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F1 racing takes to the ski slopes for the Kitz Charity Race 23 Jan 2006

Niki Lauda and Bernie Ecclestone at the annual Kitz Charity Race. Kitzbuehel, Austria, January 22, 2006.

The Formula One community donned their ski boots last weekend as they headed to the famous Kitzbuehel weekend in Austria - the Monaco Grand Prix of the skiing world. Of course, they were not there to compete in the legendary Streif downhill, but rather to participate in the Kitz Charity Race that follows.

The annual event was set up by VW Group CEO Dr Bernd Pischetsrieder and former Grand Prix driver Gerhard Berger to help the poor of the Tyrol region. This year it celebrated its tenth anniversary and proved as popular as ever, with high flyers from politics, business, entertainment and sport all turning out to lend their support.

Commenting on the event’s success, Pischetsrieder 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 to attract personalities to come every year, even with their tight schedules.”

As part of the tradition, some of those celebrities now have very specific responsibilities assigned to them. It comes as no surprise that Bernie Ecclestone acts as race director - the man with the authority and the chequered flag - while triple Formula One world champion Niki Lauda is the official slope inspector.

Asked what keeps him coming to Kitzbuehel, Ecclestone commented: “Bernd Pischetsrieder is a friend of mine so when he asks me to come, I do it with great pleasure. And it’s no secret that I like Austria, and that I always liked to come here. The professionalism of the Hahnenkamm organization is comparable to that of F1 races - clearly focused to give the visitors at the event and the TV viewer excellent value and good entertainment.”

And for Lauda, the event clearly takes him back to his racing roots: “Monaco is the maddest race track and Kitzbuehel is the maddest slope - both touch the limit of what people can do.”

This year 23 teams of three took part, all of them trying to better both themselves and their rivals, and to gain the respect of the Streif. FIA President Max Mosley, a Kitz Charity veteran, glided elegantly down the hill on his snowboard, leading the way for his crew, featuring newcomers Scott Speed of Scuderia Toro Rosso and Dhani Harrison, son of ex-Beatle George.

Red Bull Racing I, with Christian Klien, Christian Horner and David Coulthard, and Red Bull Racing II with Adrian Newey, Robert Doornbos and Guenther Steiner, both put in strong performances, but could not beat the Formula One Management team of Slavica Ecclestone and former ski stars Stephan Eberharter - the Streif winner two years ago - and slalom expert Bernhard Gstrein.

With the competition over, Audi and Red Bull hosted a glamorous evening party, dubbed ‘Golden Moments’, with singer Lisa Stansfield providing the entertainment. After the excitement of the daredevil downhill and the laughter of the charity race, it was the ideal way to wind down from the perfect weekend, one that is sure to bring its guests flocking back for more next year.