Cheering Behind the Wheel

As the starter signal gave wings to Austria’s Wings for Life World Run runners, standing next to his Catcher Car, Franz Wittmann watched thousands run past him, cheering and clapping them on.


They knew he’d be seeing them pretty soon, though.


Franz has a passion for cars, following in his rally-driver father’s footsteps, and drove professionally from 2004 to 2010, winning the vice state championship in 2008. With so many years perfecting their ability to drive for so long, concentrating on a set speed and not getting cramp, the Wittmanns fit the bill to take on the role of Catcher Car driver and back-up car driver.


Franz is young, highly motivated and well known in lower Austria, where he’d be chasing runners in Sankt Polten, making him the perfect choice to drive the lead Catcher Car in the first ever Wings for Life World Run.


A week before the race, father and son put the Catcher Car through its paces, checking out the route, working on the positioning, testing the tracking, GPS and internet signals, but doing a dress rehearsal of driving 15 km/h on exactly on the same route was impossible. A little try-out for Franz was ‘all good, all fine, no worries, guys,’ but he knew 4th May would be a challenge because there was no room for error.


Loaded with timekeeping equipment and two timekeepers riding shotgun, Franz had the normal speedometer and a graph that dictated his desired position and his actual position, allowing for just 3 to 4 metres of play -- it was all about fine-tuning, all the time.


So, what was the Wings for Life World Run like for the Catcher Car driver?

“We had the windows open, the sunroof open, and we just shouted and cheered from beginning to end – all of us: me, Dad, the timekeepers. Our voices started to give up around 20km, but we honked and flashed and made as much noise as we could to celebrate each runner’s achievement.”


How did the runners respond to you?

“There was happiness everywhere! Everyone was really positive. From superhero costume wearers to dancing ladies, they were all there. Seeing the guy with the stroller running at 35 km was astonishing. A lot of people ran in groups, a few lone fighters were out there as well, but the power people found in grouping up was impressive. 


We were honoured to see all those ‘Yes, I made it’ air pumps, claps, grins and arms thrown up in the air. So many goals reached and beaten – runners laughed, cheered and applauded themselves and each other. It was great to get to high five some friends who were running – I had signed up to run with them before I got the call to drive the Catcher Car.”


How did it feel to overtake the world champion runner?

“In the end, we knew we were one of the last countries driving, but we didn’t know that we had overtaken the last man standing, worldwide, until a few minutes after we’d passed him – as we were celebrating his win in Austria -- so we were as surprised as anyone when we heard Lemawork Ketama won the worldwide competition!”


For you, what was the most impressive part of the Wings for Life World Run 2014?

“That final nail biting battle was as unbelievable for us as it was for the rest of the world. Watching those two last runners, after such a long distance, starting to sprint and push their limits, was soooo impressive it’s hard to describe.”


But it wasn’t just Franz that says driving the Wings for Life World Run Catcher Car was an amazing experience; all the drivers came to the same conclusion and would do it again in 2015 in a heartbeat.



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