Wild Man Walter

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  • Steelie Screamer: Early 911 Hot Rod
  • 911 SC-based 953 Rally Replica
  • Skip Hudson’s 356 Speedster
  • Inside Penske Racing’s Premises
  • 997 GT2 Preview
  • Great White: A 680-hp 996 GT2
  • Market Update: 914 and 914-66
  • Porsche Icon: 917/30
  • Project 914 3.6: Fiberglass Bumpers
  • Installing Wheel Spacers Properly
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Walter Röhrl 1
Walter Röhrl 2
Walter Röhrl 3
Walter Röhrl 4
Walter Röhrl 5

The time has come. The flat six is warm, Walter is too, and I am clamped securely by safety belts next to The Master. With an apologetic smile, Walter says that, within Porsche, this car is called “Train.” Set up especially for stable and straight-running on fast stages in desert rallies, it’s very hard to push it sideways around the narrow corners of the rallycross track. I don’t know if his intention is to soothe me or to frighten me. Just 100 yards later, I am sure: it’s to scare the hell out of me.

Thanks to its AWD transmission, this “911” has such acceleration that we are much faster at the first turn-in point than I had imagined. We fly into it far faster than I can bear, too. Eyes closed and…already the next right-hand bend! Oh, good… Walter’s going to skip it. After all, we are too fast. Much too fast. That’s what Walter obviously thinks, too, and so he takes a left — towards a wall! That’s what I think. But Röhrl jerks the steering wheel to and fro, so that, finally, The Train comes around with its rear end, pawing with all fours, and shoots through the right-hand bend.

Well, the good news is that, from now on, I don’t have to think about when and where we’re drifting on this complex dirt course, since my thoughts are so much slower than Röhrl’s driving. Thus, I can relax. Or that’s what I think up to the point where I can feel Walter straightening in his seat, deciding in his own mind that now that the oil has the right temperature, we can get started. Oh dear…

In the following minutes, I learn just how muscular an untrained writer is. Muscles I didn’t know existed cramp up. With all ten toes, I cling to my shoes, as if that would be of any help. Two horses standing relatively unaffected at the side of the track create my only point of relaxation, a point we pass every couple of minutes. Here, Walter takes his foot off the gas and rolls by at walking speed. An animal lover, he doesn’t want to distress the horses.

That doesn’t apply to me, though, as I find out at the end of the next straight. My pilot says he has decided that this long, right-hand bend might actually work at full speed. “Might” and “actually” aren’t the words I want to hear on matters concerning my physical inviolability. Outside, I close my eyes. Inside, I close my book of life. This is it, I think. When I open my eyes again, we’re already at the next bend. Well, well, that long right-hander did indeed “work” flat out. Presumably, Walter took a whole ’nuther line, but that’s probably an assumption his rivals made in the past.

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