Dries Vanthoor stepped into the footsteps of his older brother Laurens Vanthoor last weekend at the Nürburgring 24 Hours. The younger Vanthoor brought his Audi R8 LMS GT3 over the finish victoriously, mirroring Laurens’ triumph at the Nordschleife in 2015.
For the longest time the 2019 running of the Nürburgring 24 Hours seemed to be a dual between Mercedes-AMG and Porsche. While AMG’s Black Falcon and HTP Motorsport teams were battling it out with Porsche’s Manthey Racing and Frikadelli Racing, the Audis run by Phoenix Racing and Land Motorsport were pushing to keep up.
Then, on Sunday morning, everything changed as the frontrunners fell victim to technical failures and unforced errors. When Phoenix Racing’s last remaining rival, the #911 Manthey Racing Porsche 991.2 GT3R, was slapped a hefty time-penalty for ignoring a yellow flag, the way was clear for Dries Vanthoor and co-drivers Fred Vervisch, Frank Stippler and Pierre Kaffer to race the Audi to the chequered flag for the brand’s fifth win in eight races.
Dries Vanthoor has long stepped out of the shadow of his successful older brother. Title fights in Blancpain GT, victory in the Bathurst 12 Hour and a class win at Le Mans have made Vanthoor a driver in his own right.
“Winning Le Mans was of course also amazing, just like Bathurst, but this is an especially though race” Dries Vanthoor says when asked where his Nürburgring 24 Hours victory ranks. “After Le Mans I wasn’t as tired as I am now.
“This was probably my best victory. In Le Mans I won GTE-Am which is not the top class, which I do feel is important when you’re competing in such an important race. I did manage that here.”
While the first track action didn’t began until Thursday afternoon, the relenting pace of the race as well as Vanthoor’s busy schedule throughout the week pushed the Belgian to the edge.
“I’m so very tired – I’m destroyed,” he says. “I’ve never been this tired after a 24-hour race. The whole race I gave it 380-percent, I have no idea how I was able to get back into the car every time because I was completely destroyed.
“It was a very busy week, starting on Monday with an Audi workshop to get together with everyone which we don’t often do. Spending time together was a lot of fun. After that the game began: a meeting here, meeting there, do this, do that. Every evening I was very tired.
“During the race I didn’t sleep a lot either. Normally I should’ve slept long enough but that plan fell apart due to a change of strategy. The plan was for me to sleep until 11 in the morning, but I got a wake-up call at 7 while I went to bed at 5. I do think it was the right decision.”
With the battle heating up after sunrise, Phoenix Racing came to the fore. For the first time, victory became a serious possibility for the Ernst Moser-led team.
“We simply drove a clean race with the team, mechanics and drivers not making any mistakes or incurring penalties. That’s a very important factor to win a big race like this. Regardless of whether you’re very fast or not, you need to have a clean race to spend as little time as possible in pitlane.
“During the night the car came to us. We weren’t able to push hard because the tyres wouldn’t last, so we went a bit half-half there. We had some luck with the mistakes the others made with penalties and accidents, but that is also part of racing. We did everything right and that, I think, is why we won.”
The final stint of the race was entrusted to Dries Vanthoor, who despite the mounting pressure kept it all together despite having to go one lap further than anyone else in the field as time ran out before the pursuing Manthey Racing Porsche crossed the finish line to follow Vanthoor onto the final lap.
“I was so stressed – I’ve never felt this much stress, especially after I learned we could win. When I knew we could finish on the podium, I was like, ‘Yeah, alright,’ but when we could actually win and I had to go up against Laurens’ Porsche, my thought was, ‘Now it begins.’
“The stress was immense, but I kept my cool and did my best, just doing my thing inside the car.
“The extra lap at the end I didn’t mind! I just finished my lap and slowed done 20 kilometre per hour more than I would do otherwise while lapping slower traffic because you never know what can happen.”
Laurens Vanthoor waited at the finish to congratulate his little brother. The Porsche driver was responsible for the penalty that cost the #911 Porsche the win – although he argued to not have seen the yellow flag he supposedly ignored – leaving both brothers with a double feeling as they fell in each other’s arms.
“This was a special moment – also knowing that he unfortunately lost the race. It was emotional for both of us: Of course, he was very proud for me to have won, but so am I of him because he was dominant for the whole race until that one moment that cost him the victory.
“I have tremendous respect for him as a driver as well because in my opinion he’s one of the best GT pilots at the moment, and that also makes it nice to share the podium with him.”