Wild Man Walter

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Walter Röhrl 1
Walter Röhrl 2
Walter Röhrl 3
Walter Röhrl 4
Walter Röhrl 5

Slowly, we gain speed. Cutting every curb, centrifugal forces are building up, the line always different than the one I would have imagined. Shortly before reaching the Pflanzgarten, Walter lets up. A Subaru Whatever Triple Evo in camouflage ahead is too slow. “I don’t want him to weasel in front of us at the Pflanz-garten,” says Röhrl, because we agreed before that our photographers would wait for us right there. 500 yards before we reach the agreed point, Walter puts his right foot down and pushes the pedal to the floorboards, full attack. Just as we are coming across the jump at the Pflanz-garten, we see the Subaru alarmingly turning into the right-hand bend…

Obviously, it is the absolute limit for this driver, but no more than a slight hindrance for us. In the middle of the bend, Röhrl moves to the left and passes the Subaru around the outside. Looking out from my passenger’s window, I can tell from a little dust particle that the driver’s door on the Subaru must have already had some paintwork. To put it in other words, it was a very close thing. And, naturally, we will get amazing pictures! That’s what I thought. But the photographers were so astonished by the speed at which we moved out to overtake the Subaru, they went straight into the prone position so as to be safe from flying parts from the “certain” accident. 

At Döttinger Höhe, Walter asks a question that, for me at least, marks his exceptional talent in an indelible fashion: “Do we want to doddle along like this for the rest of the day, or shall we start driving a fast lap?” Oops. Both the Subaru driver and I are still scratching our heads, and this guy is talking about a fast lap? Worst of all, I hear a voice like mine say “Yes,” then add, “fine with me.” Not smart.

Silent quivering on my part follows, as I can’t find the words to describe what happens next. Lines through corners that seemed pretty spectacular to me only a couple of minutes earlier are now something totally different. The camera I was able to hold up now and then has vanished forever into the footwell. My brain is running emergency programming.

The key scene of this lap takes place in the Karussel. From behind, a very fast BMW Z4 approaches. Our Porsche isn’t cut out for extremely high speed, so that this capable driver in a more modern, more powerful car makes it not just into our rearview mirror, but comes alongside. Neck and neck, we near Karussel. One thing is sure and that is only one car at a time can use the steep turn of this “wall of death.” The other must slow and give way. Or that’s what I thought, anyway.

The Z4 whooshes into the Karussel, and I hear, with disbelief, my companion say: “We are going to catch him around the top.” Around the top means that while the potent BMW takes Karussel using the “wall” without lifting, Röhrl puts the old 911 on the flat surface of the track outside the Karussel with its front pointing at the Z4, and, as if attracted to it like a swinging compass needle, stays alongside the other car at a steady angle! Peering through the windshield, I look directly into the face of the Z4’s passenger, and he at mine. When we — how I simply don’t know — come out of the bend and romp into the straight, the BMW crew raise their hands, cheer, clap, and give us a thumbs-up. They have never have experienced anything quite like that. Me neither.

At the end of a journey through unknown galaxies of driving, I realize that, despite the rather fresh outside temperature, my shirt is soaking wet. We come to a stop, I get out, and I feel miserable. And then he talks to me again. Proclaims Röhrl: “You will never, ever cross the Nordschleife as fast again in your whole life.” I will sign to agree to that immediately, but only after my hand stops trembling…

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