With his hands Gustav Engljähringer pushes his legs to the entrance of his racing car. The car is jacked up. The driver sits in a wheelchair. That's why it takes longer before the 46-year-old can pull himself into the Recaro racing seat. Legs shaking during this feat of strength. But then it is done.
Sitting at the executive desk, the medium-sized, fit-looking man in a beige sweater, the few hairs on his head shaved. "I just finished the perm," he jokes, and his eyes look mischievous. Gustav Engljähringer is a representative of the Austrian "Schmäh", which he has paired with the composure of a professional racing driver, resulting in a mixture of black humor and cool practicality. This is also how he tells about the accident that put him in a wheelchair.
I no longer felt my legs.
Narrow, bumpy and winding is the road that leads to Frankenburg am Hausruck. A classic accident track. It was a car accident, "even relatively unspectacular," says Engljähringer. It happened in the early evening of 18. August 1994 on that same winding country road, ten kilometers from home. The crash was caused by a technical failure: the rear axle suspension broke. The car lurched into a creek bed and overturned. The impact on the roof broke the sixth cervical vertebra of the then 23-year-old rider. He had only a laceration on his head, but was fully conscious. "It quickly became clear to me that more was happening. I no longer felt my legs".
Passion, tinkering and profession intertwined
Engljähringer is a trained freight forwarder and runs a transport company that at peak times employed up to 115 people and operated branches in Romania, Slovakia and Germany. The company is hard to miss in Frankenburg: Its name is emblazoned in yellow lettering on blue truck trailers called "Optispace". The boss is the inventor of "Optispace," which is just as big as a conventional trailer, but so sophisticated that it can hold 50 euro pallets on two floors. 50 percent more than in conventional trucks, the tinkerer proudly explains his development as he leads a tour of the company premises.
But what fits into his nearly four-meter-high "Optispace" can be seen in hall two at the 10.000-square-meter site: Six race cars on two floors; or three race cars upstairs and "room for party" below. These are the "Optispace" trucks converted for his racing business, which Engljähringer now sells throughout Europe under the "Trailertech" brand name. Here, passion, tinkering and profession are intertwined. Because the wheelchair has not stopped his fascination for racing.
Risk-taking has no place on the road.
Speed is his life – on the race track. As an 18-year-old, he took part in motorcycle races, fascinated by the competition and the sound of engines. When the accident happened, this career was actually already finished. But in intensive care, unable to move and initially unable to even breathe on his own due to nerve damage, his passion awoke anew. Because MotoGP was on TV. Motorcycle race.
That was out of the question, but there are cars, too. There now follow no tales of the difficult struggle back, of hopes, disappointments or dejection. "Ticked off," he often says, "I'm a ticked-off guy.". This is confirmed by his partner Cordula Oetker: "If he sees that one way doesn't work, he just goes the other way."
License with health check
Gustav Engljähringer slips on his blue down anorak and rolls to the annex of the garage. Here, Cordula Oetker pulls the green protective cover off the V8 Star Jaguar with which Engljähringer scored a major success in 2012.
I'm a hook guy.
In 2007 Gustav Engljähringer discovered through a friend on the Salzburg-Ring the possibility to go back to the race track. In Vienna a touring car was found that was adapted to the needs of the driver. Then "only" the license with health check was missing: "You need two functioning arms and legs – and there's a problem," says Engeljähringer, pointing to his lifeless legs.
On the podium in Monza
The athlete in the racing car convinced at that time nevertheless with technology and his skill, got the license and cheered already in the second racing year over a third place with a race in Monza. However, it was not to be enough for the top. In the end, a "non-handicapped" driver can keep both hands on the wheel, while Engljähringer only has his left. His right hand is on the gearshift, gives gas, clutches, shifts and brakes.
Checking off: In 2010, everything was sold – the trailer, the car, everything. However, the emptiness in the garage was "extremely wide," Engljähringer describes the condition today, which eventually continued inside him. The next challenge had to come. Just two years later, he drove a bright green V8 Star-Jaguar to a furious overall victory in the Histo-Cup.
Racing team of wheelchair users
"Mission Possible – Racing with Handicap" is another successful baby of the racer. Together with Rainer Küschall, a Swiss lightweight wheelchair developer, Engljähringer founded the first racing team exclusively with wheelchair users in 2011.
In May 2014, Engljähringer and his colleagues from Germany, Holland, Poland and Switzerland were delighted with a good midfield finish in a 12-hour race in Zandvoort, Holland.
We were the first complete wheelchair team at the 24-hour race in Dubai.
A year later, in January 2015, the newly assembled "Mission Possible" team not only competed for the first time as a complete wheelchair team in the Dubai 24-hour race. In the end, the racers stole the show with their fifth-place finish. At the end of this race series, the corks popped for Gustav Engljähringer after he competed so successfully as a single starter in the four European races of the IES Endurance Series that he became champion in the end. Never before had a driver with a handicap won an international race series.
No dreams, but goals
A man like Gustav Engljähringer has no dreams, but goals. His next target is a medal at the Paralympics in Beijing in 2020, for which he wants to qualify with the racing bobsleigh. Tests are already planned. By the way, he is also the Austrian national champion in wheelchair rugby.
I focus because I have to think much further ahead than others.
Doing nothing and being slow – nothing for Gustav Engljähringer. He is a driven man. He attributes the meticulousness with which he approaches tasks today to his handicap. "I focus because in my situation I have to think much further ahead than others," he explains. It is the only time he describes his handicap as such in conversation. He plans every step so he knows in advance "what obstacles might come up."This applies to the way to the restaurant just as much as it does to the racetrack and daily traffic: "I drive with great foresight."
There's something very special in the basement of his house: a racing simulator. Here the racer can "ride" demanding courses of the world. Or he can "take off. The simulator also has a flight program. Gustav Engljähringer trains for his pilot's license – his next goal.