Mika Häkkinen came, saw, and won. The rising star in the Formula One firmament achieved something in his Supercup guest start that none of his other two hundred successors has managed to accomplish—a bona fide victory. It was the first year of the
Bona fide? In Monaco, Häkkinen needed a bit of assistance from Walter Röhrl. The rally world champion had just become a
Häkkinen’s transformation from boy into man happened lap by lap. In the early going, Röhrl played the rearguard for the later Formula 1 champion, fending off the swashbuckling two-time champ of the German one-make cup, Uwe Alzen. One might think that the tight course through the principality would exacerbate the situation for the Finn. Instead, “Monaco was Mika’s lucky day,” says Röhrl. “There, even the 911 pros have a healthy respect. In Hockenheim, where there are run-off areas, they would have blown past him.” Ultimately Häkkinen drove home a well-deserved win, and underscored his exceptional talent a few weeks later in Budapest with another Supercup victory—without Röhrl on hand as his “bodyguard.”
If the idea of including VIP drivers no longer can be traced back to its originator, the motive remains clear. “We wanted to solidify the new Supercup and increase its visibility,” says Uwe Brettel, who headed up the series for six years, starting in 1996. “So we had people from a wide range of industries drive—caricaturists, pop singers, motorcycle world champions. There were so many illustrious people in the bunch, including 32 Formula One drivers.”
“The motorcycle riders,” recalls Brettel, “were a very special breed. Thanks to the safety cage, they always felt completely at ease and were always joking around.” All of the seven motorcycle world champions emerged from the 911 unscathed. One of them, the Texan Kevin Schwantz, once triggered a collective shudder among the
Luc Alphand also came from another world. For the Frenchman, his guest start was much more than just an “incredibly fun” race. It was an experience that would have an impact on his future. Alphand was a ski racer by vocation—a fearless speed-junkie. He twice won the legendary Streif downhill race in Kitzbühel, three times the small crystal globe for the downhill world cup, and once took an overall world cup title.
After a test day at
But his debut in 1996 was in fact just the beginning. “Everything started there. With
The competitiveness of the Supercup became ever more intense with the passing years, not least because it is not possible to gain any technological advantages. Having a level playing field is the highest principle. The teams can only tinker with minor factors. The cup cars? Pure-bred race cars. For guest starters, the hurdle became ever higher. That didn’t stop plenty more celebrities giving it a try, Prince Albert II von Thurn und Taxis of Germany being a prominent example. As the only son of Prince Johannes, who died young, and Princess Mariae Gloria, he is the patriarch of a noble lineage going back to the sixteenth century, which owns the largest private forest in Europe. He could go for equestrianism, golf, or tennis. “Do I look like a bore?” is his standard response to such questions. Racing’s in his blood, he says.
When the prince arrived at the Supercup final in September 2008, following Monza, he had just taken second place in the title race in a sports-car series. As always, the race was preceded by a day of testing;
That the heavens opened during qualifying was devastating for the 911 rookie; his 27th spot on the grid, sobering. On Sunday morning, the prince and his son attended a church service with a small
The most recent VIP to try his luck in a racing 911 was a Hollywood superstar: Patrick Dempsey, who for ten years played a neurosurgeon in the hit TV series Grey’s Anatomy. In real life, the 49-year-old is driven by a passion for car racing. His endurance racing hobby led him to
Another actor, the Austrian Tobias Moretti, provided an amusing anecdote. Röhrl had taken the Austrian under his wing, too. “He was totally relaxed,” Röhrl remembers. “Without any racing experience, he had nothing to lose, like some others who had a name.” Moretti was therefore easygoing about his last-place finish in training. Then came the start. The light goes off. Röhrl still remembers the moment as if it were yesterday. He grins. “In all the excitement, Moretti had put the car into the wrong gear. So 23 drivers took off driving forward—and the last man on the grid went backward.”
By Eva-Maria Burkhardt
Illustrations by Bernd Schifferdecker