This is supposed to be a regular piece about Motoring Icons who would have hopefully at least a tenuous link somewhere in history with Porsche. However unless you keep a keen eye on the latest Nurburgring lap times or are a Porsche fan, you’ve probably not heard much of this chap and so household name he isn’t. But in the Porsche world he is very well known, the question is why and where’s he come from….who is Walter Röhrl?
Walter Röhrl was born on 7th March 1947 in Regensburg, Germany, growing up he was an accomplished skier and became a ski instructor. His CV would probably say something like “German rally and auto racing driver, with victories for Fiat, Opel, Lancia and Audi as well as Porsche, Ford and BMW. Currently senior test driver for Porsche road cars”.
Röhrl made his name in rally driving during the golden era of the Group B rally cars which required skill, guts and a steely nerve at the very least, real men’s rallying. But it wasn’t just taking part in this hairy chested ordeal that made him famous, it was winning the first rally he entered in 1968 at the age of 21. From there he went on to many successful titles, numerous podium finishes and won the WRC twice. That would in itself be a successful career for many, but not for Röhrl.
In 1987 Röhrl entered the Pikes Peak hill climb in Colorado, his tool was an Audi Sport Quattro S1 endowed with over 600 horsepower. Back then the road which is now mainly covered in tarmac was a treacherous gravel track which snaked its way around 156 corners to a height of over 14,000ft. Röhrl finished there that day, smashing the record by 22 seconds and the first to break the 11 minute mark.
Röhrl was also successful in road racing events, and has won many plaudits including being elected Rallye Driver of the Century in Italy, Rallye driver of the Millennium in France, and quite blushingly referred to once as a “Genius on Wheels” by Niki Lauda.
So what of his work for Porsche, so far he’s been connected with many other manufactures with a racing heritage, and whilst having occasionally raced in Porsches over the years it wasn’t until more recently that his name has really been synonymous with Porsche. His position as senior test driver requires amongst other jobs, to set fast lap times in new Porsche cars round the Nürburgring Nordschleife (do jobs get any better than that?). Doing this since the early 1990s and having been involved in the development of many of the more exciting models that Porsche produce. In July 2004 Röhrl set the then lap record for a production car at the Nürburgring in a Porsche Carrera GT, the very car that more recently Röhrl described publicly as the first car he has driven that he is scared of, following the untimely death of the actor Paul Walker.
There is so much more that can be written on Röhrl’s career to date, numerous achievements in fact, from 4 wins at Monte Carlo to being the youngest person to win the WRC in 1980. I could go on, but I’d suggest that a more animated view of the master at work is a short YouTube search away. In the meantime we certainly have no hesitation in welcoming Walter Röhrl into our hall of fame, one of his less prestigious titles we accept but one of huge appreciation.