To some, the son of former Grand Prix competitor Manfred Winkelhock is most famous for leading the only Formula 1 race he ever started. And yes, that is one of his career highlights. But the German native is also a former FIA GT1 World Champion, having taken the crown alongside Marc Basseng in 2012. He claimed the Intercontinental GT Challenge title in 2017, collecting the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup Pro-Am championship the following year. He’s a former German Formula 3 Rookie’s champion, is a two-time victor of the Spa 24 Hours and has thrice won the Nürburgring 24 Hours, winning both in 2014 and again in 2017.
And it turns out he’s only raced on his favourite circuit once…
“My name is Markus Winkelhock.”
“I am 30 years old."
“That was in 1998, in Formula König* in Oschersleben? And I was 18 years old.”
*A now defunct single seater series based in Germany from 1988 to 2004, the inaugural champion of which was a certain M.Schumacher, apparently…
“For me, it was leading the Formula 1 Grand Prix at my home race at the Nürburgring in the Spyker in 2007. And also winning, for the first time, the Nürburgring 24 Hours [in 2012, securing Audi’s first win at the event alongside Marc Basseng, Christopher Haase and Frank Stippler in an R8 Ultra LMS].”
“Actually I’ve driven it only once, in 2005 in Formula Renault World Series, and it’s Monaco. I’m a big fan of city tracks. If I can tell you a second track, it’s the Nürburgring Nordschleife.”
“It was actually at Nordschleife during the 24 Hours, there was a Code 60, and there were some drunk fans standing in the middle of the forest, throwing sausages at the race cars on the track! One actually fully hit my car.”
“Well my helmet design… I won’t necessarily call it boring, but it’s not like most young drivers who are more artistic. I just copied my father’s design. He’s been racing since the ‘80s and I’ve kept it since my first race. It’s just three colours, bright blue, dark blue and a bright red, and it swings from both sides up to the top.”
“I think I’m a race driver who can get in a new situation, new race car, new race tracks, or changing conditions, like it starts to rain, and I can get used to them really quickly. I think this is an important strength.”
“Probably Bradley Cooper. Sometimes when I watch The Hangover, I think ‘this could be me!’ He’s a better looking guy though.”
“I’ve never done the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and that’s a race I really want to do. And of course, it’s always the target to win Le Mans. My uncle won Le Mans in 1999*, and I’d love to do the same.”
*A former British Touring Car Champion, Joachim Winkelhock BMW’s only outright win at the event to-date alongside Pierluigi Martini and Yannick Dalmas in a Team BMW Motorsport-entered V12 LMR.
“This is a good question! [Long pause] At one point, I could have been a photographer instead of a driver. That was the career path I was on for two years, but then I started racing, and the rest is history.”
“I like the series, and it’s cool racing with the ‘gentlemen’ drivers. With races like the Nürburgring or Spa 24 Hours, it’s always about the PROs. Here, working together with the ‘AM’ drivers to help them improve their speed, this is a different kind of job for me, and I really enjoy it. It’s like coaching. Also, the 24H SERIES features some really nice tracks, like Brno, and the relaxed atmosphere makes a big difference. It’s a like a little family, and I don’t get the impression that it’s very political, or anything like that. For me, as a driver, it’s a nice relaxed weekend having fun!”
Markus Winkelhock was speaking with Jolijn Jongenelen and James Gent at the 2019 Hankook 12H BRNO. Images courtesy of Petr Frýba. You can also check out this story in the 2019 Hankook 24H BARCELONA magazine, available for download at the link below.