For Laurens Vanthoor the premiere race of the 2017 VLN season could not have ended any worse. With the finish in sight, the race leader made a fatal mistake in his attempt to pass a slower vehicle while fending off the approaching Patrick Pilet. A smack in the guardrail destroyed the car’s steering and along with it a good run for victory.
“The problem was that for some reason we were losing several seconds at every Code 60 and the question is why this happened,” Vanthoor reflects hours after the finish. “Our speed was just as fast as the [Manthey] 911, but at the end of the race there were many Code 60s and suddenly he was there, while I hadn’t lost any time.”
At the ten-minute mark Vanthoor arrived at Döttinger Höhe with Patrick Pilet in the green-yellow works Porsche on his tail as he was quickly catching up to one of Walkenhorst Motorsport’s BMW M235i Cup cars.
“I had to take more and more risks to maintain my advantage. At one point the gap was only a second and a half at Döttinger Höhe. There was a BMW in front of me and I knew I had to go past him before the chicane, otherwise [Pilet] would be directly behind me.
“I decided to make the move and in that moment the BMW also used his blinker to signal he’d move to the right. That’s when I went to the inside and yet he turned in. I went onto the grass and then it was over.”
Hitting the guardrail caused sufficient damage for the Falken crew to call it a day. After a moment just sitting in the car, Vanthoor, aware of his mistake, got out.
“It was definitely my fault. The BMW didn’t help, but it was my fault, I was behind the wheel.”
Not all was lost, however. This being the first of three races leading up to the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring in May, Falken Motorsport, running on the rubber supplied by title sponsor Falken Tire, needed the many laps they did get in to collect valuable data.
“I think the Falkens that we have are good tyres. The car feels good as well. We, unlike others, drive at the front and won’t play the Balance of Performance game. Our performance and car were good, so overall, I’m absolutely positive about the speed that we’ve got. The result we unfortunately didn’t get, but this is a preparation race for the 24-hours and that’s the race that counts.”
While it wasn’t the ending Vanthoor imagined when he watched Jörg Bergmeister take off from the front row and later Martin Ragginger make an on-track pass for the lead on the Manthey Porsche, the love for the Nordschleife remains the same.
“And I don’t think I’m the only one,” the Belgium muses. “It’s still one of those real circuits where you need a lot of confidence and courage and really need the skill to drive it.
“I love these kind of tracks, I hate tracks such as Paul Ricard with those run-off areas. This is a real challenge where you need to gather all your courage to go really fast and that’s part of what motorsports is.”