Audi’s decision to end their involvement in prototype racing after 18 years could be a “game-changer” for Laurens Vanthoor’s involvement with the brand.
The Belgian became an Audi factory driver after his impressive debut season in GT racing in 2012 and has been one of the four rings’ most successful drivers in the intervening years, winning the 2013 FIA GT championship, 2014 Blancpain Endurance and Blancpain GT Series titles, the 24 Hours of Spa and Nürburgring and most recently the Sepang 12 Hours.
However, Vanthoor has always harboured ambitions of winning Le Mans and invested his own money to get himself onto the grid in 2015 in the hope that it would earn him a seat in the third Audi for this year. Those hopes were dashed when Audi cut down to two cars in the wake of the VW emissions scandal, before it was announced last week that they would not return at all in 2017.
— Audi Sport (@audisport) October 26, 2016
“It’s definitely a game-changer, there’s no doubt about it,” he told Racing.GT. “For sure it’s a disappointment although obviously I knew it was coming, I’ve been in pretty deep talks with Audi the last month and you could feel something was happening.
“From my side, it’s no secret that it was a dream of mine for a while and I tried a lot of things to go towards that. The first time I went to Le Mans with Oak Racing, I had to invest my own money to get there and I did that to show Audi that I was able to get some experience and hopefully do a good job.
“If they were still running a third car then I think I would have a high chance of having been in there or going to be in there around this period, so obviously with everything that happened it is a shame. Okay the investment didn’t get paid back by Audi, but I got a professional drive this year with Michael Shank, so it was definitely worth doing.”
In addition to his Audi Customer Sport commitments in Blancpain and GT Masters, Vanthoor teamed up with Vincent Vosse’s WRT outfit for a one-off prototype outing in the ELMS at Spa, where he finished second alongside brother Dries and Will Stevens.
“I’m happy where I am at the moment and with everything I’ve done in the past, but I’m 25 years old and I’ve been with Audi for a few years now,” he continued. “Together we’ve been successful and I’m very proud of that, but I’m not going to hide that I’m pretty interested in growing in my career to make myself a bigger and better driver in the future.
“The question is do I have to go and look for a new dream, or continue with what I’ve got? It’s a difficult thing to answer at the moment. There are definitely things happening, but we still have to see what the best thing will be. I think at the moment the future is pretty open.”
One avenue that Vanthoor is unlikely to take is a move to IMSA with Michael Shank Racing, which has switched from the Prototype class to GTD with the new Acura NSX GT3. Andy Lally, Katherine Legge, Ozz Negri and Jeff Segal were announced as the team’s full-season drivers at a launch event yesterday.
Racing.GT will run an in-depth interview with Vanthoor in the build-up to the FIA GT World Cup in Macau later this month.