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Audi, Röhrl return to Pikes Peak in celebration of record run

Audi and champion driver Walter Rörhl will return to the 90th running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb on July 8, 2012 with the Audi Quattro S1 that he drove 25 years ago to set a then-new record of 10 minutes and 47.85 seconds up the 12.42 mile, 156 turn, gravel course. The course has since been fully paved and faster times have been recorded, but Walter’s record on gravel is unsurpassed.

Audi Quattro S1 and Walter Rorhl.
Audi Quattro S1 and Walter Rorhl.
Audi photo
Walter Rorhl and the Audi Quattro S1 at Pikes Peak in 1987.
Audi photo

The International Hill Climb
The 2012 edition of the Race to the Clouds, as the event has become known, begins on July 3 with technical inspection of the race cars and continues through July 8 with practice, qualifying and, on the final day, the race itself. The cars are individually flagged off from the starting line at 9,390 feet up the mountain and they finish at the 14,110 foot summit. The starting positions of the cars are determined by their qualifying times with the slowest starting first and the fastest qualifier starting last. The finishing positions are determined by the elapsed time from the start to the summit.

On July 11, 1987, Rörhl and the Quattro S1 started next to last just ahead of fastest qualifier Ari Vatanen in a Peugeot. A driver only gets one chance to race up the mountain and the calm and collected Rörhl made the most of his opportunity, pushing the Audi into sixth gear four times and hitting a top speed of 121.79 mph on the fastest part of the course. He beat rival Vatanen by almost seven seconds.

Audi Quattro S1
The Quattro S1 used in 1987 has been restored to its Pikes Peak configuration and livery by Audi Tradition, a division charged with maintaining the heritage of Audi AG. The S1 was the last iteration of the Audi Quattro in professional rallying and by any standard was a most formidable race car. The 2.1 liter turbocharged five-cylinder engine, churning out about 600 hp at 8,000 rpm and 435 lb-ft of torque at 5,500 rpm drove all four wheels through a dual clutch, six-speed transmission. An air recirculation system kept the turbocharger on boost throughout the course, improving its response in the thin mountain air.

Audi first entered the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 1984 with Michèle Mouton finishing in second place. Audi returned with Michèle in 1985 to finish first, beginning a winning streak that continued in 1986 with Bobby Unser driving, and 1987, Audi’s last year, with Walter Rörhl at the wheel.

Walter Rörhl

Walter Rörhl is the only German driver to have won the World Rally Championship (WRC), accomplishing this feat in 1980 and 1982. Oddly enough, the first step in his driving career was as a chauffeur for the Bishop in his home town of Regensburg. Presumably, he did not practice his rally driving techniques with the good Bishop in the back seat.

Walter began rallying in 1968 and scored his first victory in the 1973 Acropolis Rally. In 1977 he became a factory driver for Fiat and later drove for Opel and Lancia before joining Audi in 1984. Following Audi’s withdrawal from WRC competition in 1986, he worked with Audi in an advisory role and participated in special events such as the 1987 International Hill Climb.

As a testament to the skill required to drive a car with 600 hp up a gravel mountain road with no guardrail, we have attached a video showing a portion of the Audi’s record run in 1987. The introductory narrative is in German but even if you can’t understand a word of German, please don’t let that stop you from viewing it. The sheer artistry of Walter Röhrl’s car control as he commands and cajoles the snarling Audi up the majestic mountain transcends any language barrier.

Special thanks go out to Peter Kober of Audi Tradition and to Brad Stertz of Audi of America for providing us with photos.

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©April 2012 by Bruce Troxell


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