Ludwig and Zonta Take Race and Championship at Laguna AMG-Mercedes Ten for Ten in 1998 FIA GT Championship
MONTEREY, Calif. (Oct. 25, 1998) – After 30 successful years behind the wheel, Klaus Ludwig will retire as a champion. The German racer passed the torch to his 22-year-old Brazilian co-driver Ricardo Zonta as the two drove their Mercedes CLK-LM to victory at the 1998 FIA GT Championship season finale at Laguna Seca Raceway, besting teammates Bernd Schneider and Mark Webber, who completed the seventh one-two finish of the year for Team AMG-Mercedes.
Schneider and Webber finished second in the championship, eight points behind Ludwig and Zonta, while Mercedes-Benz enjoyed a clean sweep of all 10 FIA GT rounds.
"I’m extremely happy about the championship," said Ludwig. "This was a sensational achievement by the team, and my co-driver Ricardo is the best I could have asked for. I want to thank especially Norbert Haug and Hans Werner Aufrecht, who brought me back to AMG Mercedes."
Zonta said, "This was a real tough title fight. I had to give it my all to keep the gap to Mark Webber wide enough to make it. The fact that we both went off because of oil on the track shows how close to the limit we were. I’m really happy about the title and that I could win it together with Klaus."
Zonta scored his fourth pole of the season, equaling the total of Schneider and Webber, but Ludwig started the race, leading from Schneider, who had qualified second. Schneider made his first stop, taking on fuel only at lap 45. Ludwig pitted from the lead one lap later, handing his CLK-LM--with new Bridgestone tires--over to Zonta.
Now leading, Schneider fought to widen the margin over Zonta, knowing that his second stop, for fuel and new tires, would be longer than the first. With Schneider held up by lapped traffic, however, Zonta kept the gap to 12 seconds. Schneider pitted on lap 92, giving the car to Webber and the lead to Zonta, who needed only fuel during his second stop.
Both drivers went off course exiting the pits due to oil on the track. Each continuing, Zonta set fast lap of the race with a time of 1m19.156s on lap 119, then Webber posted a time of 1m19.094 on lap 127, setting a new GT record.
Despite valiant efforts, however, Webber was only able to close to within 10.891 seconds by the wave of the checkered flag.
"Failing to win the title after 10 races by just 10 seconds shows how tough we raced for the drivers championship this season," said Schneider. "Although Mark and I didn’t manage to win the championship, I’m glad for the team. Congratulations to my old friend Klaus, who deserves to end his career as champion."
Norbert Haug, head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, commented, "This certainly was one of the most exciting championship battles ever. If our title contenders had not been slowed by lapped cars, it would have been even closer in the end. Congratulations to the AMG Team. Ten victories in ten races is a unique achievement even for the best teams."