In 1997, Porsche kicked off their ‘Junior’ series. With young drivers chasing F1 dreams, Porsche Juniors urged emerging talents to consider GT racing instead. Porsche factory pilots Timo Bernhard, Marc Lieb and Patrick Long trained as Porsche Juniors, with Marco Holzer the most recent graduate.
The first Porsche Juniors were Marc Basseng and Matthias Wolf. A recent tweet from Marc Lieb reminded us not to forget Matthias, who never raced a Porsche as he was killed in a testing accident, fifteen years ago this week.
Beginning in karts and moving into Formula Junior, single-seaters were Matthias’ first love. “Matthias dreamed of Formula 1,” says Kerstin Soutschka, friend of Matthias Wolf. “Sports car racing was not his goal. But when he came back from the UPS Junior team testing at Mugello, he spoke enthusiastically of what he had experienced”.
Having won the drive with UPS Juniors, dreams of racing for Porsche devoured his Formula 1 ambitions. A press day at Hockenhim was followed by testing at Anneau du Rhin: a long, fast French circuit. Basseng started the day with warm up laps, then it was Matthias’ turn. On his fourth lap, the car spins across a gravel trap and hits an embankment. Medical teams rush to the scene, but Matthias is no more. He was 21.
Porsche has a major dilemma: does it take this as an omen and cancel the programme before it begins, or does it follow the dream, in honour of Matthias? We know the answer, and today can see the success it has had.
Eight-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb was another young driver helped by a supportive benefactor, Dominique Heintz. Loeb and Heintz are now partners in Seb’s own team, which also races two 997 GT3 Cups in French Carrera Cup and has just started running an Oreca LMP2 car: destination Le Mans 24-Hour. The team continues to support young drivers and just scored P2 at Paul Ricard last week.
Anneau du Rhin is in Alsace, Loeb’s home province. During the week of Rallye de France last year, Sebastien Loeb visited the track and did some demo laps in a GT3 RS on the new 3.7-kilometre layout. For the occasion, his Porsche GT3 was equipped with onboard cameras, so here’s some video of a couple of laps. Note the top speed of 270 km/h on the back straight.
Kudos to Porsche for the Junior programme: continuing was the right decision. But let’s see some memory to Matthias on the cars this year: the lack of pictures of Matthias in connection with the Junior team is a sad oversight. RIP Matthias Wolf.