Two Silver Arrows at Le Mans Participation of two Mercedes CLK-LM in 24-Hour Classic confirmed
Stuttgart. On 15 May Daimler-Benz announced their participation in the Le Mans 24 Hours. Mercedes-Benz partner AMG will run two new Mercedes CLK-LM with the driver teams comprising Bernd Schneider (33), Klaus Ludwig (48), Mark Webber (21) and Christophe Bouchut (31), Jean-Marc Gounon (35) and Ricardo Zonta (22).
The decision to participate in the French long-distance classic for the first time since 1991 was taken following a successful series of tests which was completed with good results in the Le Mans pre-qualifying. During this exciting contest, which decided which teams were qualified to take part in the Le Mans race, the best lap times achieved by Porsche, Toyota and Mercedes changed continuously in the last 15 minutes. In the end Bernd Schneider was third just about four tenths of a second behind the Porsche of fastest qualifier Alan McNish with a time of 3m38.057s. The second Mercedes CLK-LM with the Le Mans specialists Christophe Bouchut and Jean-Marc Gounon and Junior Ricardo Zonta did not have to qualify as one car of the AMG Mercedes team was already seeded by the race promoter following the team's FIA GT title win last year. "The tests run so far and the Le Mans pre-qualifying have shown that the new Mercedes CLK-LM is not only fast but also reliable after such a short time of development," states Norbert Haug, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport. "My compliments to the AMG team which has worked hard in the last months to make the participation in the Le Mans race possible. In the remaining three weeks of preparation before the race we have to make best use of the findings of our second long distance test which we performed at Paul Ricard since last Tuesday." The first test in the form of a 24-hour race simulation had taken place at Homestead in Florida.
The Mercedes CLK-LM is a completely new car which, in contrast to the CLK-GTR - last year's championship winning car which finished 1-2-3 in the Oschersleben opening FIA GT round this year - is not powered by a six-litre V12 engine but has a normally aspirated six-litre V8 engine installed. This new engine is based on the M119 production engine from the S, SL and E-class and it had already been used in the Mercedes sports prototypes when Mercedes-Benz officially returned to the race tracks in 1988. In 1989 a Mercedes C9 won with a five-litre turbo version of the M119 engine with Jochen Mass, Stanley Dickens and Manuel Reuter at the wheel.