A sports car legend, Bob Wollek's career spanned over 30 years. Four-time winner at Daytona's 24-hour race and with 11 world championship titles, Wollek continued racing well into his 50s when he was killed while riding his bicycle outside Sebring on the eve of the 12 Hour Race in 2001.
Bob Wollek was a legend of the sports car scene, as much because of his longevity as his success in a career spanning over 30 years. Four-time winner at Daytona's 24-hour race with 11 world championship titles, Wollek continued his racing career well into his 50s with much success coming after his half-century year. He was a member of French ski team from 1966-1968.
He was injured during the selection for the Olympics and that ended his skiing career. During the summer '67, he entered the Mont-Blanc Rally with a Renault 8 Gordini on a whim and he won. Without being asked, he registered at the Shell driving test (Bugatti track) and to the Alpine Trophy Le Mans.
He finished 2nd at the Shell test behind Francois Migault, and won the Alpine Trophy. The winners were having a chance to drive at Le Mans in 1968. And that was his 1st race on the track. With a Renault Alpine 1300 cc he finished 11th! Later, he raced in F2 in a team managed by a guy named, Ron Dennis.
Bob won one race at Imola in 1972. In Endurance racing he took 4 wins in the Daytona 24-hour race (1983, 1985, 1989 and 1991), a win at Sebring 12-hour in 1985, he was the German Group 5 Champion in 1978,1982 and 1983. He also lined up 30 times at Le Mans 24H (3 Poles, many category wins and podiums, but he never won the coveted event he is revered there. Told by Tom Walkinshaw of TWR that he was too old to be considered for a LeMans drive in 1991, Wollek proved his point by finishing 3rd in that very race and was a genuine contender, with three more podium finishes, in every race between 1994 and '98.
It was only after he was withdrawn from the Porsche team line up after the 1998 event that Bob Wollek knew his dream of taking overall victory at LeMans would never happen, and though he took the podium once more, his GT class victory for the Dick Barbour team was stripped for technical infringement. Even at that time, Wollek was fighting with the best and had team boss Tony Dowe marvelling at the speed and consistency with which he lapped the track at la Sarthe. His continued presence at races was down to his complete love of the sport and everything involved with it.
He saw no reason to retire and with performances to rival the up and coming stars, he was always given the chance to race. He claimed that he hadn't reached his peak until he was into his 40's because he had only become a full-time driver in 1996 - always having seen the sport as a game and not a career. His peak came in the era of the mighty Group C cars when he drove a Porsche 956 and 962 matching pace with the big names such as Jacky Ickx. Many wins followed but never the elusive LeMans crown.
Wollek's bad luck at la Sarthe became the stuff of legend - driving a factory Porsche 962 for three years on the trot without a single finish. His final chance at overall honours came in the 1998 race in Porshe's 911 GT1. A mistake by his team-mate had cost him the top step of the podium and as he climbed up to take the second place trophy, his tears suggested he was more bothered by never winning the event than he claimed.
Moving down to the GT class, he took five class victories in the 2000 American LeMans Series sports car championship in a Dick Barbour Porsche 911 GT3-R showing his continued form and reiterating that this was the most deserving driver never to have won LeMans.
On Friday March 16th 2001, on the eve of the Superflo 12 Hour Endurace Race at Sebring, Sportscar racing lost one its biggest stars when Bob Wollek was killed while riding his bicycle outside the circuit. At the age of 57, the Frenchman had become a mentor to many younger drivers, a true part of the sports car racing family, and a legend in his sport. A true gentleman who put as much into his racing as he took out, he will be sorely missed.