After sharing the same car in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in recent years, Laurens Vanthoor and Earl Bamber are set to ignite a “friendly rivalry” in the GT Daytona class this year, with the pair of Porsche factory drivers in separate customer entries.
The 2019 GT Le Mans class co-champions have found new full-season homes following the conclusion of Porsche’s factory program, with Vanthoor at Pfaff Motorsports and Bamber in a team co-owner role with the newly formed Team Hardpoint EBM partnership.
“We shared a car for many years now, so we’ve got that friendly rivalry,” Bamber said. “You always want to beat your mates. I think it’s going to be a good, fun season having to battle with him.
“I’m looking forward to it. I think this year GTD is super competitive — about 20 cars [for the Rolex 24] — so it’s really neat to be driving in a field where there’s a lot of cars, coming from GTLM.”
Vanthoor said their relationship away from the track hasn’t changed since their new assignments, which crucially keeps them active as full-time drivers in the WeatherTech Championship paddock.
“We still call each other and text and give each other sh** about certain things, like we always do,” Vanthoor said.
“As professional as we might think we are, if we’re driving behind each other, the last thing the other guy wants is to lose positions.
“I need to speak to Steve [Bortolotti, Pfaff team manager] to see how expensive bumpers are because as it’s Earl’s own car he’s driving, I’d love to hit him in the back because it will piss him off and also cost him money!”
Joking aside, Bamber believes they both can bring a fresh outlook to the Pfaff and Hardpoint EBM outfits after spending a number of seasons in the all-factory GTLM class.
“I think that’s going to be an interesting element,” he said.
“I’m sure there will be a bunch of new challenges as well, in re-learning the tracks in GTD as well and having that season-long rivalry is going to be quite cool, to be honest.”
While having recent race experience with the Porsche 911 GT3 R in Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli and at the Nürburgring 24, Bamber said the biggest adjustment from GTLM is with the brakes.
“It’s just getting used to braking with ABS again,” he said. “That’s a specialized thing you need to get used to.
“We’re a little bit used to it in GT3 with Pirelli [tires] but definitely not with the Michelin [tires]. We’ve got to get used to that.
“Also there’s just a different style of racing with 20 cars. Normally we’re used to six, and with the way the strategy rolls out you can be much more aggressive with GTLM because you’re not as worried about your track position that much.
“Here, you can go from fourth to 20th. I think that’s a really different dynamic.
“With traffic management, everyone’s coming by a little bit more often. But it wasn’t that bad in the qually race.
“It’s those little things that I think the main drivers in GTD over the last years may have an advantage on us that we’ve got to learn.”
Bamber will team with Rob Ferriol in the No. 88 Porsche, with Vanthoor at the wheel of Pfaff’s No. 9 entry alongside inaugural WeatherTech Sprint Cup champion Zach Robichon.
Due to travel restrictions, Vanthoor only met his team for the first time in person at last weekend’s Roar Before the Rolex 24.
“It’s for sure a little bit of adaptation as I was with Porsche in GTLM for the last four years. It was a known environment,” he said.
“Now I’m getting to learn new people, new teammates, different car.
“Everything has gone well so far. Before I joined, I heard great things about Pfaff Motorsports and also about Zach.
“I think we’re in a very good environment where we can fight for the championship. That’s definitely the target.”
Ryan Myrehn contributed to this report