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Formula One racing takes to the ski slopes for the Kitz Charity Trophy 24 Jan 2005

VW CEO Dr Bernd Pischetsrieder chats with Bernie Ecclestone at the 2005 Kitz Charity Trophy. © B. Lorenz

Once a year Formula One racing puts on the snow boots in the name of charity, at the Kitzbuehel weekend – the Monaco Grand Prix of skiing. Formula One celebrities compete on the slopes and this year Bernie Ecclestone was on hand to act as race director, waving the chequered flag to everyone who made it down the hill. Among them were Mansour Ojjeh and his wife, the FIA’s Herbie Blash, local hero Gerhard Berger and the inimitable Niki Lauda.

The idea for the Kitz Charity Trophy to raise money for the poor of the Tyrol mountain region in Austria came about ten years ago when Gerhard Berger – then racing for Ferrari, Dr Bernd Pischetsrieder, then BMW CEO and Walter Thoma, then sponsorship manager of Philip Morris, decided they wanted to make a contribution to the area, host to one of the world’s biggest ski events. So they called on their friends in the driving seats of large corporations, big names from other sporting disciplines and show business to participate in an amateur race after the famous Streif downhill - and they all came. And although much has changed since then for the three ‘founding fathers’, the idea still lives on. And this year it is set to raise more than 100,000 Euro.

Asked why the event continues to thrive, Pischetsrieder, now VW CEO, said: “The Kitzbuehel downhill race has always been the winter equivalent to Monaco and the idea to think of those in need in a moment of excitement has helped to keep it alive and attract every year personalities with tight schedules to come.”

And on the possibility of VW involvement in Formula One racing, he said: “First I have to bring the house in order and then I am ready for new challenges.” Quite a change from the categorical ‘never’ the question has drawn in previous months.

Of the annual charity gathering, Berger commented: “I always wanted to do something for my home region, and with the help of my international friends I was able to do it. It is quite a satisfaction for me to see how well this charity event is perceived – and how much good it can do.” Asked how many Formula one decisions have been made at Kitzbuehel he added: “After drinking some schnapps with Bernie many things looked quite clear and were ready for a decision.”

Asked about his duties as race director, Ecclestone had some advice to the organizers of the cancelled World Cup downhill race, which was called off due to bad weather. “Formula One has faced similar problems in the past when for various reasons races were on the point of being called off. Here, the problem of not enough snow could be eliminated in past years with snow cannons, but as open-air events are always at risk from bad weather conditions organizers should develop a plan B – for example having two short races - because even if it is sport, we are also part of the entertainment business and have to provide a show.”

And how did it feel for last year’s Streif and World Cup winner Stephan Eberharter, who had retired from professional sport at the end of last season, to participate in the charity race on the last hillock of the famous ultra-fast Streif ski run? “It was the only chance to try and defend my title,” he joked, adding more seriously: “The sport has given me so much that I wanted to give something back. And as there is a very tight networking between ski and car racers it was clear that when Gerhard Berger asked me I was more than happy to participate.”