Fast Times: Joachim Winkelhock 20 Years at Opel
Rüsselsheim. He came to Opel 20 years ago as a newly minted Le Mans winner. Joachim Winkelhock competed in the newly started DTM (German Touring Car Masters) in the 460-hp Opel-Astra V8 Coupé. The Swabian has stayed loyal to the Rüsselsheim brand ever since – for four years as racing driver and now 16 as brand ambassador.
“Joachim Winkelhock is a fantastic brand ambassador for us”, says Opel CEO, Michael Lohscheller. “Despite all his success in motor sport, he has remained a ‘normal’, grounded person and always approachable for the fans. They love it when he drives one of our classics on oldtimer rallies. With his skill and talent, he has also developed many of our sporty models. Thank you, Jockel, for 20 years of excellent teamwork!”
Formula 1 driver, British touring car champion, DTM and Le Mans winner, Opel brand ambassador – all this and much more is Joachim Winkelhock. In the UK, he is famous as “Smokin’ Jo” for smoking rear tyres and his previous fondness for cigarettes. In Germany, everyone calls him "Jockel", which sounds a bit like “jockey” and therefore suits his diminutive figure.
Jockel won the German and European Formula 3 Championships in 1988 in the WTS team of Michael Schumacher manager, Willi Weber. Just a year later, he graduated to F1 with AGS before breaking into the touring car business full-time. In 1993, “Smokin' Jo” became British Champion with BMW. He then crowned his time with the Munich team in 1999 by winning the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans.
It was on the sidelines of this classic event that Winkelhock had the first secret talks with representatives from Rüsselsheim. “At first I wasn’t thinking of moving, but the folks at Opel wanted me and wouldn’t give up,” he recalls. The tenacity paid off and Winkelhock returned to the DTM with Opel in 2000. “We had really strong drivers”, says Jockel, who put the Astra V8 Coupé on pole position in his favourite race at the Nuremberg Norisring. “As a reward, the team rebuilt my car before the start of the race – it got spectacular gullwing doors!” They so inspired the Swabian that he promptly won the first race. After four DTM seasons with Opel, Jockel hung up his helmet at the end of 2003 – forever. “I never raced again.”
No more races as a professional, but Jockel still much enjoys driving the jewels from Opel Classic’s treasure chest on vintage rallies. “I have two favourites there! First, the 1971 Opel Kadett B 1900 Rallye driven by Anders Kulläng. This car made Opel really popular with privateers and is something like an ancestor of the new Opel Corsa-e Rally. Then there's the Opel Admiral V8 – a very relaxed cruiser. With big fat V8 rumbling under the bonnet, the Admiral floats along like a sofa on wheels. Preferably with my wife Sally sitting next to me.”
Unfortunately, this has not been possible this year. However, the Winkelhocks have made up for it by sampling the Opel Grandland X, the first plug-in hybrid to park on the family driveway. “From home I can glide quietly and electrically to the autobahn, where it goes just as well as my regular company car from Rüsselsheim.”