"TheLife of Rolf Stommelen, is written by the noted Milanese motorsports writer and co-producer of some important elements of this website…Roberto Motta. '
"Perhaps you have seen his work at VeloceToday.com or at a wide variety of Italian motorsports journals.
"For Autodelta Golden Years he has accomplished, among other articles a great highly detailed review of Autodelta engines since the early 2.0 V-8 powerplant of the middle to late 1960's up through the four cylinder turbo of 1985.
"Short of buying an entire book on the subject, this piece about this great German driver is very well composed and is an honorable testament to Mr. Stommellen's achievements.
"Enjoy reading both articles!"
- - Robert
Courtesy of Porsche AG Stuttgart
Class, courage and tactical intelligence made Stommelen one of the most popular German drivers of his time. He raced with all types of cars, from single-seaters to sports cars, and it was in endurance racing that he had the greatest successes.
Rolf Johann Stommelen, born on 11 July 1943 in Siegen, in Nordrhein-Westfalen, central Germany. Rolf began his automotive career in 1965 when his father gave him the Porsche 904 GTS. He made a sensational debut, taking 2nd place behind Udo Schütz’s 904, in the ADAC-Hansa-Pokal-Rennen at the Nürburgring.
During the same season, Rolf stood out in various competitions, took part in some uphill races, won the 2nd step of the podium six times, and participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans which did not conclude due to the breakdown of the gearbox of the his 904. The following year he continued his adventure towards professionalism, bringing the Abarth 1000TC, the Abarth 1300 OT, the Lotus Elite and, of course, the trusty Porsche 904 into the race. In the same season, he drove the Porsche 906 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where he obtained 7th place overall and 1st in his class.
In those first two years he proved to be fast enough to put even the Porsche factory drivers in difficulty, which is why he was summoned by Huschke von Hanstein, sports director of the Stuttgart company, who wanted him in the official team where, in addition to competing on the track and in the time trials, he would participate in the development of the new German cars.
In 1967 he achieved his first major success, paired with Paul Hawkins. He drove the Porsche 910/8 to victory at the Targa Florio. Over the course of the season he raced various 906s, 910s and 911s.
In 1968 he won the 24 hours of Daytona and the 1000 Km of Paris, respectively with the Porsche 907-LH and the Porsche 908 Coupé while he obtained the 1000 Km of the Nürburgring and the 1000 Km of Monza in 2nd place and in 3rd place the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 1000 Km of Spa-Francorchamps.
In 1967 and 1968, he also took 2nd place in the European Hillclimb Championship where he overtook team mate Gerhard Mitter in both years.
Rolf and the F1
In the late 1960s, Rolf was considered one of the most promising German drivers of the time, and this earned him support from Auto Motor und Sport magazine which supported him in building a private team that ran a Brabham BT33-Ford. Cosworth for the entire 1970 season. His best result was the 3rd place at Zetweg in the Austrian Grand Prix. Starting from 18th position on the starting grid, he gradually climbed up to 3rd place behind the strongest Ferrari driven by Jacky Ickx and Clay Regazzoni.
It was the first and only podium of his Formula 1 career.
Auto Motor und Sport renewed its program with Stommelen in 1971, when Rolf drove the Surtees TS7-Ford Cosworth of Team Surtees at his disposal. At his debut he won the first heat of the Argentine Grand Prix, a non-championship race in Buenos Aires, then he did not achieve noteworthy results. In the following years he drove the Eifelland 21-Ford Cosworth, a car derived from the March 711. In 1974 and 1975 Rolf drove for the Embassy Hill team, first with a Lola and then with a Hill GH1-Ford Cosworth.
In 1975 he had a terrible accident at the Spanish Grand Prix in which he was seriously injured; due to the broken rear wing, his Embassy-Lola flew over the barriers killing four spectators. Rolf spent two weeks in the hospital and only after his condition had improved and stabilized, him was informed that his accident had caused some deaths
After recovering from his recovery, he concentrated his career on racing with sports cars, while continuing to compete in F1 with the Hesketh 308D and the private Brabham BT42.
In 1976 he raced with the official Brabham-Alfa Romeo BT45 at the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, with which he finished 6th. In 1978, he raced with the Arrows A1-Ford Cosworth in eight of the sixteen championship races. His last appearance in F1 was in practice at the 1978 Canadian Grand Prix where, because of bad weather conditions and a slippery track, he was unable to qualify for the race.
From 1970 to 1978, he was entered in 62 Grand Prix races, he started 53 races with the cars of the manufacturers Brabham, Arrows, Surtees, Eifilland-March, Lola, Hill and Hesketh.
Rolf with Gordon Murray at the German Grand Prix of 1976. Courtesy of Centro Documentazione Alfa Romeo, Arese
Sports Prototype Specialist driver
If the experience in F1 did not lead to the desired results, racing with sports cars in endurance races best represented Stommelen's value as a driver. In these races, Rolf proved able to exploit the car to the limit while respecting its mechanics, as well as possessing considerable tactical intelligence and the ability to work in harmony with teammates.
During his career he drove sport builted da Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Chevron, Toj and Porsche.
Rolf and the development of the new Porsche and Alfa Romeo new models
In 1969 he debuted the Porsche 917 with which he achieved his best result during the spring tests of the 24 Hours of Le Mans where he set the fastest time.
On the Le Mans track, the monstrous Porsche 917 Coupé proved to be a demanding car to drive, so much so that for safety reasons, after a four-day war between the Porsche management and the race organizers, the German manufacturer was allowed to use the car with movable ailerons...details that the technical regulation would not have allowed to use.
Rolf tamed the 917 and took pole position by lapping 2 seconds faster than Vic Elford driving another 917. On race day, he took the lead and drove for the first pit stops in front of a train of five Porsches (Stommelen , Elford, Siffert, Mitter, Herrmann) then, at the 13th hour, he was forced to retire due to a broken clutch and lubrication problems caused by an oil leak.
The years with Alfa Romeo Autodelta
Courtesy of Centro Documentazione Alfa Romeo, Arese
In 1970, Rolf left Stuttgart and became an official Autodelta driver, where he was entrusted with the 33/3. The agreements made with the Alfa Romeo management allowed him to take part in some F1 competitions and to compete with an official Ford Capri at the Tourist Trophy and the 6 Hours of the Nürburgring.
With the Alfa Romeo 33/3 he participated in eight championship races, seven of which he shared the car with the Italian Nanni Galli while he was co-piloted with Piers Courage at the 1000 Km of the Nürburgring.
His debut with the 'Biscione' cars took place on January 1, 1970 at Temporada Argentina, where he was forced to retire due to serious set-up problems.
His first season with the Alfa Romeo was not exciting. A series of retirements contrasted with his best result at the 1000 Km of Monza where he obtained the 7th place finish.
In this race, the 33 had several problems. However, the Stommelen-Galli car proved to be the fastest of all cars powered by a 3 liter engine.
During the 1971 season, in the tests of the Targa Florio, Rolf brought the 33TT3-001 to its debut, equipped with the new tubular frame. We recall that Rolf had long been one of the top test drivers of the Porsche 908, the car that inspired Carlo Chiti in the design of the 33TT3.
Rolf considered the car competitive even if difficult to drive, which is why Ing. Carlo Chiti decided to continue the development of the car during the tests of some championship races. In 1971, Rolf achieved his best result taking his 33/3 to 2nd place behind the more powerful 917K of Vic Elford and Gérard Larrousse in the 12 Hours of Sebring.
At the end of the season, Alfa Romeo took 2nd place behind Porsche, but ahead of Ferrari.
In 1972 he raced with the 33TT3, the car with which he took part in the 1000 Km of Buenos Aires, which was followed by the 6 Hours of Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring, the 1000 Km of Brands Hatch, the 1000 Km of Spa, the Targa Florio , the 1000 Km of the Nürburgring, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the 1000 Km of Zeltweg. It was a season without good results, which saw his best finish at the 1000 Km of Brands Hatch, where he obtained the 3rd place.
During the same season, he was engaged in the development of the new 33TT12, a car that had a demanding development, and which made its race debut at the Targa Florio of 1973.
(Editors Note: The actual construction of this new 33TT12 is shown on this site on Page 2.)
Carlo Facetti, who often worked with him in the development of the Alfa Romeo 33TT12 recalls:
"Rolf was a golden boy. He had a good technical background and was very good in the setting up phase. We were able to compare very well ”.
In 1973, he shared 33TT12 with Andrea de Adamich, Clay Regazzoni and Carlo Facetti. In the same year he took the Alfetta Group 2 and the Giulia 2000 GTam to the race. He got his best result in the 500 Km of Imola, where he led the 33TT12 to 2nd place.
The 1974 season was an interlocutory season for Alfa Romeo, and Rolf led the 33TT12 in 2nd place in three races: at 1000 kilometers, at Monza with Jacky Ickx and at the Nürburgring and Imola with Carlos Reutemann.
Rolf come back to Porsche
In 1976, Rolf returned to Porsche, which gave him the 936 with which he took part in the Group 6 Sport World Championship, and the 935 in the Group 5 World Championship.
Rolf debuted the new 936 at the '300 Km Nürburgring'.
A curiosity, on the day of the race, the track was flooded by pouring rain and shrouded in a terrifying fog, so much so that the organizers were forced to allow the crews to complete a couple of laps of the track to familiarize themselves with the anomalous environmental situation before departure. At the start, the 936 immediately sprinted into first position, but the two Alpines collided due to a mistake by Depailer.
The French driver had faced a braking to the limit, the car had broken down and had disastrously hit Jabuille's sister car, which had finished the race stopping astride the guard-rail. The dynamics of the accident led the drivers to say:
"It is impossible to brake later than Stommelen, and particularly here at the Nürburgring".
With the exit of the two French drivers, Stommelen was left without valid rivals and took the lead in the race quickly accumulating a good advantage over his rivals. After only six laps, the 936 was plagued by problems with the accelerator, which forced Rolf to a few stops in the pits, which however did not solve the problem.
Rolf did not give up, and drove for most of the race with the accelerator locked at the end of the race. He devised a crazy and ingenious way to drive: he set the curve, turned off the main ignition switch and turned it back on at the exit.
That driving style was certainly not optimal, and the 936 lost about 25 seconds per lap, yet it allowed Rolf to pass under the checkered flag in 5th position.
In the following years he continued his relationship with the German manufacturer, mainly driving the Porsche 935, in its all versions, and the 956.
The damnation of the rear aileron
As we have mentioned, Rolf had a serious accident on 27 April 1975 at the Spanish F1 Grand Prix, a race that was held on the city circuit of Montjuich, Barcelona.
The race entered racing history for a series of accidents that occurred right from the start. On the Wednesday before the race, a delegation of drivers had inspected the circuit layout and declared it dangerous because it had no escape routes and badly fitted guard rails. On Friday the drivers declared that they did not want to participate in the Grand Prix until the required work to improve safety had been carried out. On Saturday morning a delegation of drivers inspected the track again and found that the few corrective actions carried out did not respect safety standards and they subsequently declared that they would not run.
Despite that decision, blackmailed by the organizers and sponsors, the drivers were forced to agree to make some demonstration laps on the track. Once on the track, some drivers broke the deal. The first was Niki Lauda, then gradually all the others, with the exception of Emerson Fittipaldi. The Brazilian, who was the reigning world champion and leading the standings, lapped so slowly that he did not qualify.
Rolf, driving a Lola from the Graham Hill stable, obtained the 9th qualifying time. On the day of the race, at the start, Lauda and Regazzoni collided and were forced to retire; Merzario and Wilson Fittipaldi took a lap and retired in protest. In the following laps, Depailler, Donohue, Jones and Hunt finished the race against the guard rail without suffering any physical damage.
Stommelen got off to a great start. On the first lap he moved to 4th position then, in a few laps, he took the lead of the race. On lap 26, a terrible accident occurred. As previously mentioned, while Rolf was at full speed near a bump, the rear wing of his car broke off and lost downforce and carambulated from one side of the track to the other, overwhelming the Brabaham di Pace, and flying over the barriers to plunge into the audience. The outcome was tragic: four spectators lost their lives and six were injured.
Stommelen sustained major, but not fatal, wounds. It was his only chance to win a Formula 1 race which, unfortunately, ended in tragedy.
The luck that had assisted him in Spain in 1975 did not help him in Riverside, on April 24, 1983.
For the 'Riverside 6 Hours', Rolf had an old 935 provided by John Fitzpatrick at his disposal.
The Riverside race should have been the last IMSA race for the old Porsche 935-JR-002, as the team intended to focus on the new 956 Group C model.
Rolf knew the 935 very well and set the 2nd time in qualifying practice.
On race day, Sunday 24 April, he fought for victory, but on lap 94, while in second place, the rear wing inexplicably broke.
The 935, which was traveling at over 300 kilometers per hour, became an out of control bullet and crashed into the protective wall.
The impact was devastating and Rolf died of severe head injuries.
Rolf would have turned forty only a few months later.
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