5 December 2018

Fascinating F1 Facts: 8

If you happen to be enjoying the wine country of the Remstal, a few miles to the east of Stuttgart and your car breaks down, the chances are that a yellow vehicle bearing the name Winkelhock Abschleppdienst Autokrane will come to your rescue. The company is the largest and oldest towing service in the area. But it isn’t the tow trucks and cranes that have made the family famous, but rather motorsport. Winkelhocks have been competing in cars for four generations.

Manfred Winkelhock Sr was the second generation in motorsport. Born in 1930, he and his wife Ruth ran the garage and tow truck business, while also producing four sons and a daughter between 1951 and 1968. Hans-Peter raced motocross bikes, but Manfred Jr, Joachim and Thomas all ended up racing cars and even Daniela gave it a try for a while.

When he was 20 Manfred started competing on local hillclimbs - as his father and grandfather had done - at the wheel of an NSU. In the 1970s, Germany was booming, making it easier for youngsters to go racing, but it was not until 1976 that Manfred began to be noticed when he took part in the inaugural Volkswagen Junior Cup, winning several races but not the title. It was enough for BMW Motorsport boss Jochen Neerpasch to sign him up as a member of the BMW Junior Team, alongside Marc Surer and Eddie Cheever. Manfred finished third in the Deutsche Rennsportmeisterschaft (DRM) in 1977, behind Rolf Stommelen and Bob Wollek, earning himself a drive in Formula 2 for 1978.

He was not experienced with single-seaters and was a little too wild and so in 1979 BMW put him back into the DRM, where he finished third again. He was third in his only Formula 2 start that year but also competed in the rounds of the World Sports Car Championship and in the BMW Procar Series. His next big break was a strange one when he became widely known after flipping his Fornula 2 car at the Flugplatz at the Nürburgring in 1980. It was a monstrous accident from which he emerged unscathed. After that everyone knew that Manfred was fearless. He did only five Formula 2 races in 1981, but was on the podium in two of them while finishing third once again in the DRM in a Zakspeed Capri.

That summer Arrows asked him to stand in for the injured Jochen Mass at Monza but he was unprepared for the role and failed to qualify. For 1982, however, Gunther Schmid of the ATS team decided to take Winkelhock on for F1. He finished seventh in his second race and qualified fifth in Detroit. Sadly, the ATS cars were not reliable and while Manfred often qualified well, particularly when the team got BMW engines in 1983 and 1984, his race results were poor, although he enjoyed success with Schnitzer BMWs in touring cars and with Kremer Porsches in sports car racing.

By the end of 1984 ATS replaced him with BMW's newest protege Gerhard Berger. Manfred replaced Teo Fabi in the second Brabham-BMW at Estoril at the end of the season, but his 10th was not enough to get him a ride at Brabham in 1985. Instead he joined John McDonald's RAM team, which was not competitive. In between Grands Prix he raced a Kremer Porsche in sports cars. It was at the wheel of the Porsche that he suffered a mechanical failure at Mosport Park, hit the wall hard and suffered head injuries from which he died the following day.

Mad Manfred was gone. His brother Joachim, nine years his junior, decided to stop racing as well. He had been a late starter in the sport, happy to work in the family business and settle down with a young wife until he was 19. Then he caught the racing bug and began competing in a Renault 5. He did occasional events but began to get a little more serious in 1983 when he raced touring cars for the Linder team and did a one-off Formula 3 race, in which he finished 10th.

Manfred's death was a dreadful shock to the family and Joachim stopped racing, but slowly he began to feel that it was his mission to follow in his brother's footsteps. After a few touring car races in 1986, he embarked on a full Formula 3 programme and a series of races in the European Touring Car Championship in 1987. Driving for Willi Weber's WTS Racing Team he finished second five times before winning the final race of the year and was runner-up in the championship.

The following year he won four victories and took the title. He tested for the Zakspeed F1 team and in 1989 found backing to race with the AGS F1 team. Sadly, the team was struggling to pre-qualify and all seven attempts he made failed. Joachim, then 29, decided that it was wiser to concentrate on touring cars and DTM. He won races with the Bigazzi and Schnitzer teams in 1990, 1991 and 1992 and then moved to the British Touring Car Championship in 1993, winning the title with five victories. He raced in Britain for two further years but was also busy in Germany and Japan (winning the Asian Touring Car Championship) and in 1995 won the German Super Tourenwagen Cup. He also won the Spa 24 Hours. By then he was an established member of the BMW line-up and so was asked to join the company's sports car programme in 1998 and 1999, winning the Le Mans 24 Hours in the second year with Pierluigi Martini and Yannick Dalmas. He was then offered a deal to race in DTM with Opel, which continued until 2003. At 43 he retired and went back to the family business in Waiblingen.

The story does not end there, however. Shortly before Manfred's death he loaned his youngest brother Thomas (who was 17 years younger) money to buy a Renault 5 Alpine, in which he began to compete. He caught the bug and moved into Formula Koenig in 1989 and won the title. He climbed no further up the ladder he raced touring cars and GTs for many years, while Hans-Peter's son Jens also had a spell as a driver, without much success.

When Manfred died he left behind a five year old son called Markus and a daughter named Marina, who was only 18 months old. Perhaps it was inevitable that Markus would be given a kart as a present when he was 11 and he soon began to compete, despite opposition from his mother. Initially it was just for fun, but he soon realized he was fast and the competitive juices began to flow. He started out in Formula Koenig, winning three races and finishing second in the championship in 1998 and then moved through Formula Renault to reach German Formula 3 in 2001. He won three times in his first season but did less well in 2002 and after a season in the new European series in 2003 he switched to DTM, driving a Persson Mercedes in 2004.

It was an unorthodox career (as all the Winkelhock careers were) and he returned to single-seaters in 2005 in the Renault World Series, winning three races. By the start of 2006 he was in a position to be named test and reserve driver for the Midland F1 team (the renamed Jordan operation). Nothing much happened and he was drifting back to DTM in 2007 when Christijan Albers ran out of money. Team boss Colin Kolles decided to give Winkelhock a shot at F1, in a one-off at the European GP at the Nurburgring. He qualified his Spyker (the team had changed its name again) last on the grid and there seemed little hope of any dramatic result.

But this was the Nürburgring, which had made his father famous for all the wrong reasons, and as the grid lined up, rain was forecast. The team decided that it had nothing to lose and so pitted Markus after the parade lap and put him on intermediate tyres. The timing was perfect. Heavy rain began to fall and as some cars went off and others pitted, Winkelhock drove to the front, taking the lead from Kimi Raikkonen in the course of the second lap. He was 19 seconds ahead of everyone when he crossed the line that lap, and he continued to pull away.

The rains got worse and it was decided to send out a Safety Car, which deprived him of his advantage. The race was then red-flagged and, not surprisingly, when it was restarted Markus was swallowed up by the regular pacesetters. He retired a few laps later with mechanical trouble. He knew that it was always going to be a one-off race and disappeared from F1 happy to be the only driver of the modern era to have led every race he started...

Markus went back to DTM and has built a very a very successful career in GTs, winning the GT1 World Championship in 2012 and the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup this year.

There do not look like being any more Winkelhocks in the immediate future, but there must be something in the water in the Remstal that makes them all want to go racing…

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