Born on this day, Walter Rohrl, German rally and auto racing driver, with victories for Fiat, Opel, Lancia and Audi as well as Porsche, Ford and BMW

Friday 7th March 1947

Born on this day, Walter Rohrl, German rally and auto racing driver, with victories for Fiat, Opel, Lancia and Audi as well as Porsche, Ford and BMW.

Röhrl was a World Rally Championship favourite throughout the 1970s and 1980s, winning the Monte Carlo Rally four times with four different marques. His co-driver for many years was Christian Geistdörfer. His Fiat 131 Abarth carried him to the 1980 title, clinched with his victory in that year’s San Remo rally, but it was arguably his equivalent success in 1982 that impressed most of all, with Röhrl fending off audacious four-wheel drive opposition, led by Audi’s resurgent Michèle Mouton, to take the title, by virtue of consistency, in his increasingly outmoded rear-drive Opel Ascona 400. It was also during this time that he won the African Rally Championship, in 1982. However, shortly after winning the championship he was fired from the team by team manager Tony Fall because he disliked competing in the RAC rally (the rally he had little success in).[3][4] Röhrl had already had severe arguments with Tony Fall about publicity activities for the team sponsor, tobacco company Rothmans. Röhrl, as a strict nonsmoker, simply refused to do any filming for Rothmans publicity spots, claiming that he had been hired as a driver, not an actor, and that he could not see any sense in making tobacco marketing as a nonsmoker anyway.

In 1983, he joined Lancia to pilot the new, rear-wheel drive Lancia 037, before finally changing his machinery, in 1984, to the four-wheel drive Audi Quattro, an automobile actually produced in his home state of Bavaria.

In 1987 Röhrl set up a new record in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb for being the first driver to cover the 14.42 miles (19.99 km) long mountain track to the Pikes Peak in less than 11 minutes. In his 600 hp (440 kW) Audi Sport quattro S1 he only used 10:47.850[6] minutes to reach Pikes Peak on the road which at that time was mainly covered with gravel.

Despite being selective in his choice of top-level events, albeit during a time when this was a less unusual occurrence for top-line drivers in the championship, he still scored 14 WRC victories in his career.

Röhrl was also successful in road racing events, and was called “Genius on Wheels” by Niki Lauda. In the 1992 24 Hours Nürburgring race which saw fog and heavy rain in the night, he hardly slowed down, anticipating the corners by timing. The race was nevertheless interrupted for hours.

In Italy, he was elected “Rallye driver of the century”. In France he was elected “Rallye driver of the millennium” in November 2000. A jury out of 100 worldwide motorsports experts elected him “Best Rallye driver ever” in Italy.

In recent years, he has been retained as the senior test driver for Porsche road cars, famously setting quick laptimes for them testing round the famous Nürburgring Nordschleife, for example with the Porsche Carrera GT.

Röhrl was expected to make his competitive return to the Nürburgring 24 hour race in 2010 at the wheel of a Porsche 911 GT3 RS. However, he was forced to withdraw from the event due to a back injury. It was to be his first 24-hour race in 17 years, since his last start in 1993. In 2011, Röhrl was inducted into the Rally Hall of Fame along with Hannu Mikkola and in July 2016 was inducted into Germany’s Sports Hall of Fame

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