On a never-ending quest

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

Grand Prix driver, saloon car champion, F2 race winner, hillclimb star, practical joker… and still an active Red Bull athlete at the age of 76. Dieter Quester’s career has been the very definition of extraordinary

Writer Simon Arron

Snowboarders, motocross riders, skydivers who perform towards the edge of the earth’s atmosphere… Formula 1 drivers seem relatively tame alongside the serial extremists on whom Red Bull tends to confer ambassadorial roles. But its patronage doesn’t extend exclusively to youngsters with fashionably blonde highlights. Dieter Quester was already 54 when he and Gerhard Berger first approached Red Bull patriarch Dietrich Mateschitz about possible sponsorship. That was 1993 – and Quester’s deal continues to this day. “Gerhard and I were the first drivers Red Bull supported,” he says. “We went to ask for some support and Dietrich was still in a fairly small office – everything was completely different to the way it is now.”

We’re chatting at the 2015 Daytona Classic, where Quester is sharing a 2011 BMW B6 GT3 with Alpina scion Andy Bovensiepen. They will challenge for class victory until a couple of Porsche 911s touch and spin, one of them clattering into Quester and necessitating an unscheduled stop that pushes the pair back to third. They’d led for a while, mind.

The Austrian veteran might no longer compete as often as once he did, but in the relatively recent past he has notched up prestige victories to complement those that went before: in 2006 and 2007, he was part of the winning team in four 24-hour races, two apiece at
Dubai and Silverstone. The story began, though, in his father’s wake.

“He raced boats before the war,” Quester says, “and you know how it goes… I began racing speedboats in the 1950s and won European titles in two different classes. My dad never pushed me, but I had very strong feelings about racing. As a kid aged 10 or 12 I used to watch all the local speedway events and motor sport was always a target.”

***

He took his first competitive steps in hillclimbs, in his everyday road car.

“It was a VW Beetle,” he says, “albeit fitted with an old 1500cc Porsche engine that a friend had lying around. We left the brakes and gearbox as standard, though. Then I bought a Porsche 550 Spyder from a guy called Franz Albert, who contested European hillclimbs and had crashed the car very badly at Ollon-Villars. It was cheap and had to be completely rebuilt. We didn’t have permanent circuits in Austria at the time, but we had airport tracks in Vienna, Innsbruck and elsewhere and there were five or six race meetings annually. First time out I beat the factory Abarths in the 1600 class and things started to grow.

“I then sold the Porsche to America for twice what I’d paid, bought an ex-factory BMW 1800 Ti/SA homologation special and won the Austrian championship with it in 1965. I also entered some races in Germany and the following year BMW asked whether I would like to contest a few races with the works team. I did two or three, but felt my 1800 was better than the factory 2002.

“In those days we drove the cars from BMW’s Munich workshop to the circuits without the aid of a truck or a trailer – we just went on the road. In my first race at the Nürburgring I had a big accident, because I didn’t know the circuit. The team asked whether I had experience of the ’Ring and I’d said, ‘Of course.’ Ha! I had no idea. Things went a bit quiet with BMW after that – no more drives – but in 1968 I turned out again for the factory and won my class in the European Touring Car Challenge, as it was then called. That was really the start of my long relationship with BMW.” He would repeat that class victory the following season.

Quester had also been competing successfully in both Formula Vee and European hillclimbs and during 1969 he was drafted in to BMW’s F2 team, which should have been the cue for his Grand Prix debut in the second-tier class that was an annual staple at the Nürburgring. The team withdrew, however, after Quester’s team-mate Gerhard Mitter crashed fatally during practice.

“The car hadn’t been too bad,” he says. “We outpaced a few of the F1 drivers and it was a fantastic experience to drive a single-seater at the ’Ring, a circuit I now knew very well. Then Gerhard had his accident, a difficult situation for me because he’d become a very close friend after we’d competed together so often in hillclimbs.”

How did he deal with the sport’s fairly obvious perils at that time?

“I never really thought about it,” he says, “and didn’t consider single-seater racing to be particularly dangerous compared with hillclimbs, where we went incredibly quickly in cars weighing 480kg – I used to call them ‘paper dragons’. But I never used to think I might have an accident, even though we were doing more than 200kph with rocks on one side and a 200-metre drop on the other. Armco? There wasn’t any…”

***

In 1969 he also made his sports car debut at world championship level, sharing David Piper’s Lola T70 in the Zeltweg 1000Kms before it retired with overheating.

Quester remained with BMW’s F2 team in 1970, winning the final race of the year at Hockenheim (after surviving a clash with Clay Regazzoni), sharing fourth place in the final standings with Ronnie Peterson and signing off with victory in the non-championship Macau GP at the campaign’s end.

“BMW stopped its single-seater programme at that point,” Quester says, “but I asked if I could have three F2 engines. They agreed and
I did a deal to run a March chassis, with which we were quite successful. It wasn’t a works effort; we had a small transporter and the team was just me, [engine wizard] Paul Rosche and two factory mechanics. That was it, but I finished third in the championship [behind Peterson and Carlos Reutemann, with one win, three seconds and a third from 11 races].”

From here on his career would mostly be linked to BMW and saloon cars – he shared the winning 3.0 CSL with Toine Hezemans in the 1973 Spa 24 Hours – but there was to be one more significant single-seater interlude, when he raced a Surtees TS16 in his home Grand Prix at the Österreichring in 1974. He finished ninth.

“One minute before the start,” he says, “I noticed that a mechanic had forgotten his toolbox and left it in front of my car. But with about 30sec to go he spotted it and ran on to the track to retrieve it. Can you imagine what would happen now? You’d get a €100,000 fine and all the rest…

“I had a three-race contract to drive in Austria, Italy and America. I thought I was supposed to be part of a two-car team, but in Austria Surtees was also running Derek Bell and Jean-Pierre Jabouille and from my perspective things weren’t so good. That evening I was interviewed on Austrian TV and said I felt there hadn’t been enough mechanics. Somebody mentioned this to John Surtees. I don’t think I was being negative – I was just expressing what I felt, but two days later I received a telex telling me that Helmuth Koinigg would be driving my car at Monza and Watkins Glen, where sadly of course he was killed.

***

“At that point I had to make a choice. Should I try to find a huge amount of money to chase an F1 drive, when at the same time BMW was offering me a good contract for the European Touring Car Championship? I had possibilities, too, with the Osella-Abarth sports car team and others. Was it better to
pay to drive what might be an F1 shitbox or to take a good salary from a perfect team and represent a factory?”

Not too hard a choice, that one, and more than 40 years later he’s still racing, having added the 1977 European Touring Car Championship title and countless individual race successes to his CV. Does he still relish it as much?

“I do,” he says, “but it can’t be the same as it was when I was 25 or 30. I no longer enjoy the travelling, with all the hassle we have now at airports. It is not the same, but if it wasn’t fun
I wouldn’t still do it.”

On which note, I retained vague memories of Quester taking to the track wearing a monkey mask during a practice day for an ETCC race at Donington Park during the early 1980s.

Fact or fiction?

“That’s not true,” he says. “It wasn’t a monkey, but a monster mask from a movie – The Addams Family, I think. It was green and blue, a very ugly thing. I was sharing one car with Roberto Ravaglia and Gerhard Berger was in the other. Gerhard and I knew each other very well and he was always something of a specialist when it came to practical jokes. He said to me, ‘Listen, I will give you £500 if you wear the mask at the end of practice.’ I thought, ‘OK, £500 isn’t too bad’ – the pound’s value was very high at the time – and put the mask under my seat when I went out. Towards the end of the session I took off my helmet, put on the mask and the marshals couldn’t believe what they were seeing. By the time I got back to the pits the stewards were already waiting. I was fined £2000, got my £500 from Berger and was thus £1500 out of pocket, but the bigger problem was that a report was sent to the Austrian authorities and they came very close to suspending my licence. Berger thought it very funny, of course.

“At one Nogaro ETCC race, Gerhard and I were driving for Schnitzer BMW, with me taking the start. I changed into my overalls and wondered what was going on, because I was aware of Gerhard prowling around. With three or four minutes to go, he came up behind me and poured soap flakes down the back of my overalls. They normally used them to wash the truck. I didn’t have time to change and as I started to sweat during the race the flakes began to bubble up. There was a lot of foam and I had to stop a few laps ahead of schedule, which really upset team boss Charly Lamm because that caused us to lose the race. I have lots of stories about Gerhard…”

***

One gets the sense of a life well lived away from the full glare of racing’s spotlight, and a career that has perhaps been all the more rewarding because of it. 

“I’ve been very lucky because I’ve always been able to do what I wanted,” he says. “When I was 15 it was my dream to drive a racing car, then at 20 I wanted to drive a single-seater. All my dreams came true. It has been fantastic and I’ve enjoyed a wonderful time with Red Bull for more than 20 years: we’ve never had a contract, just settled things with a handshake. 

“I have nearly always been with good teams – Alpina, Schnitzer and so on – and the only time I had a really shit car was during the very early days of the Porsche 917, when I tested at the Nürburgring long before the chassis was sorted. The 917 was in its absolute infancy and felt very dangerous. I had to ask BMW’s permission to do the Nürburgring 1000Kms, but after the first test they said ‘No way.’ When I drove it on the Sudschleife, all the glassfibre was flying around the cockpit. That’s how new it was. It was useful experience, though.

“I did Le Mans 14 times, often in good cars, and in 1986 had a perfect opportunity with Sauber, sharing with Christian Danner and Henri Pescarolo. We were running third, but Henri ran over a piece of metal that cut an oil line. He stopped by the track for a while, and the oil finally ran out completely as he got back to the pits. Perhaps if he hadn’t stopped we could have saved the car. It’s a race I’d love to have won, but it’s probably too late now…

“I think I was quick enough to be successful in F1, but if I’d gone down that route, who knows? In F2 I raced against lots of drivers who are no longer with us, so perhaps I wouldn’t have been here to do this interview.”

You may also like

Related products