An ex-skier and Germany’s first ever WRC champion

Rohrl became famous after his work with Opel. Behind him is Jochen Berger, his co-driver.

Walter Rohrl was born in Regensburg, Germany in 1947. He was very skilled as skiing, and at the age of 12 he was already the junior champion of Bavaria. However, he got into an accident where he broke both of his legs, and thus his dream of becoming a professional skier was crushed. Even then, Rohrl was trying to become a professional ski coach. His friend Herbert Marecek advised Rohrl to try rally racing because of his passion for cars.

In 1968, Rohrl entered the Rally Bavaria with Marecek in a Fiat 850 but retired due to an engine trouble. However, this was a turning point for Rohrl as he started to take interest in rally racing and entered again the following year. He entered Rally Bavaria this time with a BMW2002. His co-driver was once again Marecek. Rohrl was just behind the winner but was called out for changing their mechanic parts during the race and had to retire. Then, he came back once again to compete in 1970 with a Porsche 911S. Rohrl ended up retiring in this rally as well, but for the first five SS, he was in lead of the race with a 30 second gap from the second place. Seeing his speed, Rohrl earned fame throughout the country, and in 1971 he was offered a seat with Ford Deutschland. The team’s plan was to use the Ford Capri 2600, which was new on the market, and take it into rally racing. Rohrl managed to win twice and finished third in the 1971 Deutschland Championships. That year’s champion was Achim Warmbold, who later on turns out to be the team manager for Mazda Rally Team Europe. He drove a BMW factory team 2002Ti.

In 1972, Ford changed their plans to compete more actively in road racing, so Rohrl was only able to compete in rally three times that year. With this change of plans from Ford, Rohrl decided to change his team to Opel. In 1973, he drove an Opel Commodore and Ascona in both the Deutschland Championships and the European Rally Championships (ERC). Rohrl won five rounds and in the following year, he brought Opel the championship title for the European Rally Championships. Also, Rohrl finished fifth overall in the RAC rally. Rohrl’s name became known not only in Europe, but in the WRC as well.

In 1974, he won six rounds in the European Rally Championships (ERC) and won the Drivers’ Title. The picture is from the Vltava Rally in Czech Republic.

Back then, rally drivers were most often contracted with teams per event. But Rohrl’s contract was yearly, including racing and development of the car, so he did not drive any other cars besides Opel during the time. Rohrl commented saying, “The reason why I changed teams from Ford to Opel was because Ford decided to decrease their involvement in rally racing. My contract is with General Motors, the mother company of Opel. With the yearly contract, I am able to develop a relationship with the engineers and mechanics at the team.” He also commented on Opel describing, “Ascona is much easier to drive because it is controllable. The Kadett is so small, I have to be precise with the driving.” Rohrl and Opel competed together until 1977.

At the end of 1977, Rohrl entered the WRC with a Fiat 131 Abarth, and decided to change his team to Fiat. Until 1980, he competed at numerous events driving the Fiat and Lancia. In 1980, Rohrl was able to become the WRC Drivers’ Champion, which was a first for a German driver.

Back then, Rohrl answered an interview saying, “If I had a choice, I would love to race with a Porsche. Porsches are extremely hard to drive, so it’s about whether you are fit or not for the driving that calls for technical driving skills.” His request was granted in 1981. Rohrl was able to enter the European Rally Championships and the WRC with a Porsche 924 Carrera and a 911 SC.

In 1982, he came back to Opel to compete in rallies. In the Monte Carlo Rally, Rohrl won with an Opel Ascona 400. Then in 1983 he drove a Lancia Rally, and in 1984 an Audi Quattro at the Monte Carlo Rally. Rohrl set a record for having won the rally four times with different rally cars. In 1982, Rohrl became the WRC champion again after winning Monte Carlo and Cote d’Ivoire.

After driving with Fiat and Porsche, he changed his team to Opel. Rohrl won the championship title for the second time in his career with an Opel Ascona 400.

In 1983 he won Monte Carlo, Portugal and New Zealand with Lancia. However, Lancia decided to decrease its involvement in rally racing after having won the Manufacturers’ Championship, so Rohrl missed his opportunity to win the season.

Rohrl then decided to change his team to an Audi in 1984. Rohrl competed with the Audi Quattro, which was a game changer for the WRC. The car and Rohrl helped the team win its Manufacturers’ title. He continued to compete in an Audi in the WRC until 1987. Rohrl won a total of 14 rounds throughout his career.

From 1993, he contracted with Porsche as a development driver and ambassador. Rohrl played a role in the development of machines and also appeared in numerous events.

After changing to Audi, Rohrl won his fourth win at the Monte Carlo Rally in 1984. This was his third consecutive win since 1982.

After retiring from actively racing, he became a Porsche ambassador and entered in many events as a legend driver. In the Rally Costa Brava, Rohrl drove a Porsche 911 Carrera RSR and won.

Walter Rohrl WRC Record of victory

Year Event Co-driver Car
1975 Acropolis Rally Jochen Berger Opel Ascona 1.9 SR
1978 Acropolis Rally Christian Geistdörfer Fiat 131 Abarth
1978 Québec Rally Christian Geistdörfer Fiat 131 Abarth
1980 Rallye de Monte-Carlo Christian Geistdörfer Fiat 131 Abarth
1980 Rallye de Portugal Christian Geistdörfer Fiat 131 Abarth
1980 Rally Codasur Christian Geistdörfer Fiat 131 Abarth
1980 Rallye Sanremo Christian Geistdörfer Fiat 131 Abarth
1982 Rallye de Monte-Carlo Christian Geistdörfer Opel Ascona 400
1982 Rallye Côte d’Ivoire Christian Geistdörfer Opel Ascona 400
1983 Rallye de Monte-Carlo Christian Geistdörfer Lancia 037 Rally
1983 Acropolis Rally Christian Geistdörfer Lancia 037 Rally
1983 Rally of New Zealand Christian Geistdörfer Lancia 037 Rally
1984 Rallye de Monte-Carlo Christian Geistdörfer Audi Quattro A2
1985 Rallye Sanremo Christian Geistdörfer Audi Quattro Sport E2

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