Champion Silver Arrows Return to the United States Mercedes-Benz CLK-LM Takes Up Where the CLK-GTR Left Off
MONTVALE, N.J. (Oct. 12, 1998) -- The 1998 FIA GT driver’s championship will be decided in the United States, but the 1998 Mercedes-Benz CLK-LM has already succeeded in defending the title won last year by its older sibling, the CLK-GTR. Both versions of Mercedes’ championship-winning "Silver Arrows" will race side-by-side during the final two events of the FIA GT Championship season in Homestead, Fla., Oct. 18, and Monterey, Calif., Oct. 25.
In 1997, the Mercedes-Benz CLK-GTR captured the imagination of race fans all over the world. With its dramatic styling, brilliant silver livery and unmistakable Mercedes grille and three-pointed star hood ornament, the CLK-GTR carried Bernd Schneider and AMG-Mercedes to the driver and team titles in the inaugural FIA GT Championship Season, winning six of 11 races along the way.
American race fans, who witnessed CLK-GTR victories in the final two rounds of the 1997 season--in Sebring, Fla., and Monterey--were smitten with this latest Mercedes-Benz "Silver Arrow." The readers of RACER magazine went so far as to vote it their 1997 Race Car of the Year.
At the start of the 1998 season, the CLK-GTR continued its winning ways. Team AMG-Mercedes drivers Klaus Ludwig and Ricardo Zonta took victory in the season opener at the new Oschersleben circuit in Germany, with the two-car customer team of Persson Motorsports claiming a second-place finish. And at Silverstone in England, defending series champion Schneider and young Australian co-driver Mark Webber took the win.
But at both of those first two rounds, the "Silver Arrows" were outpaced in qualifying by the entries of the factory Porsche team. Although the reliability of the well-sorted Mercedes cars prevailed in the race, it was clear that the year-old GTR could not match the outright speed of the all-new 911 GT1-98.
Enter the Mercedes-Benz CLK-LM.
Derived from the GTR, the LM uses the same mid-engine, rear-drive layout with double A-arm, pushrod suspension attached to an all-carbon fiber tub and is similarly equipped with carbon/carbon brakes.
Prepared, however, primarily in anticipation of a run at the 24 Hours of Le Mans--hence the "LM" suffix--the LM is powered by a six-liter V8 rather than the GTR’s V12 of the same volume. The lighter, more compact eight-cylinder results in a lower center of gravity, better weight distribution and improved handling. Other changes include a relocation of radiators and related ducts from the nose to the door sills, producing a more aerodynamically slippery shape, perfect for the long, high-speed straights of Le Mans.
In Le Mans trim, with ABS brakes and traction control, the LM was undeniably fast. It ran among the quickest cars during the pre-qualifying weekend for the famous French endurance race and powered Schneider to the pole position during final qualifying.
During the race, however, identical oil pump drive gear failures struck first one Team AMG-Mercedes car and then the other, bringing to an abrupt end Mercedes’ first visit to Le Mans since 1991.
But the CLK-LM was not conceived as a "One-hit Wonder." With its ABS and traction control systems removed and a ride height-limiting skid block installed underneath it, the LM complied with FIA GT regulations. A decrease in engine displacement (by shortening the piston stroke) from six to five liters optimized the package in accordance with the FIA’s engine size-to-weight equivalency formula, as well.
Only three weeks after the disappointment at Le Mans, Team AMG-Mercedes finished first (Schneider/Webber) and second (Ludwig/Zonta) with their FIA GT-spec CLK-LMs at the Hockenheim circuit near Heidelberg, Germany. Persson Motorsport carried on with the CLK-GTRs, claiming a fourth place.
As the season progressed, the CLK-LM proved dominant. Ludwig and Zonta won round four in Dijon, France, and the team scored four more one-two finishes in as many races. Now Bernd Schneider and his co-driver Mark Webber are poised to do battle with their AMG Mercedes teammates Klaus Ludwig and Ricardo Zonta here in the United States to decide the driver’s championship. No matter who comes out ahead on the tracks in Florida and California, the real winners will be the fans who witness these two champion "Silver Arrows" at speed.
FIA GT Championship - 1998 Results
Location Date Winner Team Oschersleben, Germany April 12 Klaus Ludwig/Ricardo Zonta Team AMG Mercedes Silverstone, England May 11 Bernd Schneider/Mark Webber Team AMG Mercedes Hockenheim, Germany June 28 Bernd Schneider/Mark Webber Team AMG Mercedes Dijon, France July 12 Klaus Ludwig/Ricardo Zonta Team AMG Mercedes Budapest, Hungary July 19 Bernd Schneider/Mark Webber Team AMG Mercedes Suzuka, Japan Aug. 23 Bernd Schneider/Mark Webber Team AMG Mercedes Donington, England Sept. 6 Bernd Schneider/Mark Webber Team AMG Mercedes Zeltweg, Austria Sept. 20 Klaus Ludwig/Ricardo Zonta Team AMG Mercedes Homestead, Fla. Oct. 18 Monterey, Calif. Oct. 25
1998 FIA GT Pole Positions:
1. Bernd Schneider/Mark Webber Four
2. Klaus Ludwig/Ricardo Zonta Two
3. Bob Wollek/Allan McNish One
4. Uwe Alzen/Joerg Muller One
1998 FIA GT Team Title:
1. Team AMG Mercedes* 117 points
2. Porsche AG 35
3. Team Persson Motorsport 21
*Clinched title at Donington, England
FIA GT Driver’s Championship:
1. Bernd Schneider/Mark Webber 60 points
2. Klaus Ludwig/Ricardo Zonta 60
3. Yannick Dalmas/Allan McNish 57