The 1980s and 1990s marked the return of Mercedes-Benz to the race track. Initially, in the years from 1985 to 1991, the star was worn by Group C racing sports cars. They were joined by racing touring cars from 1986 in the German Touring Car Championship (DTM) and the International Touring Car Championship (ITC) in the years up to 1996. And finally the process culminated with the return to motor sport at the highest level: Formula One racing.
Participation in the FIA GT championship was followed in 2000 by competition in the new German Touring Car Master Championship (DTM). Mercedes-Benz drivers have so far won six DTM championship titles (including four for Bernd Schneider), and have been runners-up nine times and in third place on six occasions. Mercedes-Benz won the brand championship every year from 2000 to 2003, in 2005 and 2006, and again from 2008 to 2010. The Stuttgart-based racing stable 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 stable of Peter Sauber in Zurich to supply engines for its Group C racing series of sports car prototypes. This was the first step towards Mercedes-Benz’s return to international motor racing following its withdrawal in 1955. Sauber had been competing in the Group C category 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, fitted with a Mercedes-Benz M 117 engine – a V8 unit with displacement of 4973 cc. The C 8 promptly won the ADAC 1000-km race at the Nürburgring racetrack in 1986.
The C 9 was used from 1987 to 1989, eventually becoming the first Sauber-Mercedes and racing from 1989 as a Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrow. It went by various names during the construction period, according to the sponsorship arrangements. During the 1987 season it was known as the Kouros-Mercedes, then as the Sauber-Mercedes until 1989, and it finally started a race in 1990 as a Mercedes-Benz. Up until 1988, the engine for the C 9 was the M 117, taken from the C 8, until its replacement in 1989 with the new M 119 engine – also a V8, with a displacement of 4973 cc.
From 1988 onwards Mercedes-Benz was again competing as an official works team in Group C for racing sports cars. The Sauber-Mercedes C 9, developing over 515 kW, 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 Sauber-Mercedes racers were fitted with the new V8 biturbo M 119 engine with four-valve technology, which was able to develop up to 680 kW in short bursts. Along with a range of technical enhancements, the cars were also now painted in silver, as a clear signal that Mercedes-Benz was back, and looking to emulate its past successes on the race circuit. The new Silver Arrow won a total of 16 out of 18 races in 1989 and 1990, including the 24-hour Le Mans event 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 the world championship, including both the drivers’ and constructors’ titles. At the wheel were Jean-Louis Schlesser, already world champion in 1989, and co-driver Mauro Baldi. This was also the year the Mercedes-Benz Juniors Team was established, with drivers including Michael Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Karl Wendlinger. 20 years later, Schumacher would be back in the cockpit of a Silver Arrow as a Formula One driver.
1991 saw changes to Group C regulations, prohibiting supercharged engines and limiting displacement to 3.5 litres. Mercedes-Benz developed a new V12 engine to these specifications for its new C 291 racing car. This was the last Mercedes-Benz Group C car, but 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 the International Touring Car Championship ITC
In summer 1983, the new 190 E 2.3-16 model was on its way to the Nardo track and a crop of world records. Mercedes-Benz had now 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 to international motor sport with this vehicle was signalled already in 1984, when for the official inaugural race at the new Nürburgring racetrack on 12 May Daimler-Benz AG lined up with 20 identical Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16 vehicles. The new compact-class model was a quintessential sports car, which had had its press trial drive a few days before on the redesigned track. Behind the wheel were 20 former winners at the Nürburgring, either in the German Grand Prix or the 1000-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.
Each of these drivers – whose names read like a who’s who of motor sport – did a lap of the circuit in one of these 190 E 2.3-16 vehicles, whose engineering and looks were substantially 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 and already making a name for himself as an outstanding Formula One prospect.
In 1985, the 190 E 2.3-16 was homologated for racing in Groups A and N. The main priority for Mercedes-Benz was the international German Touring Car Championship. The first 221 kW 190 E 2.3-16 vehicles entered in the Group A championship in 1986 were driven by a number of private teams, including AMG. Volker Weidler finished the season as runner-up in the championship with the racing touring car, powered with a 16-valve engine prepared by AMG. In 1988, as many as five teams entered the DTM championship with works support from Mercedes-Benz, and Roland Asch was second in the overall standings for the season with his 190 E 2.3-16 group A vehicle. This season also marked the definitive return of Mercedes-Benz to motor racing, when they also officially entered the Group C championship as a works team.
In 1989, the 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution was developed on the basis of the Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2, as a new variant specifically designed for competition in the German Touring Car Championship. As the name of the car indicates, it had a new engine under the bonnet – a 2.5-litre six-valve unit developing 245 kW. To get the car’s weight down to the required 1040-kg limit, 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- and tension-proof synthetic fibre for highly stressed components.
1990 saw the arrival of the AMG Mercedes 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution II racing touring car, now with an engine output rating of 274 kW. Work on the car had started in August 1989. In order to gain homologation for the car, Mercedes-Benz had to produce at least 500 of them, and in May 1990 the last of the 502 units made rolled off the production line in the Bremen plant. AMG then took over as the partner responsible for the enhancements and equipment of the racing sports car. The racing debut of the Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution II took place on 16 June 1990, on the northern loop of the Nürburgring circuit. As from the final DTM race on 15 October 1990 at the Hockenheimring, all the works-supported teams were up to Evo II specification.
There was plenty of thrilling racing against tough competition from Audi, BMW and Opel, but the speed of the Mercedes-Benz touring cars saw them gain increasing success, which soon translated into championship titles. In the 1991 season, Klaus Ludwig was championship runner-up in his Mercedes-Benz, and the Stuttgart firm became DTM brand champions for the first time. Ludwig then won the drivers’ championship in 1992, and the firm also again won the brand title. Kurt Thiim was second in the driver’s standings, and Bernd Schneider third, giving a clean sweep in the driver stakes.
If the car’s debut at the Nürburgring is included, 1993 was the tenth racing season of the Mercedes-Benz 190 E. For this year, Mercedes-Benz developed the AMG Mercedes 190 E Class 1, as the successor to the AMG Mercedes 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution II that had won the championship in 1992. The new name reflected changes to the DTM regulations, whereby the racing sports cars had to be based on a minimum number of 2500 units built in twelve consecutive months. Accordingly, the basis for the Class 1 vehicles was the Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.5-16, rather than the highly successful Evo II, of which only 500 units had been produced.
The AMG Mercedes 190 E Class 1 weighed 1000 kilograms, as required by the regulations. This made it 20 kilograms heavier than the 1992 car. A new feature was the position of the engine, which was placed 5 centimetres lower and 12 centimetres further to the rear than in the Evo II. Also new were parts of the body and the front wheel suspension, now comprising wishbones, MacPherson strut and stabiliser. The engine specifications were virtually identical to those of the Evo II. Roland Asch was runner-up in the drivers’ championship in 1993 in a 190 E Class 1, followed by Bernd Schneider, and the brand championship again went to Mercedes-Benz.
1994 was the first year that Mercedes-Benz entered a C-Class-based racing touring car in the DTM. The 2.5-litre six-cylinder engine was based on the E 420 powerplant, with the racing version developing over 294 kW. The car’s thoroughgoing racing design gave Klaus Ludwig the drivers’ title in the 1994 German Touring Car championship, followed by fellow team member Jörg van Ommen. And Mercedes-Benz won its fourth consecutive brand title.
In 1995, a sister series was established alongside the DTM, in the form of the International Touring Car Championship (ITC). Mercedes-Benz entered that year’s competition with an enhanced AMG Mercedes C-Class racing touring car, with the driver’s seat moved back and towards the middle, as a safer position for the driver. The unitised body structure with integrated roll cage was a key feature of the design, giving this generation of racing touring cars up to 300 per cent greater rigidity than in previous designs. Bernd Schneider was a convincing winner of the DTM and ITC, and
Mercedes-Benz also took the brand championship 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 high-speed racing touring cars based on the 190 E and the C-Class. They had notched up 84 wins, 4 driver’s championships, and 5 brand titles, as well as being runners-up in the brand championship on 10 occasions.
In subsequent years, Mercedes-Benz entered the FIA GT championship with the CLK-GTR racing touring car of 1997 and the Mercedes CLK-LM racing touring car of 1998. The CLK-GTR, jointly developed with AMG, was the first production racing car with a Daimler-Benz mid-engine. The 6-litre V12 unit developed around 440 kW. With another engine variant, the car was also available for sale as a sports car for use on the roads, for customers seeking this type of vehicle. Bernd Schneider won the GT1 drivers’ championship in 1997.
The CLK-LM took over during the 1998 racing season. The new racing touring car powered with a V8 engine was initially 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 was the 1998 FIA GT champion in his CLK-LM. AMG Mercedes also won the constructors’ title for the second time.
Another car developed for Le Mans was the 1999 Mercedes-Benz CLR GT prototype, with a total height of just 1012 millimetres. Work on the design and construction of the vehicle, to meet the rigorous demands of the Le Mans 24-hour event, started in September 1998. The design objectives were aerodynamics for maximum speed with relatively low lift, the lowest possible weight, and optimum stability, to enable the car’s engineering to withstand constant maximum stress over a 24-hour period. The technology of the new car was based on the CLK-LM from the previous year. In spite of intensive preliminary trials, 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, although the abbreviation now stood for the name of a new race series, the German Touring Car Masters. The racing car builders at Hans Werner Aufrecht (HWA) in Affalterbach developed the Mercedes-Benz CLK-DTM racing touring car to enable Mercedes-Benz to start in the new DTM. This new touring vehicle managed to reconcile the conflicting objectives of low development and racing costs on the one hand, and top performances to pull in the crowds on the other. This was the compromise agreed upon between the participating manufacturers, following the cost explosion in the old DTM.
The DTM regulations were a bold new departure, designed to ensure competition on an equal footing and to keep costs under control. The document defined rigorous constraints for the constructors, calling for maximum creativity within the series rules. The backbone of the rear-wheel driven Mercedes-Benz coupé with a 4-litre V8 engine developing around 330 kW was a spaceframe to which the engine and wheel suspension were bolted. An additional safety cage structure, made from carbon fibre composites, enclosed the seat and head support, pedals, gear lever, steering column bearing and belt system. The radiators were ahead of the front axle, in two parts to create just enough 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 in the Mercedes-Benz CLK production model.
The eight-cylinder engine designed by HWA had no direct relationship with any other Mercedes-Benz engine. Two air restrictors with a diameter of 28 millimetres limited intake air, thereby limiting both the power and engine speed. The latter was restricted to 8000 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 hub drives, so the car could be adjusted according to the terrain. Bernd Schneider won the drivers’ championship title for the 2000 season with his D2 AMG-Mercedes, and the HWA/AMG team won the team title.
For 2001, HWA designed a new CLK-DTM car, which differed in many details from its predecessor: the rear fender flares were shaped differently, and there were also changes to the rear wheel arch ventilation and the front skirt. The engine had new intake points and airflow limiters. The power rating was around 338 kW at 8000 rpm. By two races before the final event for the season, Bernd Schneider had successfully defended his championship title by building up an unbeatable lead over the rest of the field. Schneider was runner-up for Mercedes-Benz in 2002, and then, 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. The 2003 season also yielded a fourth consecutive brand championship.
2004 marked a new departure in the DTM series, since the new vehicles were to be 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 coupé versions used since 2000. In 2004, these were driven by the Mercedes-Benz team juniors. Gary Paffett come second in the drivers’ championship for the season, followed by Christijan Albers. The brand championship in 2004 was won by Audi.
In the 2005 season, Mercedes-Benz was represented in the DTM with seven drivers from five countries. One of them was former Formula One driver Mika Häkkinen, returning to active involvement in motor sport at the wheel of an AMG-Mercedes
C-Class, following test drives in 2004. Features of the new-generation vehicle included changes to the rear spoiler lip, in line with modified DTM aerodynamics rules. Gary Paffett won the 2005 driver’s title, while Bernd Schneider took the 2006 championship in his AMG-Mercedes C-Class. Mercedes-Benz won the brand championship in both years.
At the 2007 Geneva Auto Show, Mercedes-Benz presented the new AMG-Mercedes
C-Class, similar to the W 204 production model. Its predecessor models had now accumulated 54 wins in 106 races during the years from 1994 to 1996, and from 2004 to 2006. This made the racing touring car based on the C-Class the most successful car ever in DTM.
March 2006 saw work begin on the development of a new racing car at HWA. The car included a completely new design and manufacturing process for doors, front windscreen and bonnet, to adjust the C-Class vehicle to the new silhouette. Just ten months after work had started, the AMG-Mercedes C-Class appeared on the racetrack for the first time in Estoril, Portugal. At the wheel were Bernd Schneider and Bruno Spengler, DTM champion and runner-up in 2006.
The eight-cylinder V engine with cylinder angle of 90 degrees, displacement of 4 litres and 4 valves per cylinder had been further enhanced. With the two airflow limiters required by the rules, with a diameter of 28 millimetres each, the engine now developed 350 kW at 7500 rpm, with maximum torque of 500 newton metres. The engineers also modified the wheel suspension to further enhance the car’s driving dynamics and handling qualities. Bruno Spengler was runner-up in the DTM championship in 2007, with Paul di Resta recording the same result in 2008. In 2009, Gary Paffett finished runner-up, followed by Paul di Resta. In 2008, 2009, and 2010 Mercedes-Benz also regained the DTM team title. The drivers’ championship for 2010 was won by Paul di Resta, with Gary Paffett as runner-up and Bruno Spengler in place three. This is the third time Mercedes-Benz has taken all three places in the German Touring Car Masters season rankings.