Walter Röhrl is one of the greatest living legends of motorsport with an outstanding achievements in rallying and circuit racing.
His golden period was in the 1970s and 1980s when he scored fourteen World Rally Championship victories and became the world champion two times, in 1980 with Fiat and in 1982 with Opel. He was a vice-champion in 1983 with Lancia and third in the world in 1985 with Audi.
In his circuit racing career, Röhrl reached a class victory at 1981 Le Mans 24 Hours in a Porsche 944. He was a race winner in many notable competitions such were DTM, World Sportscar Championship, IMSA GTO Championship or Trans-Am.
When chauffeur became a champion
Walter Röhrl was born in Regensburg 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.
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.
Walter Rohrl in an Opel Commodore at 1973 Rallye Monte-Carlo
1980 world rally champion with Fiat 131 Abarth
Five years later, he made a debut in the WRC with the Imscher Tuning team, driving an Opel Commodore GS/E and Opel Ascona 1.9 SR. 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.
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 in a Fiat 131 Abarth
1981 Le Mans class victory with Porsche
In 1981, Walter moved to Porsche. That year, he scored his greatest success in circuit racing, a victory at 24 Hours of Le Mans. In his debut at Circuit de la Sarthe, Walter Röhrl was sharing the #1 Porsche 944 with Jürgen Barth. They finished seventh overall and the winners of GTP+3.0 class.
In rallying, Röhrl recorded just one WRC start in 1981, retiring at Rallye Sanremo in a Porsche 911 SC. He won several German rally events in a Porsche 924 Carrera GTS.
Walter Röhrl reunited with his Opel Ascona 400
1982 - conquering the world in an Opel Ascona 400
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.
Vice-champion in 1983 despite missing six 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
Setting a Pikes Peak record with Audi 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.
He retired from professional rallying at the end of 1987, after collecting 14 WRC wins. The most notable were four wins at Rallye Monte-Carlo with four different cars - Fiat 131 Abarth (1980), Opel Ascona 400 (1982), Lancia 037 Rally (1983) and Audi Quattro A2 (1984).
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 Hall of Fame.
In recent years, Röhrl has worked as a senior test pilot for Porsche road cars, testing them at the Nurburgring Nordschleife.