Bob Wollek: My Greatest Race

He has won Daytona four times but the endurance racing legend says that his finest hour came in a sprint at a little-known American air-base


Wollek picks a more obscure event for his greatest ever race

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Group Five race, Mainz-Finthen Airfield, 1978

Of course there have been a lot of memorable races over the years, especially in the days of the Porsche 962. I particularly remember a Japanese event at Fuji in 1989. We’d had a terrible time with the Joest car in practice, but in the race I passed everybody. It was pouring down, but the organisers didn’t stop the race when they should have. Eventually I lost it when a river had developed across the circuit and they stopped it one lap after I hit the armco! That year I had lot of fun with Hans Stuck driving the pink 962 at Le Mans. Several of the IMSA wins also stand out. I won Daytona four times, and of them all, 1989 was the most memorable, because of the fight with the Jaguars.

It’s hard to chose one event, but it doesn’t make sense to be indecisive. So I’d have to pick a German Group 5 race at the Mainz-Finthen airfield track in 1978, with the Porsche 935. The field for the German championship was not huge, but there were six or seven 935s, and that year all of them were more or less identical. It was tough to beat other people. You didn’t have more downforce, more power or better brakes – the cars were pretty similar. The only real opposition was Rolf Stommelen’s Toyota, but it never lasted more than a lap.

There was a big rivalry between the Kremer and Georg Loos teams. Loos had a lot of money from selling property and land, and he had his cars prepared at the Porsche factory. So it was really a fight between Kremer and the factory, even if it was the customer department. It was tough, because at that stage the Loos drivers, John Fitzpatrick, Tome Hezemans and Klaus Ludwig, were all right at the top of their game.


1989 Le Mans: close but no cigar for Wollek

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The 935 was not difficult to drive. A lot of people said it was, but I never had that impression, and I always felt very comfortable with it. In fact enjoyed it very much; it had quite a lot of downforce and a lot of grip to go with the power. Like the 956 and 962 later on, for a long period of time it was the best sports car in the world. I remember that Niki Lauda did a 6min 57sec on the old Nürburgring in the Ferrari F1 car. On full tanks, on the first lap of a race in about ’81, I did a 7min 26sec with the 935! That wasn’t bad…

From the archive

Mainz-Finthen was a USAF base near Mannheim, and maybe 150kms from Hockenheim. In fact I think ’78 was one of the last times we raced there, because, the Americans didn’t want to give permission any more. It wasn’t such a bad circuit, but it was narrow and slippery, and they had tyres on the inside of the tight corners to stop us driving over the grass. Lap times were about 50secs, and as it was completely flat, you could see the entire circuit. Fitz took pole, ahead of Ludwig, myself, and Konrad. I can’t remember exactly what happened at the start, but I tried to outbrake someone, and either the brakes were cold or I had too much rear bias. I locked the rears and spun. All the other 935s went past and I was furious with myself.

The race seemed lost, because I was at the back. First I had to catch, then pass them all. It was a desperate drive, and I was pissed off because I had spun. It wasn’t easy to pass on that narrow, twisty circuit, but I know I did not pass anyone on the straight, but always into or out of corners.

Eventually I came up to Hezemans. There were two corners at the end of the straight, a slow one and then a fast one, where my team mate ‘John Winter’ rolled in practice. I don’t know why, but I was very fast at that second righthand corner.

About 200 metres on was a chicane. As I came out of the second corner faster than Hezemans, I caught him, and was alongside into the chicane. I was on the inside, and I don’t think he imagined I would have a chance to pass there, because of the short straight which preceded it. He probably didn’t pay enough attention, and when he saw I was on the inside he tried to close the door and we touched – he got a puncture, I was through.


Wollek achieved his greatest ever win in the Porsche 935

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Then I was busy catching Ludwig and trying to find a way past. For a long time I never saw Fitz, who was leading in the other Loos car, but eventually I caught him. I think he was blocked behind a slower car. He thought he would be able to out-brake him on the inside, and the guy shut the door, or hadn’t seen him. Fitz was slowed, and I went wide round both of them on the outside and into the lead.

I was very happy. The Kremers couldn’t believe anyone could pass so many cars on that track, and nor could I. Erwin Kremer said, “You are the greatest driver in the galaxy!” I enjoyed it most because it was a sprint. In endurance races often you’re far behind, and you win because others fail. But this was a question of driving better than anybody else. And because I beat his drivers, Loos hired Bob Wollek for ’79. But thanks to the engine development we’d started, that year the Kremer car was better than the factory’s…