It’s been said that, on gravel as well as on tarmac, Walter Röhrl was one of the fastest rally drivers of all time. But I wanted to find out for myself. So, quite unselfishly, I volunteered to sit shotgun to the Rally Pope — not once, but twice. Once on a closed rallycross track, once on the Nürburgring Nordschleife. Instruc-tions to test driver Walter Röhrl: “Mix it up!” Result: I am sick. Forever.
I’ll willingly admit Röhrl is my hero from childhood. So when, one sunny day, my kind-hearted editor held up a “young man wanted” sign while at the same time expressing his desire that the volunteer should sample what it is like when Röhrl really gets going, everything was clear for me. I called Walter and explained that we wanted to do an article with him having a working title of “Mix it up with the Master.” Walter laughed and agreed immediately. His only condition was that there should be no driving on public roads.
Okay. So, when I told Walter that I was considering a rallycross track, he said: “Excellent. But after that we will also drive on the Nordschleife, during business hours — right in the middle of all the tourist drivers — so you will have the real comparison when all of the others try to drive fast, too.” At the time, that sounded like good entertainment to me.
After Röhrl’s employer, Porsche, couldn’t find an adequate car for my wild ride, German Wolf-Dieter Ihle was nice enough to help out with a real jewel. For my ride with the man from Regensburg, he offered up the keys to one of only three existing all-wheel-drive Porsche 953 works prototypes. In fact, it’s the same car Jacky Ickx drove in the Paris-Dakar in 1984. This car is the predecessor to the 959 and the only example in private hands. A car of unquantifiable value owned by someone who obviously isn’t easily worried, believes in the natural goodness of people, and most probably cools open wounds in a piranha tank. Or was there some static interference during our telephone call just at the moment when I mentioned the article was to be called “Wild Man Walter?”
When, on the morning we all meet, Ihle starts the engine of his 953 for the first time, the onlookers have this silly, child-like smile on their faces. Including Walter Röhrl. Two thigh-thick open pipes control the exhaust stream, but calling them silencers would be a gross exaggeration. When Röhrl and Ihle go for a little training session, this long-legged missile flies past us, roaring beast-like. You just can’t ignore it. Not here, and not miles away.