Stèphane Ortelli – Fast Team Player
© Guido Quirmbach
Ortelli is one of the successful, current racing drivers.
Only a few racing drivers have as many victories and podium finishes
as the French sportscar racer. Guido Quirmbach met Stèphane
in Frankfurt, at the “Automechanika Fair”, where the
Frenchman had a promotion date for his sponsor “one-too“.
It had been planned as a short interview, but ended up as a two
hour conversation with the charming and charismatic racer.
Brands Hatch, September 1996, the BPR series - the
last free practice session before qualifying for the four hour race.
In the Konrad pits Bob Wollek analyses the practice times of his
new colleague: “OK, you are fast, you drive in qualification.
But remember, we have to run with the same tyres at the start of
the race and for the first stint. Don’t drive too many laps!“
said the native of Alsace to his young compatriot. Ortelli drove
the out lap, went for it next time round, then came in and stepped
out of the car: the Porsche would start alongside the Marcos on
the front row in GT2. Wollek was content and was even happier the
next day, when the pair of them won the class. It was the start
of one of the most successful careers ever in sports and GT cars,
one which continues at the highest level ten years later.
Stèphane Ortelli was born on March 30 1970
in the Southern French town Hyeres, spending the first years of
his life there, then growing up in Cannes. As with other drivers,
he inherited the enthusiasm for engines and cars from his father.
From 1984 to ‘88 he won many Kart events and the famous “Volant
Elf“ in 1990, the career boost for any youngster in French
motorsports. In Formula 3, he was the winner of the B-championship
in France in1991 and a year later he was the test driver for Larousse
in Formula 1. In 1993 he raced in the Peugeot Spyder Cup, and the
two next years in the French Touring Car championship, where he
was the ‘95 winner among the independent drivers.
In 1996, Bob Wollek introduced him to Franz Konrad,
and from that time his career went steeply uphill. “I have
to thank Bob Wollek a lot. He was my mentor and later also a good
friend. From him I could learn many things about long-distance running,“
explains Ortelli, ten years after they first drove together.
The fine achievement at Brands Hatch led to greater
things. In ‘97 the Roock team received some factory support
from Porsche (for example works engines) for Le Mans and Ortelli
was joined in a Porsche GT1 by Allan McNish and Karl Wendlinger.
The trio was optimistic for a podium result, but just after 30 minutes
the Scot was in the wall and out of the race. Ortelli and McNish
however were united in their belief that “if we should get
such a chance again, then we will win“.
They had their opportunity one year later, this
time in the official works car, the 911 GT1 98. Stèphane
explains how team play came into action: “We had Laurent Aiello
in the team, an outstanding pilot, who knew the car, but not however
the track. At pre-qualifying he had to run in German Touring Car,
so he missed it. Because of that I did not run any practice laps
in daylight, just in the night, so that Laurent had more training
time than usual. He set a quicker lap time than myself, but in a
24 hour race, it doesn’t matter. It was Allan’s job
to set the qualifiying lap.“
In the race
all three drivers were consistently quick and without any errors.
“We selected the timing that Aiello drove the car, but in
the darkness, throughout the night, Allan and myself drove. And
my stints was really good! There were mixed conditions outside,
half wet, half dry, every lap different. However I stayed on slicks,
which not many others did. In this part of the race we made up much
Thus the Porsche GT1 with the number 26 Porsche
crossed the line first, followed by the sister car of Wollek / Alzen
/ J. Müller. “I felt mixed emotions on the podium, I
was happy to win one of the most important races in the world, but
on the other side I felt so sorry for Bob beside me. Maybe he realized
that he had lost his last chance to become an overall Le Mans winner.“
Stèphane Ortelli and Allan McNish made their
oath come true and gave Porsche their last overall victory ever.
These two guys are connected by a deep friendship and success: “After
our first race together when we failed, from then on we were never
worse than P2! We complement each other very well in the car and
also have a lot of fun together in Monaco. He is my favourite team-mate.
perhaps did not seem such an ideal team-mate, ahead of the 2006
Le Mans Series races – in the Oreca Saleen. Henri Pescarolo
had ruthlessly criticized Ayari for his incidents at Le Mans 2005
and fired him.
Ortelli did not have any problems with Ayari: “When Hugues
de Chaunac asked me whether I would agree to have Soheil as team-mate,
I immediately agreed. I know what he is able to do and how quick
he is. Therefore I made him very welcome. Only if a driver feels
that his team believes in him is he able to do his best possible
performance.“ The Monegasque was quite right, Ayari completed
an error free-season and they celebrated victories in Spa and Jarama.
“Sometimes he was faster than me, but that is good! Because
only with two strong drivers can a team win in such a big competition.“
learned this attitude from Bob Wollek. “Bob pressured me already,
but only in the correct place, but he did not hesitate to tell it
to everyone in the paddock if his colleague made errors.“
This not so positive character characteristic was one Ortelli did
not acquire himself.
I shared the cockpit for the first time with Romain Dumas, at Daytona
in 2002, we were in a promising position but he threw the car into
the wall, a short time before the end. Afterwards a sad Dumas returned
into paddock, I tapped on his shoulder and said “be glad that
I am not Bob Wollek. Shit happens, we win and lose together!“
Together with Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb, Stèphane
Ortelli celebrated one of most remarkable successes in the Long
Distance Racing – ever. At Spa in 2003, the N-GT Porsche GT3-RS
of Freisinger Motorsport won the 24 Hours in heavy rain, against
potentially faster GT1 cars.
victory. It had everything. The strategy of Norbert Singer, the
pit stops, the performance of all three drivers, simply amazing!“
has good memories about the time with the Karlsruhe-based racing
team: “We never had the best hospitality and there were probably
also much more beautiful cars, but we were a successful team with
a very good spirit.“ Two titles in N-GT, in 2002 and 2003,
tell a very clear story.
Striving for harmony in the team is always the desired
goal, but Ortelli remembers the Cirtek Aston Martin in the FIA GT
Championship at Dubain in 2005. “I took over the car in practice
from Christophe Bouchut. After a short time I was faster on old
tires than he had been on new tires. But that had its reasons. I
had known the DBR9 much longer than Bouchut and made a few set-up
changes. But Christophe is not used to someone being faster in the
same car, and he made his feelings known to me. It is not so easy
to work like that, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.“
Ortelli has tested and raced 16 different makes, and last year he
also raced an Oreca Seat in WTCC; here he was quick from the first
lap. However he has celebrated most of his successes with Porsche,
where he was one of the works drivers until 2005. Apart from the
two N-GT-titles, Le Mans ‘98 and Spa ‘03 he also became
the Porsche Supercup Champion, in 2002 with Kadach Racing. “I
drove so many (altogether 58) Supercup races and also won a lot
(eight) but only once did I run a complete season because of overlapping
dates, and that was 2002 when I became champion,“ says Ortelli
with pride. From the priority of titles he is still the most successful
active pilot for Porsche. However, why did they not extend his contract?
“I don`t know,“ he answers and his facial expression
changes, from merry laughter to sadness. “When Porsche announced
the RS Spyder project, I was confident of being able to bring in
much of my experience. I had driven for Audi in 2005 in the LMES,
drove the Bentley - and none of the works drivers had more experience
with a high downforce racing car than I had. But nothing, not once
was I called for testing, although I was still under contract and
ready at any time.”
The release from a Porsche contract was a stimulus
for the 36 year old: he supported the Ferrari team of Risi Competizione
in the best possible way, to terminate Porsche dominance in GT2
of the ALMS in this year.
But he still has a big target with Porsche: “I
won with Porsche and Norbert Singer at Le Mans and Spa. It would
be great if we could succeed at Daytona too. A driver and an engineer
with the same marque have never won the three most important 24
hour races, as far as I know.“
Next try is 2007, but nothing is fixed yet.
Further goals for 2007: “I do not have a direct
goal, but I wish for myself to drive and win for Audi at Le Mans.“
In 2000 it was close, but Audi could only lose the
race among its three entries, so Dr. Ullrich had ordered the drivers
to hold positions on Sunday morning, at a time when Ortelli was
closing the gap to the leader. But Ortelli entirely understood that
position. “From Audi’s point of view, it was absolutely
the correct decision to stop the fight among ourselves and secure
the 1-2-3 victory.“
still good contacts to the team from Ingolstadt, and Ralf Juettner.
“It is a similar family as it once was with Porsche, with
the correct spirit to win Le Mans.“ He sees the diesel as
positive development. “Le Mans is the only race in the world
where a manufacturer is able to demonstrate his technology. Where
else is that possible? And motorsport is also technology!“
has the original German text of this feature.
With thanks to Guido Quirmbach