Last week Porsche announced it would axe its CORE autosport-run IMSA GT Le Mans programme after 2020. That means Porsche will have to find reigning GTLM champions Vanthoor and Earl Bamber, and stablemates Nick Tandy and Frederic Makowiecki, new programmes for 2021.
After this year, Porsche’s 911 RSR-19 will only be run in the Le Mans 24 Hours and the FIA World Endurance Championship, leaving IMSA with just four cars from Corvette and BMW in GTLM.
The WEC’s equivalent GTE Pro class is not in much better shape. The class features just six cars from Porsche, Aston Martin and Ferrari, following Ford and BMW both ending their programmes after Le Mans last year.
Vanthoor fears Porsche’s IMSA exit could be the beginning of the end for GTE as a whole.
“It was a big shock when Porsche called me with the news”, Vanthoor told Motorsport.com. “It was completely unexpected for everyone. Personally I fear the worst. Even this season I felt it was a bit thin with just six cars in both IMSA and WEC.
“I don’t really see someone ready to jump in either, mainly because LMDh is coming. It’s hard to say what’s going to happen, but I fear this could be the end. I hope not, but it wouldn’t surprise me.”
Porsche has already commissioned a study into a possible LMDh entry. The LMP2-based class will succeed the current generation of IMSA DPi prototypes from 2022 and give manufacturers an avenue to compete both in America and in WEC and Le Mans for overall honours.
While Porsche explained LMDh was not a factor in its decision, Vanthoor admits the chance to fight for the overall win at Le Mans and Daytona is an enticing prospect.
“LMDh is a future goal for me,” said the 29-year-old, who won the 2018 Le Mans GTE Pro class alongside Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre. “We have been successful in GT and won everything we could.
“Everyone who follows the sport closely knows how high the level is in GTLM. It’s just as high as DPi or LMP, but you’re not racing for the overall victory. A class win is not the same thing. I think I’m at the ideal age to continue in LMDh, so it’s definitely my goal.”
Meanwhile, the long-term future of GT racing is up in the air. A potential solution could come from some sort of accommodation between GTE and the GT3 class, SRO’s successful brainchild which has attracted over a dozen manufacturers.
IMSA has already embraced GT3 in its GT Daytona class. The production-based category could also offer a much cheaper alternative for both factory and customers teams to compete at Le Mans, and provide a truly universal platform for worldwide GT racing.
“With LMDh you would be able to race in both IMSA and at Le Mans. It would be great if we could also have that in GT racing”, Vanthoor added. “Everyone would race with the same cars around the world and it’s a lot cheaper.
“GT3 is a completely different world. With [Timo Bernhard’s GT3 outfit] Team 75 we would take 10 to 15 people to the Spa 24 Hours. At Le Mans that’s around 75 with Porsche. To the outside world it looks like you’re just driving a Porsche 911, but in terms of budgets and complexity those two categories have nothing to do with each other.
“You could have a GT Pro and GT Am class, with maybe just different tyres, ABS and horsepower. You don’t need Formula 1 cars to make the show, just look at NASCAR and Australian Supercars.”