When Racing.GT met Dries Vanthoor at Paul Ricard, we weren’t too sure what to expect, but came away reassured that this was a young man with his head screwed on – not to mention completely unfazed by association with his rather famous sibling…
It was a problem Ralf Schumacher faced his entire career. Arriving on the scene in 1997, six years after elder brother Michael – by then already a double champion – Ralf fought a losing battle to be recognised as his own man and drop the prefix of ‘Michael’s kid brother’. Whilst he did manage six Grand Prix wins, Ralf only stuck around for one season following Michael’s retirement, departing with a whimper rather than a bang at the end of an underwhelming 2007 season.
Somehow, it doesn’t seem probable that the same fate will befall Dries Vanthoor. Although he is just 17, the Belgian is confident and articulate, speaking in a second language with an authority that belies his youth and inexperience. After only a single season in Formula Renault 2.0, Vanthoor opted to make the switch to GT racing with WRT – following in the tried and tested footsteps of elder brother Laurens, who in just a few short years has established himself as one of Audi Sport’s most trusted lieutenants and one of the quickest GT aces around.
But in stark contrast to Ralf Schumacher, who gave off the impression that he was shackled by Michael’s success, Dries is relishing the opportunity to finally take on his brother in the Blancpain Sprint Cup, commencing this weekend at Misano, where he will join defending Blancpain GT champion Robin Frijns in the no. 4 car. However, as with most siblings, the brothers Vanthoor will have to do their fair bit of sharing too, pairing up with Frederic Vervisch in the Blancpain Endurance Cup.
“At a small age we were always like ‘I am faster’, ‘no I’m faster’, but there’s a seven year difference between us, so there was never a possibility to drive against each other,” Dries says. “We went karting sometimes and there were close battles, but not really in a race, so now to finally drive against each other it will be really nice and especially for my dad, I think he will be very proud to have his two sons driving in the same car.
“The tests are going really well, my brother was happy with my pace which is good, but for Sprint where we will drive against each other, it will be a bit different, I don’t think I will get a lot of advice!”
Whether being in the same team as his brother will make it more difficult to notice the younger Vanthoor remains to be seen, but it’s not something he’ll lose much sleep over. Dries knows that time is on his side and this is a year for learning without too much by way of expectation; or at least as little attention as his well-known surname and title-winning team will allow.
“The first time I drove the GT car I was a happy kid with a smile on my face, it’s so exciting to drive a big car with so much noise,” he said, wide-eyed. “It’s quite a big jump and it is quite a big difference as well to change from formula cars to GT cars, but I have the perfect team, the perfect people around to help me with that.
“This year will be important to not make mistakes, not to try to be there from the first race and make people notice ‘here I am’. It will be race by race, practice by practice and then we’ll see. I just plan on being myself – everybody sees me as the brother of Laurens, but I want to be seen as Dries!”
Although he has never raced the Audi R8 before, this won’t be the first GT race young Vanthoor has entered, following an outing with a Speedlover Porsche in the Dubai 24 Hours, where he finished third in the SP2 class.
“I took the start and with 100 cars I can tell you it was crazy!” he laughs. “For sure in a 24 hour race the first thing you want to do is not crash the car in the first lap, everybody was a bit sleepy at the start so I could overtake some guys and after that I just took a pace and drove my stint out. The car had no ABS and no traction control, so it was not like the Audi, but it was huge fun to drive. I came into the team two weeks before the race because I wanted the experience – I never drove in the night before, so it was a bit tricky – but eventually we could manage to get P3 and my brother won the race, so we were really happy about that. It was a shame we were not on the same podium, but I think it will come quite soon.”