By Jeff Olson
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Don’t look now, but that crazy plaid Porsche is back in the mix.
Laurens Vanthoor and Zacharie Robichon teamed to drive the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R to victory Sunday in the Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) class in the Hyundai Monterey Sports Car Championship at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
The victory – the team’s second in a row – pulled Vanthoor and Robichon to within 27 points of the lead with three GTD races left in the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season. It also punctuated a remarkable recovery from a lost 2020 season in which the Canadian-based team was able to compete in just two races.
While the come-from-behind theme of this season wasn’t the initial plan, the championship was always the goal.
“We’re a new team together this year, and we try to find some ways and tricks with the car,” Vanthoor said. “We’re heading in the right direction. It’s promising so far.”
Pfaff made everyone take notice with its 2019 debut in the WeatherTech Championship. Robichon and the No. 9 finished third in the GTD standings, with a pair of wins. Then came 2020, which essentially put the program in mothballs due to border travel restrictions.
Vanthoor, the 2019 GT Le Mans (GTLM) champion, joined Robichon in the car this year. The team focused solely on the season championship, bypassing the two races that count only toward the IMSA WeatherTech Sprint Cup in GTD.
That vision was rewarded early, with Vanthoor, Robichon and Lars Kern winning the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts in March. The promise bobbled slightly mid-season but recovered in force last month with a win at the IMSA Sports Car Weekend at Road America.
“Obviously, Road America was a great weekend,” Robichon said. “… Everybody was working together super well, so we were relatively confident coming into (WeatherTech Raceway). I think in practice and in qualifying, we knew all the pieces were there.”
The pieces fit together well enough to reach the front of the field when it mattered most Sunday at WeatherTech Raceway. Robichon started fifth in class and 18th overall, then handed the car to Vanthoor, who took over in third place and finished triumphantly. Aiding the run was the fact that the vast majority of the race ran entirely in green-flag conditions following an early full-course caution.
“The car wasn’t easy to drive but it was very quick,” Vanthoor said. “And it allowed me to drive in a way that I could preserve tires. I think that was our key. We didn’t really have the one-lap-only pace, but we could go longer than the others, I felt.”
Following their latest win, Vanthoor and Robichon trail only Turner Motorsport drivers Bill Auberlen and Dillon Machavern by a slim, 27 points in the GTD standings. The next race is the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, Sept. 25 on the famous Southern California street course.
“We are now in a good position, but there are still three races to go and a lot that can happen,” Vanthoor said. “But for me, I always set myself personally a goal, and this year it’s really been to win the championship. I hope we can fulfill that.”