Walter Röhrl was one of the best German rally drivers during the 1970s and 1980s and a two-time World Rally Championship winner. He was born in Regensburg on 7th of March, 1947, and as a teenager, he wasn’t as interested in motorsport as he was in skiing. In fact, he also went on to become a qualified skiing instructor.
Walter Rohrl driving Opel in Monte Carlo rally
When chauffeur became a champion
Due to circumstances, young Walter had to start working very early, so he became a chauffeur in the company representing the Bishop of Regensburg. He drove approximately 120,000 km annually, quickly becoming a very competent driver and was soon invited to take part in a rally competition in 1968.
Five years later, he made a debut in the WRC with the Imscher Tuning team, driving an Opel Commodore GS/E and Opel Ascona. During the first five seasons in the series, Rohrl competed sporadically and without success. However, in 1977, he switched from Opel to a Fiat 131 Abarth and that was a move which brought him immense success.
Video : Walter Rohrl in Porsche 904 Carrera at the Langenburg Hill race
The first title with Fiat
Driving for the Fiat Italia team in 1978, he scored two victories and finished the season in the sixth place. Next year he wasn’t as successful, finishing ninth overall, but in 1980, Walter Rohrl managed to win his first WRC title. He won four rallies that year and also had two-second places, scoring 116 points in total.
Walter Rohrl from Germany in Fiat Abarth
Bad season with Porsche
However, the move to Porsche in 1981 didn’t prove to be very good; Rohrl competed only in one rally and finally finished with a retirement. So, in 1982 he moved to Rothmans Opel Rally Team, driving an Ascona 400 and won his second WRC title. He scored two victories and five podiums, finishing the season with 109 points. But, shortly after winning the championship, he was fired from the team after he refused to be a part of the sponsors activity. Rohrl was firm in the view that he was a sportsman, not an actor, and as a nonsmoker, he couldn't see any reason to be a part of a tobacco marketing campaign.
Walter Rohrl in Porsche 911
The cost of six missed rounds
Moving to Martini Racing and driving a Lancia 037 Rally in 1983, he finished the season as a runner-up with three wins and three podiums. The fact that he missed six rounds proved costly and led him to not winning the third championship title that year.
Walter Rohrl in Audi Quattro
Walter set a new record at Pikes Peak with Audi's Quattro
The last four season of his career as a racer, Rohrl spent with Audi. He won two more rallies before retiring, and in 1985, he finished third overall in WRC, driving an Audi Quattro. With the same car, in 1987, he set a new Pikes Peak International Hill Climb record, becoming the first pilot to cover the distance in less than 11 minutes. After retiring from WRC, with 14 rally wins in his career, Rohrl competed in several track racing events including the 24 Hours of Nurburgring.
Video : Audi Sport Quattro S1 driven by Walter Rohrl at Pikes Peak, 1987
Rally driver of the century praised by Europe’s jury
Thanks to his success, he was elected as the Rally Driver of the century in Italy, in France he became the Rally racer of the millennium, and a jury of more than 100 journalists worldwide elected him as the best rally pilot ever. In 2011, Walter Rohrl was inducted to the Rally Home of Fame.
In recent years, Röhrl has worked as a senior test pilot for Porsche road cars, testing them at the Nurburgring Nordschleife.