Joachim ‘Jockel’ Winkelhock is a touring car legend, a past winner at Le Mans, and a brand ambassador for Opel. If that were not enough, he also heads up OPC road safety training. Winkelhock has put in enough racing miles in Formula 1, DTM, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and on the Nürburgring to go to the moon and back several times. In an exclusive for the Opel Post, Winkelhock, a Swabian to the core, got behind the wheel of a (still) camouflaged Corsa OPC and put in a few laps on the handling track at the Opel Test Center in Dudenhofen. Here are his first impressions of the sportiest Corsa around.
The engine is extremely responsive to pedal action, there’s no turbo lag to speak of, and the car accelerates smoothly.
“Wow, the car really takes off,” exclaims the professional driver as he ploughs toward the first corner, slams on the brakes, and takes a clear line through the curve. The four-cylinder engine under the hood puts out 207 horsepower, up 15 from the car the new Corsa OPC replaces. Winkelhock is thoroughly impressed. “The engine is extremely responsive to pedal action, there’s no turbo lag to speak of, and the car accelerates smoothly.” Indeed, it takes the fastest of all Corsas under seven seconds to accelerate from zero to 100 kph. The car can draw on the engine’s 280 Newton meters of peak torque to help propel it forward, all of which is available at just 1,900 rpm. That was something the developers had set out to achieve – and they did just that. Winkelhock loved how the OPC launched out of each corner.
The Corsa OPC has an impressive top speed of 230 kph, although the windy track in Dudenhofen did not allow the driver to experience such lofty numbers today. Equally impressive are the car’s chassis dynamics. “The new Corsa OPC’s steering is more precise and the car is even nimbler than the model it replaces. The team who developed the chassis did masterful work,” says Winkelhock. He now draws on his motor sporting knowledge to explain: “In a front-wheel drive vehicle, the front axle dictates how the car handles. Everything has to be perfectly set up to make the vehicle fun to drive.”
Jockel Winkelhock and Karl-Thomas Neumann
in the new CORSA OPC
He enjoys driving the little pocket rocket – a lot. “I sense what the car is doing at all times. That’s really important to get this feedback because it allows you to react quickly and precisely when you’re driving on the edge. This quality is something race car drivers really appreciate,” explains the scion of a true racing dynasty. Only minor adjustments are required to the steering – which has a precise and direct feel to it – to keep the Corsa OPC on the right line. Jockel increasingly finds his groove with each passing lap.
ARMS ARE THERE FOR STEERING
“The high-performance seats are excellent, as they are in all OPC models. The lumbar support provided by the seat and seat back is second-to-none, even in corners where you’re achieving extremely high lateral acceleration,” the driver mentions in passing while taking the perfect line through a combination of tight corners. “I’m not forced to clutch the steering wheel, something that is never a pleasant experience when driving. Instead, I can focus my full attention on steering. I have tremendous feel for the road because my hands and arms have only one thing to do: steer the vehicle.”
The engine sounds powerful and poised yet never raspy.
In addition to being sporty, the new Corsa OPC is also able to turn it down a notch when need be. “Even professional drivers are not always in race mode. That would be completely irresponsible on public roads,” says the former Formula 1 driver as he dials down the pace. “I try to get the following message across in every road safety course: In most cases it is only possible to drive fast and with an edge on closed tracks. I like the new Corsa OPC even more so because it offers a higher level of comfort than the previous model. One can just as easily cruise down the autobahn as take long trips stress-free and without the car wearing you out. You don’t always have to drive fast and furiously.”
POISED WITHOUT ANY HARSHNESS
The new OPC is a perfect fit for Jockel Winkelhock for someone as low key as he is, in spite of his many accomplishments. “The sound of the engine is much to my liking, as well. It is powerful and poised without any harshness.” This all meshes well with how the vehicle is tuned as a sports car that’s also great for everyday use. Winkelhock singles the car out for praise for this very reason: “The vehicle is easy to control. Understeer is minimal, making it a snap to control even on the track.” The same could be said of the car out on the open road. “Thanks to its perfectly balanced chassis, the Corsa OPC is safe to drive even in potentially dangerous situations, for example, when swerving out of the way to avoid a major obstacle.” And Winkelhock is in a better position than most to judge this. That’s because he took part in some of track testing to fine tune the OPC, when the last minor tweaks were made to the chassis.
LOTS OF COOL AIR REQUIRED
The little pocket rocket sports a racing look. It features large air ducts on the front spoiler along with a small hood scoop, which allows the turbo-charged four-cylinder engine to draw in large volumes of air to keep the unit cool. Likewise, there are two shiny chrome exhaust pipes that every car trailing behind the OPC will see. Get inside the car and your eye catches the flat-bottomed leather steering wheel and the short stick shift knob. Another highlight that underscores the sporty nature of the Corsa OPC can be found on the instrument panel of this speedy little Opel, where lateral and longitudinal acceleration are displayed on the dashboard thanks to a special app. This makes it the only car in its segment to offer this feature.
After a slow lap around the course, Winkelhock parks the OPC in the bay to allow it to cool down. There is a soft crackling sound to be heard from the brakes, a sign that the race driver really pushed the Corsa to its limits. “The car can take it. No problem at all. The lads from the OPC team did a fine job,” he says in summary. It is clear to see that he’s enjoying his time at Opel. “I like the area around Hesse and the people here, as well. Even as a native of Baden-Württemberg I get along quite well with the locals.” He is equally as popular among the participants of the road safety courses from across Germany. They rate Winkelhock as the best and most well-liked instructor – and we know just why after a few high-speed laps around the track.
The new Corsa OPC is just as down-to-earth and outgoing as the instructor himself. This means the pocket rocket can show off its talents equally as well on or off the track. It made its debut in early March in front of huge crowds at the Geneva Motor Show. Stripped of camouflage and decked out in the OPC package, the car is sure to quickly find a large following.
Joachim Winkelhock, born in 1960, raced in Formula One and drove in the German Touring Car Championship in 1990. He took the top spot on the podium three times. He made the switch to a similar series of races in Britain in 1993 and finished his first season with an overall victory. At the Nürburgring race track, which he knows like the back of his hand and which is the location of the Spa Francorchamps race and the legendary Le Mans race, he contested the challenging 24-hour races. Winkelhock has been a brand ambassador for Opel and a driving instructor for OPC safety courses since 2004.
The motor racing enthusiast born in Waiblingen, Germany, comes from a racecar driver family. His older brother Manfred was a successful Formula One driver, but died tragically in 1985 after an accident in a sports car race in Toronto, Canada. Manfred Winkelhock’s son Markus also tried out different race series and drove in Formula One and successfully in the GT1 series, where he enjoyed eight worthy wins. In 2012, he set a track record for electrically operated vehicles at the Nordschleife at Nürburgring with a time of 8:09.009. Winkelhock’s third son, Thomas, was a fast circuit racer. After starting out as a touring car driver, he drove in the Monoposto series in 1991 and was active in Formula Opel. He won the German Touring Car Challenge in 1998.