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Return to the racetrack, DTM included

Mar 10, 2014
  • Early days in cooperation with Sauber Racing
  • World championships with the new racing sports cars
  • The DTM starts to draw crowds
The 1980s and 1990s were marked by the return of Mercedes-Benz to the racetracks: initially, in the years from 1985 to 1991, the star was borne by the Group C racing sports cars. From 1986, they were followed by racing touring cars competing in the German Touring Car Championship (DTM) and the International Touring Car Championship (ITC) until 1996, and finally the racing cars of the Formula 1 flagship racing series.
Participation in the FIA GT championship was followed in 2000 by the entry in the new German Touring Car Masters (DTM) racing series. Mercedes-Benz drivers have so far won six DTM championship titles (including four for Bernd Schneider), finishing as runners-up nine times and taking third place on six occasions. Mercedes-Benz won the constructors’ championship consecutively from 2000 to 2003, in 2005 and 2006, and again from 2008 to 2010. The Stuttgart-based racing team has also notched up three triple DTM triple victories: in 2001, 2003, and 2010.
1985 to 1991: from engine supplier to Group C world champions
In 1984, Mercedes-Benz signed an agreement with the Swiss racing team of Peter Sauber in Zurich to supply engines for the Group C racing series of sports car prototypes. This was the first step towards Mercedes-Benz’s return to international circuit motor sport following its withdrawal in 1955. Sauber had already been competing in Group C racing since 1982, initially using Ford and BMW engines in its C 6 and C 7 sports car prototypes. Then in 1985, Sauber presented the C 8, powered by a Mercedes-Benz M 117 engine – a modified V8 based on series production with a displacement of 4,973 cc. The C 8 promptly won the ADAC 1,000-km Race at the Nürburgring in 1986.
The C 9, used from 1987 to 1989, eventually became the first Sauber-Mercedes to race as a Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrow starting in 1989. While in production, the car went by various designations, depending on the sponsor: during the 1987 season, it was known as the Kouros-Mercedes, then as the Sauber-Mercedes until 1989, and it finally started one race in 1990 as a Mercedes-Benz. Until 1988, the engine for the C 9 was the M 117, taken from the C 8, until it was replaced in 1989 with the new M 119 engine – also a V8, with a displacement of 4,973 cc.
From 1988 onwards, Mercedes-Benz again competed as an official works team in the Group C of racing sports cars. The Sauber-Mercedes C 9, developing over 515 kW (700 hp) of power, won a total of five races, and in 1989 Sauber-Mercedes finally took the world championship with the C 9. For the 1989 season, the fast Sauber-Mercedes racers were equipped with the new V8 Biturbo M 119 engine with four-valve technology, which was able to develop up to 680 kW (925 hp) of power temporarily. Along with technical advancements, the cars were also now painted silver, a clear signal that Mercedes-Benz was back on the racetrack fighting for victories. The new Silver Arrows won a total of 16 out of 18 races in 1989 and 1990. The victories includes the Le Mans 24-Hour Race in 1989, with Jochen Mass/Manuel Reuter/Stanley Dickens at the wheel.
1990 saw the arrival on the racetrack of the Sauber-Mercedes C 11, the successor to the C 9. This sports car prototype was the first Sauber car to feature a carbon-fibre chassis, which gave the vehicle outstanding strength.By the end of the season the C 11 had won both the drivers’ and constructors’ world championship titles. At the wheel this season were Jean-Louis Schlesser, the 1989 world champion, and his team mate Mauro Baldi. This was also the year the Mercedes-Benz Junior Team was established with drivers Michael Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Karl Wendlinger. 20 years later, Schumacher would be back in the cockpit of a Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrow as a Formula 1 driver.
1991 saw changes to Group C regulations, prohibiting turbocharged engines and limiting displacement to 3.5 litres. Mercedes-Benz developed a new V12 engine to these specifications for the new C 291 racing car. This was the last Mercedes-Benz Group C car. However, it proved unable to replicate the victories of the C 9 and C 11 in previous years.
1986 to 1996: German Touring Car Championship DTM and International Touring Car Championship ITC
In August 1983, the new 190 E 2.3-16 was on its way to its world record runs in Nardò. By this time, Mercedes-Benz had ceased work on the rally version of the W 201, and was focusing on developing the compact class racing sports cars for the racetrack. The possibility of a return by Mercedes-Benz with this vehicle to international motor sports was already on the horizon in 1984: for the official inaugural race at the new Nürburgring racetrack on 12 May 1984, Daimler-Benz provided 20 identical Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16 cars. The new and decidedly sporty compact-class model had had its press trial drive a few days earlier on the redesigned track. At the wheels were 20 former Nürburgring winners, either in the German Grand Prix or the 1,000-kilometre event – including Jack Brabham, Hans Herrmann, Phil Hill, Denis Hulme, James Hunt, Alan Jones, Niki Lauda, Klaus Ludwig, Stirling Moss, Alain Prost, Keke Rosberg, Jody Scheckter, Ayrton Senna, and John Surtees.
The drivers – whose names read like a who’s who of motor sports – each drove one of these 190 E 2.3-16 cars, whose engineering and looks were essentially unchanged from the production model. The most striking difference from the production car was the integrated roll cage. The inaugural race was won by Ayrton Senna, then just 24 years of age, who had already made a name for himself as an outstanding up and coming Formula 1 driver.
In 1985, the 190 E 2.3-16 received its homologation (“compliance”: rules specifying the minimum number of vehicles that must be built to be classified in a specific competitive category) for racing in groups A and N. The main priority for Mercedes-Benz was the international German Touring Car Championship. The 190 E 2.3-16 had a power output of up to 220 kW (300 hp), and was at first raced by some private teams that included AMG in the Group A championship in 1986. Volker Weidler finished the season at the first go as the runner-up in the championship with the racing touring car, powered by a 16-valve engine prepared by AMG. In 1988, as many as five teams entered the DTM championship with factory support from Mercedes-Benz. Roland Asch was second in the overall standings for the season with his 190 E 2.3-16 Group A car. This season also marked the definitive return of Mercedes-Benz to motor sport, when they also officially entered a works team in the Group C championship.
In 1989, the 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution was developed on the basis of the Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16 as a new variant specifically designed for competition in the German Touring Car Championship. As the name of the car indicates, it now had a new engine under the bonnet: the 2.5-litre sixteen-valve engine produced up to 250 kW (340 hp) of power. To get the car’s weight down to the required limit of 1,040 kilograms, the engineers removed almost all interior trim, and many body components, such as the bonnet, boot lid and spoiler, were made of Kevlar®, an extremely tear-resistant and tensile synthetic fibre for high loads.
1990 saw the arrival of the AMG-Mercedes 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution II racing touring cars, now with an engine output rating of 274 kW (373 hp). Work on the racing car had already started in August 1989. In order to gain homologation for the car, Mercedes-Benz had to build at least 500 of them, and in May 1990 the last of the 502 cars made rolled off the assembly lines at the Bremen plant. AMG then handled the further optimisation and outfitting of the racing sports car. The racing début of the Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution II took place on 16 June 1990, on the Nordschleife (northern circuit) of the Nürburgring track. Starting with the season’s final DTM race on 15 October 1990 at the Hockenheimring, all the factory-supported teams were up to Evo II specification.
There was plenty of thrilling racing against tough competition from Audi, BMW, and Opel, but the fast Mercedes-Benz touring cars became increasingly successful, which soon translated into championship titles: in the 1991 season, Klaus Ludwig finished as the runner-up in his Mercedes-Benz, and the Stuttgart-based company won the DTM constructors’ title for the first time. In 1992, Ludwig then won the championship together with the constructors’ title, Kurt Thiim in second and Bernd Schneider in third place completed the sweep. Roland Asch finished as the runner-up in the drivers’ standings of Class 1 in 1993, ahead of Bernd Schneider. The constructors’ title was also won by Mercedes-Benz. The Evo models ended their racing career in late 1993 with a total of 52 victories. They were replaced in the 1994 season by the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, which would become the most successful DTM car ever.
In April 1994, Mercedes-Benz scored its first DTM victory with the new racing touring car based on the C-Class. The 2.5-litre six-cylinder engine was derived from the engine used in the E 420, with the racing version developing more than 294 kW (400 hp) of power. With this car, whose body concealed pure-bred racing technology, Klaus Ludwig finished atop the drivers' standings in the German Touring Car championship in 1994, ahead of team-mate Jörg van Ommen. And Mercedes-Benz won its fourth consecutive constructors’ title. In 1995, a sister series to the DTM was established – the International Touring Car Championship (ITC). Mercedes-Benz entered that year’s competition with a further advanced AMG-Mercedes C-Class touring car, whose driver’s seat had been moved further back and towards the middle – a safer position for the driver. The unibody formed a single structure together with the integrated roll cage, giving this generation of racing touring cars up to 300 per cent greater rigidity than earlier designs. Bernd Schneider was the clear winner of the DTM and ITC in 1995, and Mercedes-Benz also took the constructors’ title in both series.
After the German Touring Car Championship ended in 1995, Mercedes-Benz entered the new 1996 racing version of the C-Class in the International Touring Car Championship, which also came to an end after that year. During the years between 1986 and 1996, Mercedes-Benz had established itself as the most successful brand over the entire DTC/ITC period, with its fast racing touring cars based on the 190 E and the C-Class. The Stuttgart-based company had notched up 84 wins, 4 drivers’ championships, and 5 constructors’ titles, as well as being runners-up for the constructors’ title on 10 occasions.
In subsequent years, Mercedes-Benz entered the FIA GT championship with the 1997 CLK-GTR racing touring car and the 1998 Mercedes CLK-LM racing touring car. The 1997 CLK-GTR, jointly developed with AMG, was the first production racing car with a Daimler-Benz mid-engine. Its six-litre V12 produced 464 kW (631 hp) of power. With another engine variant, the car was also available for sale as a sports car for use on public roads. Bernd Schneider won the GT1 drivers’ championship in 1997.
The CLK-LM took over during the 1998 racing season. Originally the new racing touring car powered by a V8 engine had been developed specifically for the Le Mans 24-Hour Race. While Mercedes-Benz did not win the marathon event in June 1998, the rest of the season was extremely successful, and Klaus Ludwig became the 1998 FIA GT champion in his CLK-LM. AMG-Mercedes also won the constructors’ title for the second time.
Another car developed in 1999 for Le Mans was the Mercedes-Benz CLR GT prototype, with an overall height of just 1,012 millimetres. Work on the design and construction of the vehicle that met the rigorous demands of the Le Mans 24-Hour Race had started in September 1998. The development objectives were aerodynamics for maximum speed with relatively low negative lift, the lowest possible weight, and optimum stability to enable the car’ s technical components to withstand constant maximum stress over a 24-hour period. The new car was based on the CLK-LM from the previous year. In spite of intensive preliminary trials and long-distance tests, Mark Webber and Peter Drumbeck suffered accidents due to aerodynamic problems, and Mercedes-Benz pulled the third vehicle out of the race.
Since 2000: German Touring Car Masters (DTM)
The DTM returned to the racetrack in 2000. However, the abbreviation now stood for the name of a new racing series, the German Touring Car Masters. The racing car builders of Hans Werner Aufrecht (HWA) in Affalterbach developed the Mercedes-Benz CLK-DTM racing touring car for Mercedes-Benz to start in the new DTM. This new touring vehicle managed to bridge the gap between low development and racing costs on the one hand, and top performances to pull in the crowds on the other – these were the parameters agreed upon between the participating manufacturers, following the cost explosion in the old DTM.
The ground-breaking DTM regulations were designed to ensure competition on an equal footing and keep costs under control. It defined rigorous constraints for the constructors, calling for maximum creativity within the rules of the series. The backbone of the rear-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz coupé with a 4-litre V8 engine developing around 330 kW (449 hp) of power was a spaceframe to which the engine and wheel suspension were bolted. An additional, safety cage made from carbon-fibre composites, enclosed the seat and head restraints, pedals, gear lever, steering-column mount, and belt system. The radiators were in front of the front axle. They had a two-piece design to create space for a one-metre-long additional carbon-fibre crash member. The contours of the body over the safety cage, comprising the roof, side walls, and steel-panel doors, had the same outline as the Mercedes-Benz CLK production model.
The eight-cylinder engine designed by HWA had no direct links to any other Mercedes-Benz engine. Two air restrictors with a diameter of 28 millimetres limited intake air, thereby limiting both power output and engine speed. The latter did not exceed 8,000 rpm, whereas torque reached more than 400 newton metres. Gears were changed sequentially, with specified ratios for the six gears. There was, however, a choice of nine primary reduction gears, so the car could be set up for the various tracks. Bernd Schneider won the drivers’ championship title in the 2000 season with his D2 AMG-Mercedes, the HWA/AMG team won the team title.
Schneider repeated his success in 2001: with two races left before the final race of the season, the man from Germany’s Saarland region had successfully defended his title. Schneider was the runner-up for Mercedes-Benz in 2002, and in 2003 the Stuttgart team’s DTM coupés achieved a clean sweep of the drivers’ championship (Bernd Schneider, Christijan Albers, and Marcel Fässler), as they had already done in 2001. At the same time, the 2003 season also yielded a fourth consecutive constructors’ championship.
2004 marked a decisive point in the history of the DTM: the new vehicles now were derived from mid-sized saloons rather than coupés. Accordingly, Mercedes-Benz entered the competition with a new AMG-Mercedes C-Class, but with the same engine as in the CLK versions used since 2000. In 2004, these were driven by the juniors of the Mercedes-Benz team. Gary Paffett finished second in the drivers’ championship for the season, followed by Christijan Albers. The constructors’ title in 2004 was won by Audi.
In 2005, former Formula 1 world champion Mika Häkkinen took the wheel of an AMG-Mercedes C-Class, thereby returning to active motor sports. Among other things, the new-generation vehicle had a modified spoiler lip on the rear aerofoil, in line with the new DTM aerodynamics rules. Gary Paffett won the 2005 driver’s title, while Bernd Schneider took the 2006 championship in an AMG-Mercedes C-Class. Mercedes-Benz won the constructors’ championship in both years.
In the 2007 season, Mercedes-Benz started a DTM touring racing car based on the C-Class of model series 204. At the end of an exciting season, Bruno Spengler was the runner-up, with Paul di Resta recording the same result in 2008. In 2009, Gary Paffett finished as the runner-up, followed by Paul di Resta. In 2008, 2009, and 2010, Mercedes-Benz also regained the DTM team title. The drivers’ championship in 2010 was won by Paul di Resta, with Gary Paffett as the runner-up and Bruno Spengler in third place: this was the third time Mercedes-Benz took the first three places in the German Touring Car Masters season standings. For the 2012 season, the DTM vehicles retained their engines, transmissions and drivetrain configurations unchanged. However, major modifications to the bodywork were permitted. The most striking feature was the use of two-door coupé bodies with the mandatory use of identical carbon-fibre standardised monocoques with crash boxes at the front, rear and both sides, front splitter, rear aerofoil, transmission, and propeller shaft. Gary Paffett finished as the runner-up in a DTM AMG-Mercedes C-Class Coupé of the C 204 model series, ahead of his team mate Jamie Green.
In the 2013 season, the touring racing cars competing in the DTM remain largely unchanged in terms of technical features. However, one innovation was the use of the drag reduction system (DRS) familiar from Formula 1 racing, which allowed folding the rear aerofoil to reduce drag and thus make higher straightline speeds possible.
Customer sport under the sign of the star
In late March 2010, Mercedes-Benz presented the SLS AMG GT3 in Puebla (Mexico), a thoroughbred racing version of the super sports car that among other things had a more powerful engine. The vehicle was designed for customer sport. The concept complied with the GT3 regulations of the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile). Its racing series for near-production GT cars became increasingly important in 2010. Compared with the production version, the SLS AMG GT3 modifications featured enhanced aerodynamics, a roll cage and the “ HANS, Head and Neck Support” protective device familiar from Formula 1 racing.
The concept was a complete success: the SLS AMG GT3 is seeing action in more than 22 racing series on five continents. The 2012 season was crowned with 43 victories and 9 championship titles. The impressive record of the SLS AMG GT3 experienced a new high point in the 2013 motor sport year. After winning the GT long-distance classics of Dubai/United Arab Emirates, Bathurst/Australia, and at the Nürburgring, other 24-hour victories such as in the traditional Spa-Francorchamps race and in Barcelona followed. The impressive victory in the 24-hour race at the Nürburgring was also the 100th victory for the racing touring car since the start of the customer sport programme in 2010.
In 2013, Mercedes-Benz introduced the A 45 AMG and CLA 45 AMG performance models – also vehicles with pronounced motor sport qualities. With a relatively low entry price, the CLA 45 AMG Racing Series and its combination of high-performance engine, all-wheel drive and perfect aerodynamics is also suited for use in customer sport events.
480 km at Monza, April 29, 1990. Mauro Baldi (starting number 1) leads with a Mercedes-Benz group C racing sports car C11. The team Baldi/Schlesser win the race.
ADAC Avus Race in Berlin, 12 September 1993. Winner (1. and 2. Run) Roland Asch (number 12) with his AMG Mercedes race-touring car 190 E-class 1.
FIA GT Championship in Laguna Seca (California, USA), 26 October 1997. Bernd Schneider wins driving his Mercedes CLK-GTR racing touring car (C 297).
A modern-day smoke silver chariot of fire: Ralf Schumacher‘s Trilux AMG Mercedes C-Class during the 2009 DTM season.
Opening of the season at Hockenheim: Paul di Resta with his AMG Mercedes C-Class comes fifth in the race at Hockenheim.
Opening race at the new Nürburgring, 12 May 1984. In a Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16 (W 201), Ayrton Senna da Silva (starting number 11) wins the race in competition with 19 of the best drivers, all of whom start with identical cars.
DTM 2006 in Le Mans. Bernd Schneider on Mercedes-Benz C-Klasse DTM touring car on his way to his fifth championship title.
Bernd Schneider on Mercedes-Benz CLK-GTR becomes driver champion of the FIA-GT championship 1997.
SLS AMG GT3 Customer Sports: Overall victory at the Spa-Francorchamps 24 Hours 2013
24 Hours of Le Mans, 10-11 June 1989. Sauber-Mercedes C 9, Group C racing car,. Starting number 63 – winners: Jochen Mass / Manuel Reuter / Stanley Dickens.
En route to becoming DTM runner-up in 2004: Gary Paffett in the AMG-Mercedes C-Class during qualifying for the DTM race at Brno on 18 September 2004.
AMG Mercedes C-Class racing tourer (W 203), DTM race in Hockenheim, 2005. Bernd Schneider won the race, his 39th DTM victory in his 200th race.
Gary Paffett, pictured here at the DTM race in Hockenheim, was crowned champion of the 2005 season driving the DaimlerChrysler Bank AMG-Mercedes.
Bernd Schneider, the season’s eventual winner, driving the Vodafone AMG-Mercedes during qualifying for the 2006 DTM race at the Nürburgring.
FIA GT Championship, Dijon race, 12 July 1998. Klaus Ludwig and Ricardo Zonta win the fourth race of the season in a Mercedes-Benz CLK-LM. At the end of the season, in which all ten races are won by a CLK-GTR or CLK-LM, they win the driver title ahead of Bernd Schneider/Mark Webber.
ITC race in Suzuka (1st heat), 10 November, 1996. Winner Dario Franchitti (starting number 2) in an AMG Mercedes C-Class racing touring car (W 202). Bernd Schneider wins the runner-up title of the 1996 ITC season with the same vehicle.
Touring Car Grand Prix at Nürburgring, 3 September 1990. Klaus Ludwig (starting number 7) in the Mercedes AMG 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution II (W 201) touring car.
Eifel race at the Nürbugring, May 8, 1994. AMG Mercedes C-Class racing touring car.