Friday Favourite: The F1 champion turned mentor to a tin-top great

Drivers often turn their hand to management when their top-line careers come to an end, but it’s not so common for managers to put themselves in the firing line against their proteges. That Keke Rosberg was willing to do so, while imparting his wisdom to Manuel Reuter in the formative years of the Opel Calibra DTM programme, makes him the two-time Le Mans winner’s pick as his favourite team-mate

Friday Favourite: The F1 champion turned mentor to a tin-top great

In his long and varied career, Keke Rosberg is best remembered for winning the Formula 1 world championship for Williams in 1982. But the Finn was adept at driving in different disciplines, including prototypes and touring cars, and was also a prolific driver manager whose charges had the opportunity to benchmark themselves against the old master during his spell with Opel’s DTM team between 1993 and 1995.

One of those proteges, two-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Manuel Reuter, selects Rosberg as his favourite team-mate when Autosport joins him in the Grasser Racing truck at the Nurburgring. Reuter, now the team manager at the Lamborghini DTM outfit, praises the “really strong and straightforward” Rosberg, who “motivated me to find the last half-two percent” in himself that was needed to scoop the 1996 International Touring Car Championship title.

While tinged with sadness, as the high-tech series for trick four-wheel-drive machinery that evolved out of the DTM collapsed with the simultaneous withdrawals of Opel and Alfa Romeo at the end of his title year, it was a personally satisfying triumph for Reuter that marked the culmination of a journey he had begun with Rosberg after claiming his first triumph at La Sarthe with Mercedes in 1989 alongside Jochen Mass and Stanley Dickens.

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Rosberg helped to ensure Reuter was kept busy over the next four seasons driving Porsche 962s, as Group C’s one-time benchmark finally reached the end of its competitive life. The 1987 DTM runner-up turned out for customer teams Richard Lloyd Racing, Kremer Racing (including its highly-developed CK7 Spyder variant) and Joest Racing between 1990 and 1993, taking in the world championship, Interseries (in which he won the 1992 title) and IMSA GTP – taking the 962’s last win Stateside at Road America in 1993 when the Eagle/Toyotas were absent.

Rosberg also made sure his charge was involved from the start of Opel’s Calibra DTM programme, also run by Joest. Rosberg had by this point become established in the DTM himself, winning at Wunstorf for Mercedes in 1992 after switching from Peugeot’s 905 in Group C, and the pair were present to debut the car in the DTM’s 1993 Hockenheim finale before pairing up for the full 1994 season. Although Reuter already knew Rosberg well, being team-mates taught the German some valuable lessons that made him central to Opel’s touring car activities over the next decade.

“At the start of our DTM journey together with Opel I still was, compared with two or three years later I have to say, inexperienced in a lot of areas,” Reuter explains of his time alongside Rosberg which helped him become the Russelsheim marque’s most dependable performer. “I learned it was so much more than sitting in the car and doing quick lap times. How are you handling your inner team? How is the conversation with your race engineer, with your mechanics, with the team principal?

Reuter, now the team manager at Lamborghini DTM squad Grasser Racing Team, learned the final pieces of the puzzle from racing alongside Rosberg

Reuter, now the team manager at Lamborghini DTM squad Grasser Racing Team, learned the final pieces of the puzzle from racing alongside Rosberg

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

“At this time, we were in a tyre war against Bridgestone [used by Mercedes] – I worked with Michelin with Pascal Vasselon – so it showed me that the picture is much bigger instead of sitting in the car and trying to be the quickest. This was I think part of my success in ITC later on and later also when we were struggling in the new era [of DTM] in 03, 04 and 05 with Opel. This was a really good experience and learning period.”

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Reuter scored the first win for the Calibra programme in a non-championship round at Donington in 1994, after on-the-road victor Alessandro Nannini was disqualified for his fuel tank not containing the required three litres. Autosport’s end of year review called his charge from the back of the grid “one of the highlights of the season”. It had come after contact with Rosberg in the first corner of the opening race, Reuter unsuccessfully trying to pass around the outside, with the resulting contact putting both out.

"These were some really good lessons, sometimes the hard way but in the end I have to say I was really pleased that this journey with Keke" Manuel Reuter

“The following week I get two letters from Keke,” Reuter chuckles. “One as a manager – ‘Congratulations, good job, super’ and one as a team-mate where he was shouting it was my fault about the accident! Afterwards you can say a funny situation, but at this time I was really shocked!”

This episode also highlighted to Reuter how Rosberg “could be really professional on different jobs”.

“At this time he was a manager, he was driving in DTM, I think beside he was setting up his own company Rosberg Racing, and this opened my eyes,” says Reuter, who would go on to secure a second Le Mans victory with Joest’s TWR-built WSC95 alongside Alexander Wurz and Davy Jones. “I knew I had to be more professional in every area. It motivated me to find the last half-two percent to beat a Formula 1 champion and be better in every aspect.

“Also in terms of self-confidence [it was helpful] because you know the benchmark was there. You know when you are doing your job 100% and when you are satisfied with your lap, at this time I was sure nobody can jump in to go three tenths quicker.”

Reuter headed his illustrious team-mate in the 1994 standings, six positions above Rosberg in eighth. For 1995, Rosberg drove for his own newly-established team that still competes in DTM today, while Reuter was joined at Joest by fellow Rosberg proteges JJ Lehto and Yannick Dalmas. He headed both in the standings, although was beaten to top Opel honour by defending champion and new Rosberg signing Klaus Ludwig as the Calibra’s four-wheel-drive system proved an Achilles Heel.

Rosberg switched from Joest to his own team for 1995, the final year of his storied racing career, but continued to impart helpful lessons to Reuter

Rosberg switched from Joest to his own team for 1995, the final year of his storied racing career, but continued to impart helpful lessons to Reuter

Photo by: Sutton Images

Rosberg had a “quite a big group of drivers”, Reuter recalls, that also included Mika Hakkinen and Michael Bartels. Rosberg not only taught them “the right things with his attitude and how he managed different things”, but also shared important insights about the political machinations he’d experienced in an F1 career that had concluded in 1986.

“On the political aspect, you learned a lot more how you deal with different personalities, also how you have to be careful that you don’t get used from other persons for their political games,” Reuter says. “The time was by far not so professional [as today] and with this huge investment in this DTM era in the 90s, it was really stepping up in all areas to be much more professional. These were some really good lessons, sometimes the hard way but in the end I have to say I was really pleased that this journey with Keke.”

In his final four years in the DTM, Reuter drove with three previous winners of the British Touring Car Championship in Jo Winkelhock (1993), Alain Menu (1997, 2000) and Laurent Aiello (1999), as well as ex-Formula 1 racer Heinz-Harald Frentzen. But Reuter says that Rosberg still would have been his favourite team-mate without any managerial relationship, even if “this situation [with Rosberg] was I think quite unusual”.

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Reuter’s business relationship with Rosberg ended when the ITC collapsed and Reuter switched to the STW super touring series. Thereafter, he did his own deals with Opel, remaining with the brand through its return to the DTM in 2000 until its exit in 2005 coincided with his retirement from driving.

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Rosberg had stepped back from racing at the end of 1995 in what Autosport’s season review termed “a deeply unsatisfying end to Rosberg’s stint in tin-tops”. Still, Reuter noted that the father of 2016 F1 world champion Nico had lost none of his speed.

“He had still some raw talent,” he says. “Sometimes you saw the data and thought, ‘How is he doing that?’”

Rosberg continued to manage Hakkinen through his title successes with McLaren

Rosberg continued to manage Hakkinen through his title successes with McLaren

Photo by: Sutton Images

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