A late-race shootout in 2015 saw he and then-co-drivers Markus Winkelhock and Marco Mapelli finish second in a Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS, after leading the majority of the race.
“It’s a very impressive entry of cars, teams and drivers,” Vanthoor said. “Like always, it’s a 12-hour race.
“In the past, there’s always been a lot of safety cars. Maybe it’s not as bad as Daytona, but you have to stay out of trouble and make sure you’re strong in the last two hours when it starts to count.
“That’s the lesson we learned two years ago where we were almost leading the whole race and then we lost it in the last hour.
“We’ll have to see how BoP turns out for everybody but I think we have the tools to do something well. Now we have to do our best and we’ll get the result we’ll achieve.”
Vanthoor said it’s unclear if he’ll be taking part in all four IGTC races this year, due to his IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship commitments with Porsche but has previously targeted a return to the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the next round on the calendar.