Fastest in practice and qualifying, fastest in the races. Until 10 minutes before the end of the 2017 Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup season, Dries Vanthoor was on his way to become the youngest champion of the Blancpain GT Series yet. Dreams of being crowning shattered when the news came over the radio that his WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 was to serve a drive-through penalty for a pitstop infringement. That downhearted look on his face would not be gone for the rest of the day.
“You come here with plans to take the championship, you’re in the lead, know the gap is big enough to bring it home, are fast enough to keep it there, and then you get a drive-through,” Dries Vanthoor says with a sense of disbelief. “It didn’t feel great to hear that over the radio.
“There’s not much to say about it. We knew we were the fastest last weekend and again this weekend. I think it’s fair to say we deserved to win the championship the most.
“But unfortunately, it didn’t turn out to be that way, so onto the next race and we try again.”
At just age 19, Vanthoor stepped out of the shadow of his highly-acclaimed older brother who made the move to Porsche last winter, and went it alone.
Even though it took a while to get up to speed in 2017 with his new teammate, multiple sportscar and 24 Hours of Le Mans champion Marcel Fässler, the duo grew as the season progressed and peaked in the late summer months. Until that fateful pitstop in the final race at the Nürburgring, the youngster and the veteran were en route to their maiden Blancpain GT titles.
“Of course, we did have a rough start to the season, but I don’t think we can look back on that now. Not everything went flawless, but this weekend everything went nearly perfect.
“We just had absolute bad luck with the pitstop. Normally something like that doesn’t happen, a cable that gets stuck behind the rear wing—I think it’s the first time this has happened at WRT.
“It’s pure bad luck and such a shame it had to go this way for us. Other than a small mistake at the pitstop yesterday when we tried to start the car, we made no mistakes.”
It was that mistake on Saturday that might have very well cost Vanthoor the race win. The slight delay threw Fässler out of the lead and right behind the Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 of Pérez Companc, whose teammates Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart were struggling in their quest for the title.
“It’s no fun if you come in with an advantage of 2-and-a-half, 3 seconds, and you go back out and are second. Something went wrong during the pitstop when starting up of the car.
“And then there was how the Lambo was trying to help the other Lambo, which didn’t make any difference anyway as they were back in P18.
“It’s fine when you’re fighting for your position, but I felt that was a bit ridiculous.
“Other than that, with the Bentley, that was fair. For us it’s pretty nerve wrecking, because we’re battling for the championship and then they are pushing and shoving—but it was all fair.
“In the end, it’s not great when you come into the pits in the lead and finish in third.”
Looking back on the season, Vanthoor has truly come into his own. With superb drives in Blancpain GT and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in particular, the Belgian put the racing world on notice.
“We had a good summer. I could’ve won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Zolder, did good things in the Blancpain as well as other races.
“For me, personally, the season went very well. Of course, it would’ve been great if we could’ve finished it here fittingly, but unfortunately it didn’t go that way.
“Maybe someone up there decided for us to do it another time, that it wasn’t meant for this year.”