Michael Werner - Fast On Water 2018

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Michael Werner

Circuit > Hall of Fame
Born: 26.10.45
Started racing: 1967
Retired: 1998
1975 - F3 German Champion.
1976 - F3 German Champion.
1977 - F3 German Champion.
1978 - European Champion, F3; F3 German Champion.
1979 - Runner-up German Chamionship, F3.
1980 - European Champion, Formula Grand Prix ON; runner-up F3 World Championship.
1981 - Runner-up FONDA two litre World Series; runner-up European Championship Formula Grand Prix ON.
1982 - Winner FONDA two litre World Series; European Champion Formula Grand Prix ON; World Sprint Champion Formula Grand Prix ON.
1983 - Winner of Formula Grand Prix World Series; World Sprint Champion Formula Grand Prix ON.
1984 - World Sprint Champion Formula Grand Prix ON;  10th overall in Formula Grand Prix World Series.
1985 - 3rd in Formula Grand Prix World Series.
1991 - 2nd in Formula 1 World Series.
1993 - 2nd in Formula 1 World Series.
1994 - 3rd in Formula 1 World Series.
1995 - 2nd in Formula 1 World Series.
Publicity postcard
1983 publicity photo
Michael and Fiona Brothers, discussing tactics.
Embassy Grand Prix, Bristol 1982
Michael racing at Bristol in 1982. Photo Rene Schultz
Bristol 1981. Photo Rene Schultz
Nottingham 1981. Photo Rene Schultz
The following is from an article first published in Powerboat 84 Yearbook. (Author credit needed).
‘Let me tell you a story,’ grinned Michael Werner, ‘that’ll make you say I’m crazy!’ we were sitting in the World Champion’s truck parked within the pit area of the Paris six hour race, the final event  in the Formula Grand Prix season. There were three hours still to run and Werner should have been at the wheel even as we talked. But his challenge had lasted exactly 50 seconds. The champion’s partner, Nick Cripps, had become entangled with another boat that had lost control and promptly sank at the first turn buoy.
Werner was not concerned. He knew the Paris race well enough and had planned his season so as to win the World title without even needing to race at Paris. And that is exactly what he did. The outstanding driver won all the points he needed in the first four of seven Grands Prix. And his unbeatable position was confirmed in Casale Monferrato the month prior to the six hour race. But the thirty-eight year old German was telling me how he first became addicted to powerboat racing.
‘I had always wanted to get into some kind of racing, and initially looked at motorbikes, but that seemed so expensive I didn’t bother. So then I looked at boats. I was working as a two-cycle mechanic and engineer for a Chrysler dealer in North Germany and we had a few customers who did a bit of boat racing for fun. One day I asked one of them if I could borrow a boat for a weekend.’ Werner’s face lit up with a boyish grin as he remembered the day. ‘You’d never believe that race if you saw it now! It was back in 1969, a long endurance race of 300 km, 150 km each way along the River Weser. The boat and engine I was using was officially too small but they let me race anyway, in the lowest class. That was 500cc  and over – I had a 375cc engine!’ (Michael started actually in 1967 - his first race was with monohull - 20 hp Crysler. His first race was a 2 lapper, but the lap was 520 km ! Sent to us by Frode Sundsdal - 15.02.11)
‘So, off we all went, and after an hour or so I was completely alone on the river. But I was really enjoying myself! I started experimenting,’ said Werner, transported back to those early days, wearing an expression of concentration and  gripping an imaginary wheel in the excitement of his first ever boat race. ‘I sat further back in the boat, and put my foot on the wheel so I could steer. I could immediately feel it was running faster. I was doing 66 kmph and that was fast in those days for a little V bottom! Suddenly I saw a man in a boat waving at me from the other side of the river. He had run out of petrol. Well, I had plenty so I stopped and filled up his tank, we waved goodbye and he went on ahead.’ The World  Champion dissolved into laughter at the thought of doing that now!
‘By this time it was three hours later and I supposed the race must be finishing. All the other boats had already passed me on their way back. But I zoomed along in my driving position until I came to the finishing line at last. “Congratulations,  Michael!” everyone shouted at me, “you’ve won!” Everyone else had broken down or retired in my class and I had won my first ever boat race! I rushed home to my wife-to-be and told her what a fantastic sport boat racing was, and proudly showed her my trophy!’
Since that day Werner has been National Champion in Germany five times, European Champion four times, and he won both the World Sprint and World Series in 1982 and 1983. But that six inch high trophy still remains in place of honour amongst over a hundred others. Werner remained a further five years working for the Chrysler dealer, whilst making his way slowly but surely toward the higher echelons of powerboat racing. ‘My boss helped me a little, with fuel and that sort of thing, until I got a small sponsor and I was doing all the national races. Then Gary Garbrecht (then team manager for Mercury Racing Team) supported me and I was racing Formula Three and working very closely with Renato Molinari’
In 1975, Werner opened his own marine business and set up as a Mercury dealer – and a fiercely loyal one at that. He may not agree with their policies towards racing, but he has only ever raced Mercury engines since joining national classes. I suggested he had few challenges left to tackle within Formula Grand Prix, and asked whether he would be moving up to Formula One. I was immediately attacked for my terminology. ‘It is not a formula,’ Michael insisted, ‘until it has  a top limit it should never be called a formula. At the moment an engine manufacturer could race an engine of 5,000cc or more in that class if they chose. And I don’t like that.’
He had to admit that the top class had its attractions. ‘I would love to race against a set of professionals, and not with the rubbish we get in some of our races.’ He was referring specifically to the six hour race in France’s capital city, where boats of all sizes, ages and dimensions are dusted off once a year and launched in somewhat less than perfect condition. These are racing side by side with boats competing for World championship positions and alter the odds considerably. But what he would love to see, and there is nothing new in his plea, is the involvement of more engine manufacturers.
‘I want to see as many manufacturers involved as possible, all racing against each other so we get a little closer comparison with car racing. At the moment there is only Mercury and OMC and they don’t even race against each other! (Mercury powered Formula Grand Prix, and OMC Formula One). Where does that put the drivers?’ He answered his own question. ‘We’re just tools being used for their development programmes – and we still have to pay for that honour! I risk my life for racing, I spend my time, my concentration, and still I have to pay for all my spare parts. I tell you something,’ he leaned forward earnestly, ‘if OMC and Mercury were racing against each other now, and my engine broke down when I was leading the World Series, do you think Mercury wouldn’t give me new equipment to continue beating OMC?’
But the frown soon cleared from his boyish face. ‘My head says to me I should give up racing,’ he grinned, ‘but I love to race, and that is my problem! Perhaps I am a tool, but I only remember that when I have to pay, not when I'm on the water. I have come to a conclusion,’ Werner mused, happy to be off politics and back to the uncomplicated business of racing that he is hooked on, ‘that handling a catamaran is like handling a woman. If a man can handle a woman well, he will make a good driver. He must treat her gently, ease her round the turn buoys without trying to force her, and then it’s easy.’ What Werner didn’t explain was where that puts one of his rivals, Fiona Brothers! But for  him, the best equipment is rated higher on his list of ingredients for success.
‘I think 50% is the boat, 40% the engine and 10% the driver. OK, so you need a little bit of talent and some guts, but with good equipment anyone can stay near the front. And I’ve got the best! When Germany’s champion joined the two litre class now called Formula Grand Prix, it seemed that Seebold hulls, built by Billy Seebold in America, were the winning boats. So the Formula Three driver went ahead and ordered one. ‘It was terribly expensive, three times as much as a Burgess would cost, but when it eventually arrived, I rigged it, set it up and went out testing. And after five minutes all my worries were forgotten. And that,’ Michael stated firmly, ‘is the most important thing. You have to feel confident in a boat.’
And this remarkable driver has tuned himself to such a degree with his craft that no weather condition or race course has the power to frighten him any longer. ‘I remember my first two or three catamaran races. When I saw the flags blowing in the wind, I would be terrified. Now I feel totally the opposite. I enjoy the wind and the rough water. I can feel it help the boat up and on to the plane and flying – and that tells me I have a good set-up. I love the risk, pushing the boat to its limits, feeling it go higher and higher, lifting off the water. I hold my breath until she comes down again. I speak to her,’ Michael confides, probably not the only driver to hold a conversation with his boat out on the lonely water, but certainly one of few to admit it. ‘I coax just a little more speed out of her, “Come on, come on,” I say until she is about to take off and fly, and then I hold her back, just as if she was a thoroughbred horse.’
Unfortunately the method is not infallible. Werner has flipped thirteen times, though only once did he receive injuries of any import. ‘I was competing in a race in Switzerland that went from Evian to Geneva on the lake. I won that but in the afternoon there was a club race and they asked me to join them. I saw that there were three large barges on the other side of the lake and I reminded myself to be careful of their wash. But the lake is enormous and it took ten minutes for their wash to arrive.  By that time I had forgotten all about it. I nose-dived when I hit the rough water and cut my hand.’ He showed me where the long scar still remains, cut on the cockpit edge. ‘That has been my worst injury. But I was lucky to come out alive at all after my last accident.’
Werner had been attempting to break the world record on lake Windermere in 1980. ‘I got the record – 135.15 mph – but I felt myself losing control at the end of the run. I was thrown out as she flew up and over and I remember lying in the water hoping she wouldn’t fall on me.’ Amazingly the charmed man escaped unhurt. ‘That was my last flip. Each one has taught me something and I am a better driver for them.’ Michael assured me. ‘An older driver will always be better than a young one – the head works better and the experience cannot be bought.’
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