24 Hours of Le Mans Offers Ultimate Challenge For Performance-Minded Mercedes-Benz

MONTVALE, N.J. (June 4, 1999) -- Since the world's first automobile race in 1894 (won by a Daimler-powered car) motor racing has been the ultimate test among automobile manufacturers. Since 1923, the most rigorous and high-profile test for sports cars has been the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. While the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500 are the biggest races each year in the United States, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is the biggest race in the world. The 1999 edition will be held June 12-13, at the historic 8.45-mile temporary circuit outside Le Mans in the Sarthe region of France southwest of Paris. Mercedes-Benz will compete with three brand-new CLR sports-prototypes designed specifically for this race.

Mercedes-Benz CLR To Face Extremely Competitive Field

This year's endurance classic could go down as one of the most competitive in history, as factory-backed efforts from Audi, BMW and Toyota, as well as independent teams campaigning such legendary marques as Ferrari, Porsche and Nissan, will take the green flag along with Mercedes-Benz. To meet the challenge, Mercedes will race with a car that was more than two years in the making. The CLR is the evolution of the extremely successful Mercedes-Benz CLK-GTR and CLK-LM-winners of the 1997 and 1998 FIA GT Championships.

The CLR is powered by a 600-horsepower, normally aspirated, six-liter V8 engine that is based on a production unit (M119). Until 1998, the M119 was used to power S-, SL- and E-class production cars. In fact, a five-liter turbocharged version of the M119 powered Mercedes to its second Le Mans victory a decade ago.

Victory at the 24 Heures du Mans

To date, Mercedes-Benz has won the race the French call the 24 Heures du Mans twice, in 1952 and 1989. It was with Mercedes' first victory that the legend of the 300 SL began. That year, with 300,000 spectators looking on, a pair of three-liter, six-cylinder 300 SL "Gullwings" (named for passenger doors that opened vertically, resembling a bird's wings) finished first and second at Le Mans. Mercedes drivers Hermann Lang and Fritz Riess crossed the finish line mere car lengths ahead of the 300 SL of Theo Helfrich and Norbert Niedermayer, after traveling more than 2,300 miles at an average speed of almost 100 mph. In the process, they defeated the best that Ferrari and Jaguar had to offer. Less than two years later, the 300 SL became a production car-and it is now one of the most sought after vintage sports cars in the world. Mercedes' 1989 victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans came with the Sauber team, as Jochen Mass, Stanley Dickens and Manuel Reuter covered more than 3,200 miles at an average speed of more than 136 mph en route to the checkered flag. Again it was a one-two Mercedes-Benz finish-this time over Jaguar and Porsche. Now the top competitors at Le Mans routinely reach speeds in excess of 200 mph down the famed Mulsanne Straight. The 1999 winners will likely have completed more than 3,000 miles (roughly equivalent to the distance between New York City and Los Angeles) at an average speed of more than 125 mph-all for the fame and glory that only a win at Le Mans can bring. In addition to its effort at Le Mans, Mercedes-Benz provides racing engines to five teams in the CART FedEx Championship Series, and defends its Formula One Constructor's Championship with the West McLaren Mercedes team and Formula One World Champion Mika Hakkinen.