You Drift Me Crazy: Walter Röhrl and the Porsche 911 Dakar

Walter Röhrl is driving the Porsche 911 Dakar. And we try to ask him some questions from the passenger seat. We could have known before.

  • Text & Photos
    Matthias Mederer · ramp.pictures

A high-riding Porsche 911, called Dakar, in reference to a legendary off-road test for man and machine. That raises questions. And there is probably only one person on this planet who can answer each of these questions to one's absolute satisfaction and with unhesitating credibility. The name of this person is Walter Röhrl.

So again: A high-slung, off-road Porsche. First thought: yes, the Macan! So it may be noted directly: Is there a need for the 911 Dakar? Brand ambassador Walter Röhrl smiles, which in Röhrl's case can naturally be interpreted in a meaningful way. The colleagues from the press department who travelled with him remain calm. They know that the limited edition of 2,500 911s with special ground clearance and special tires for more grip on loose surfaces is not about selling as many as possible. It's about distributing them appropriately. You know, supply and demand. But that basically applies to every 911. And that's why Röhrl gets to speak like he drives: free, direct and straight as an arrow. And so he concludes: »After the first tests, I noticed right away: this is really good! And now that the car is ready, I want to buy one.« You have to know, this doesn't happen often with Röhrl. It really is an exception. A very obvious reason, he says, is directly the slightly higher entry. For the sake of the wife, as he says.

We want to talk to Röhrl about all the other reasons during an interview. Conveniently, while he is demonstrating on the test track what the 911 Dakar can really do. So: buckle up, turn on the recording device, Röhrl sets up, seat position, steering wheel, then the settings for the chassis and the electronic helpers all off, of course. »If you turn that off on a Porsche, it's really off,« Röhrl says. Brief eye contact with the test site boss, track is clear, thumbs up. Departure. First question: »Mr. Röhrl, the 911 Daaak....« At this point we have to break off the interview. Röhrl accelerates at full speed. Despite snow and some ice, the 911 Dakar builds up enormous grip. Where it finds it remains the secret of Röhrl and the all-wheel-drive special Pirellis. Like a truffle pig, the Dakar seems to sniff the ground and find all the fine grip spots that the gourmet at the wheel can then digest directly in the stomach area. It's epic.
»If you have to think first, it's already too late anyway.«
Walter Röhrl

The first section of this roughly 800-meter-long course is a kind of meandering straight. With very slight steering movements, you can accelerate through here at full speed. When we were allowed to drive under the benevolent eyes of Röhrl even before this cab ride, the speedometer showed 65 kilometers per hour. It felt at least like Rallye Monte-Carlo. Now the speedometer shows 124. Röhrl makes no effort to slow down anywhere. His movements at the wheel are fast but not at all hectic. It's a bit like a game of skill, where various lights light up on a wall and you have to tap them. The only difference is that Röhrl obviously always knows in advance where a light is going to come on. Later, he explains it this way: »If you have to think first, it's already too late anyway.«

»The car has to obey me like my pinky.«
Walter Röhrl
What's striking is that Röhrl brakes with his left foot, while his right foot remains on the gas pedal. Thanks to PDK and shift paddles on the steering wheel, there's no clutch pedal. In theory, the exercise is easy. And Röhrl can explain it to you like a star chef: »Before the corner, a short brake impulse, only 400 grams, this shifts the weight to the front axle, turn in, rear end breaks out, align the vehicle as early as possible in the direction of travel from the exit of the corner, from then on you basically just direct with the gas.« All right. Theoretically.

The topography of an off-road terrain is much more tangled and wild than the smooth surface of a new race track. A car that is supposed to work here needs more room to move. Anyone who has watched a very good skier ski down a very challenging bumpy slope understands the principle. The upper body, or rather the vehicle cabin, remains at almost complete rest; only by actively moving from the hips and knees does the athlete ensure that the skis maintain maximum contact with the slope in order to maintain control of the ride at all times. A ski in the air, or a tire without contact with the ground is not so good. All four wheels in the air, on the other hand, can be fun. »The car is logically tuned a bit softer than the GT3 RS, for example. And especially on gravel or snow and ice, like here, it gives you more options.« Says Röhrl. What does he mean? The Dakar can also jump, for example. Sounds brutal. But: »On a surface like this, you have to drive very sensitively; it's not a matter of braking as late as possible, as hard as possible, steering in and then accelerating fully out again. You have to dose everything very finely and precisely.«

After two or three other journalists have been allowed to drive with Röhrl, we meet him again in the Porsche Hospitility. Röhrl takes a piece of cake, »but just one.« He still lives almost as professionally as he did in his active days as a racing driver. That includes putting himself on the scales every day. »I'm such a control freak. The car has to obey me like my pinky,« he says. And with the Dakar, it's just that such a »control freak« gets back a lot of the control that today's ultra-modern sports cars take away a little with their high-tech systems. The Dakar is a kind of »return to the past« and a »homage« to »active driving«.

Matthias Mederer

Matthias Mederer

Editor & Photographer
One car. One camera. A driver. The location? Gladly a city like New York, Cape Town, Berlin or Tokyo. If, on top of that, a typhoon passes through, the conditions are almost ideal. Matthias Mederer may swear like an ill-bred bare-nuckle fighter, but he also delivers. Compulsory and freestyle. His style: cinematic. "Basically, it's like a harmless Tarantino film for me: good soundtrack, a few crazy dialogues and with a few little tricks, in the end it's mainly the story that makes the mark." Well, and he can also write more than remarkably.

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