Rolf Stommelen (1943-1983) was a racing driver from Germany who was killed in a crash during IMSA Championship race at Riverside International Raceway.
He recorded 63 participations (54 starts) in the Formula One World Championship between 1969 and 1978, scoring one podium. He was much more successful in sports car racing. In endurance classics, he won Daytona 24 Hours four times and triumphed once at Targa Florio. He never won in the overall classification at Le Mans 24 Hours, scoring two overall podiums.
Porsche factory driver since the early 1960s
Rolf Johann Stommelen was born in July 1943 in Siegen, North Rhine-Westphalia. He started racing as a teenager began racing. Rolf’s progress through the ranks was fast. He has competed at the national level, in various events, including hill climbs.
In the early 1960s, he already was a Porsche factory driver. In 1967, sharing the seat of Porsche 910 with Paul Hawkins, Stommelen won notorious Targa Florio race, announcing that he has plenty to offer in the following years.
Rolf Stommelen, 1968
First to go over 350 km/h at Mulsanne straight
Over the years, Stommelen was established as one of the best endurance drivers in the world. In 1969, he became the first man who exceeded 350 km/h speed at Mulsanne straight, driving a Porsche 917 LH during 24 Hours of Le Mans. Unfortunately, he never managed to win the most prestigious endurance race. The closest he came was in 1979 when he finished second with Dick Barbour’s Porsche 935 although his starring role was overshadowed by the fame of his co-driver Paul Newman. However, he won races in the World Sportscar Championship during 1976 and 1977.
Driving a Lancia LC1 spider, 1982 Le Mans 24h
Daytona 24h four-time winner
However, Rolf scored four wins at Daytona 24 Hours – in 1968, 1978, 1980, and 1982. He also competed in the various championships at a national level, as well as in Europe, but most successful he was in the US. Stommelen also appeared in one NASCAR Grand National Series event at Talladega in 1971, driving a car which Mario Andretti used to win Daytona 500 four years earlier.
Rolf in Brumos Porsche, 1978 Daytona 24h
Stommelen had unique driving style, pretty aggressive and fearless. Therefore it’s not surprising that he survived several violent accidents. The best known was the one in the F1 Spanish Grand Prix at Montjuic circuit in 1975 when the rear wing of his car broke at the speed of 240 km/h. Rolf was seriously injured and had both legs fractured, but four people were killed.
Formula 1 debut
Although he did not have so successful Formula 1 career, Stommelen has competed in the most popular series from 1969 to 1978. His debut was with Roy Winkelmann Racing in the 1969 German Grand Prix at Nurburgring where he finished 8th.
Driving a Brabham BT33, 1970 Formula 1 World Championship
The year of 1970 was his only full-time season in the championship. Driving a Brabham T33-Ford sponsored by the German magazine Auto Motor und Sport, Stommelen had a couple of notable results. In the Austrian Grand Prix, he finished 3rd, behind Jacky Ickx and Clay Regazzoni, what was his only podium finish. He also picked points at Spa, Hockenheim, and Monza, eventually finishing 11th in the standings with 10 points on his account.
Stommelen felt more comfortable in the sports car racing
However, the rest of Rolf’s career wasn’t as good. He raced part-time for the various teams, including Surtees, Graham Hill’s Embassy Racing, Martini Racing, Hesketh Racing, and Arrows. From 1971 to 1978 Stommelen scored points only thrice - in Germany, Monaco, and Great Britain. In total, Stommelen entered 63 Formula 1 Grand Prix events, raced in 54, scored only one podium and scored 14 points.
Rolf Stommelen, Eifelland March E21, 1972 Monaco Grand Prix
At the same time, he continued to race in the World Championship of Makes and IMSA GT Championship as a driver of renowned teams like Joest Racing, Dick Barbour Racing, etc.
In 1980s Rolf was racing less, driving the Porsches and Lancias for various teams in the selected events of IMSA Championship and World Endurance Championship. That period of Stommelen’s career was relatively successful as he was still able to win the races and to score podium finishes before the cruel end.
In the IMSA GT Championship race at Riverside International Raceway, on 23rd of April 1983, Stommelen drove John Fitzpatrick’s Porsche 935. Stommelen had just taken over the car from his co-driver Derek Bell and was running 2nd when the rear wing and engine cover flew off at the high speed.
The wreck of Stommelen's Porsche at Riverside
Rolf lost control of the car, hit the concrete wall and began to roll before it was engulfed in flames. The poor driver was transported to the hospital but soon died due to numerous injuries.