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Ogier some time.
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An interview with Jochi Kleint, winner of Germany’s 1978 Rallycross Championship in a Golf GTI 1600, about the past, present and future of rally sport.

Text Jochen Förster
Photos Volkswagen Motorsport

Step on the gas no matter what, in every weather, on every surface – no one knows this basic rally sport virtue better than Klaus-Joachim Kleint, affectionately known as “Jochi”. In the 1970s and ’80s, the now 66-year-old driver from Hamburg was considered one of the stars on the rally sport scene. Highlights from his 27-year career include the European Rally Championship title in 1979, third place at the Rally Monte Carlo and three starts in the Pikes Peak race in Colorado..

Das Auto. Magazine: Mr Kleint, in 1966, aged 18 and just a few weeks after passing your driving test, you participated in your first rally. What was the appeal for you then?


Kleint: I would say the unpredictability. The idea of always having to be prepared, at every moment, around every curve. But I wasn’t really aware of this fascination at the beginning of my career. I was born into the world of motorsports, in a manner of speaking. My father loved motorcycles. After the war he took part in the legendary Hamburg Stadtpark Race several times. He owned a garage in Hamburg-Bahrenfeld, which my brother, who was eight years older, gradually changed into a rally car shop in the 1960s. Ernie loved rallies. His active enthusiasm set an example for me. Unfortunately, he died much too soon – he was killed in a plane crash in 1989.

You and your brother maintained a semi-professional rally team for a few years. One of the first drivers you discovered was a certain Walter Röhrl..

 

He was 21 when he joined us. A very talented driver, that was clear to us right away. We noticed him because of his good race times at the Rally Bavaria. A year later he signed on with us for an annual fee of 250 German marks. In 1971, he drove several races and got third place for the Kleint team in the German Rally Championships. In 1972, he switched to become a full professional. I liked him from the beginning. We got along famously. No one at the time expected him to be a two-time rally champion some day.

In 1978 you celebrated your first major win in the Golf GTI I, with which you won the (then still unofficial) German Rallycross Championship. That same year you competed in the Rally Monte Carlo for the first time – in a diesel.


A Golf I suction diesel, with 50 hp and without GTD technology, on ice and snow at the Col de Turini. It was the first rally that had its own diesel ranking, and broke new ground for everyone. We finished in 13th place and partly stole the thunder from the big names.

1978 Estering Cup At the then still unofficial German Rallycross Championship near Buxtehude, Jochi Kleint wins the first big victory for Volkswagen


From May 2014, Volkswagen will be joining up with Andretti Autosport for the Global Rallycross Championship (GRC) in the US, where the sport has been booming for years. What does Rallycross have that rally does not?


The duelling character. The cars drive at the same time and in a direct match-up. It’s attractive to the spectators because they can always see who is in front, there are overtaking manoeuvres, and the occasional collision. The only problem is that overtaking can be very difficult if you aren’t driving a technically superior car. In my day what was especially important was who was first at the first bend.

What differentiates today’s rallies from those in the 1970s?


From a technical viewpoint, almost everything. What dominates now are high-tech, data analysis, briefings, weight distribution worked on by entire teams of engineers. When I started in rally sports, we operated on a much smaller scale. You tinkered around with the motor a little bit, the chassis was a bit tougher, but other than that you were more or less driving a pimped out mass-production car. As opposed to now, we were completely free to do work on our own cars in a pinch.

Did you ever toy with the idea of becoming a Formula 1 driver?


Not really. In 1965, even before my first rally race, my brother and I built a Formula V race car on our own initiative. Niki Lauda also started his career in cars like that. I liked the car, but when I drove a rally the following year, it became an easy decision for me to make. You know, rally and circuit races have little enough in common. It’s also a reason that Formula 1 drivers such as Raikkonen or Kubica have to learn the hard way in the WRC: they just take too many risks.

What was your personal career highlight?


My participation in three Pikes Peak races in the Rocky Mountains, the most spectacular mountain race in the world. You have to deal with an altitude change of 1,439 metres with average inclines of 7 percent over a distance of about 20 kilometres. The finish lies 4,301 metres above sea level – normal petrol engines lose one-third of their performance in such thin air. Volkswagen had specially developed a Twin Golf with two engines for my starts from 1985 to 1987. It had a turbocharger in front and another one in back. The idea: double power for the ascent – and if there was motor damage, I could just keep driving, because there was the choice of front-wheel, rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. An incredible car, from 0 to 100 in 3.4 seconds. I finished third in 1985 and was “Rookie of the Year”. In 1987, I was in front at the time checks until the front-wheel suspension broke just two bends before the finish line. The bi-motor was a fascinating idea – but, unfortunately, there was no promising future for it.

A moment that you would prefer not to experience again?


1981 in Portugal, on gravel. The car was understeering* in a long, extended right curve when the tyre pressure abruptly dropped. I plunged down a hillside, crashed through a wall and rolled over, probably about ten times. The car was written off. The co-driver and I both walked away unharmed. We were extremely lucky to do so.

 

 

What do you think of WRC champion Sébastien Ogier’s driving skills?


I can only take my hat off to him. He is a fantastic driver, very talented, but above all he’s unbelievably consistent. If I as a rally driver get thrown out during the seventh trial, it’s no good at all that I won the previous six. The point is to get close to the limits, but never to go over them. Ogier is absolutely perfect at that.

Have you sat in a new Polo R WRC yet?


No, but I would really love to trade cars with him some time. He can sit in my GTI 1600, I’ll take a seat in his world champion Polo, and then we can have a little generational race – the old-timer in the high-tech car, the champion in the old rally classic. Would be interesting to see who leaves whom in the dust, wouldn’t it?