Porsche’s ace test specialist Walter Röhrl (right), but board member for R&D, Wolfgang Hatz

Porsche’s ace test specialist Walter Röhrl (right), but board member for R&D, Wolfgang Hatz

With its combination of electric and petrol V8 traction, the 887hp 918 hypercar was the most powerful Porsche yet. It also had the longest introduction of any Porsche, because the company was determined to get this complex car right first time.

A measure of this concern is visible in the photograph. Looking distinctly serious as they oversee final testing early one morning just before the September 2013 launch are not only Porsche’s ace test specialist Walter Röhrl (right), but board member for R&D, Wolfgang Hatz. For both men, the 918 was the highpoint in their careers. Maybe less so for Walter, who was already 66 and past official retirement age. Not that anyone imagined the former ski-instructor, World Rally champion and Porsche works driver would ever retire, but perhaps now the exhausting test days at the Nürburgring with their 5am starts could be left to the younger guys and allow Walter to concentrate a little more as Porsche’s brand ambassador par excellence.

The 918 was to prove the media success Porsche hoped for. Even the electro-sceptical Chris Harris was staggered and Autocar was so impressed that in 2015 it awarded Wolfgang the Issigonis trophy in recognition of his long engineering record and “in particular for the successful development of outstanding Porsche sports and racing cars and the transfer of 911 DNA to other segments.”

Even if Autocar has always been an unashamed 911 fan, this was quite an accolade for Wolfgang. Alas, it would be his last. Even as he was in London to receive the award, the Dieselgate affair was blowing up in Wolfsburg. As investigators probed, it was only a matter of time before Wolfgang – who had worked at Audi as powertrain engineer from 2001 and powertrain head from 2007 to 2011 (when he left to join Porsche) – would be implicated. His cause wasn’t helped by a 2007 interview in which he told a US magazine that Audi would struggle to build sporty diesel cars that were both 30 per cent cleaner and more economical year on year.

Suspended by Porsche in September 2015, Wolfgang was forced to resign the following year – despite his friend Matthias Müller’s attempts, overruled by the board, to have him reinstated. The legal process was slow: in 2017, Wolfgang was jailed pending trial after being deemed a “flight risk,” but released on €3 million bail after seven months. Languishing at home on remand, he finally faced judges in Munich in spring 2023, where in June he was found guilty and sentenced to two years suspended, with fines and costs approaching €2 million. It was a sad end for the bright BMW motorsport graduate, whose top-flight automotive career had begun as Hans Mezger’s chief engineer on the Arrows F1 project.

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