Walter Lechner, who twice raced in the Le Mans 24 Hours and founded his eponymous team best-known for its dominant success in the Porsche Supercup, has died aged 71.
The Austrian’s squad became the pre-eminent force in the spec Formula 1 support championship following the introduction of the 997-generation Porsche 911 in 2005.
In the 16 seasons since, which featured a move to 991 machinery in 2013, Lechner Racing and its Middle Eastern-backed derivations have won the teams’ crown 11 times, including a clean sweep of the most recent seven titles.
That paved the way for Michael Ammermuller and Rene Rast to become the most-decorated drivers in Porsche Supercup history, both winning the title three times.
As well as triple DTM champion and current Audi Formula E driver Rast, Lechner Racing also ran Nicki Thiim, Tom Dillmann and Connor de Phillippi in the Supercup, most notably.
Born in Vienna in August 1949, Lechner spent his formative years working as a bellboy and then an attendant at the city’s luxury Hotel Sacher.
His major move into motorsport came in 1975, as he sold his nightclub to set up his own Walter Lechner Racing School to replicate the success of the Jim Russell’s famed set up in Britain.
Lechner would race himself that season, later gaining the backing of American bourbon maker Jim Beam – a commercial relationship that carried through to his sportscar exploits.
Lechner split his seasons between a full-time German Formula 3 tilt – achieving a best standing of third in 1979 – and sporadic European F3 appearances.
In that time, future Simtek F1 driver Roland Ratzenberger and AlphaTauri team principal Franz Tost would work as driving instructors for Lechner’s academy.
For 1980, Lechner also spotted the talent of the young but underfunded Stefan Bellof, placing him in Formula Ford machinery and running the Group C ace to multiple titles.
But the highlights of Lechner’s own single-seater career would come as he switched to lower-powered machinery, as he won both German and European Formula Super Vee crowns in 1982. Aged 33, he would be the last champion in the German category.
For the bulk of the 1980s, however, Lechner switched to sportscar competition.
He notched the 1983 Interserie title aboard the Adrian Reynard-designed March 821 grand prix car, at a time when the series relied on F1 machinery draped in closed-wheel bodywork.
Two years later, he rented a Porsche 956 and on his first outing, won on home soil at the Osterreichring.
That inspired the purchase of a 962 – a car his family still owns – the following year, putting Lechner on a path to win 11 races and two championship in six years.
Le Mans appearances in the privateer 962 came in 1988 and ’89, but both would end in retirement.
A brake failure on the approach to Virage de Mulsanne – pre-chicanes – sent him into the tyre wall on his debut, while the year after a tyre failure put paid to his and co-driver Ratzenberger’s chances after qualifying 20th.
A switch to tin-tops would follow, including competing against Dieter Quester in the Austrian Touring Car Championship in 1995, but not before Lechner put Toto Wolff on a path to becoming Mercedes F1 team principal.
Lechner ran Wolff in Formula Ford machinery for three seasons before offering the advice: “Man, go and do something useful instead. You’re too slow for F1,” according to Wolff.
Although Lechner would focus his attentions on running his race team, he continued to sporadically compete through until a 2015 International GT Open outing at Paul Ricard in a Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 – aged 65.
Latterly, and following his team’s success in the Porsche Supercup, the manufacturer appointed the squad to organise its GT3 Cup Challenge competition in the Middle East.
Last year, Lechner was presented with a lifetime achievement honour in Austria by Hans-Joachim Stuck.
He is survived by sons Robert and Walter Lechner Jr.
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