FIA-GT: Mercedes-Benz Sweeps FIA GT Championship Season Opener
14 April 1998MONTVALE, N.J. Mercedes-Benz scored a clean sweep of the victory podium at the FIA GT Championship season opener in Oschersleben, Germany, as Team AMG-Mercedes driver Klaus Ludwig led a trio CLK-GTRs across the finish line. The first ever one-two-three victory for the series, the result marked Mercedes' third consecutive win in FIA GT competition. The Silver Arrows captured the penultimate and final rounds of the series last season to claim the 1997 driver's and team championships.
Porsche presented the biggest challenge for the four-car, eight-driver Mercedes-Benz contingent, with its new 911 GT1 setting the pace early. By the end of the 500 km event, however, the V12-powered CLK-GTRs had proved that speed is nothing without reliability.
Former Formula 3000 champion Ricardo Zonta, making his first appearance with Team AMG-Mercedes, partnered Ludwig in the winning car, and Marcel Tiemann and Jean-Marc Gounon claimed the runner-up spot in the first of two Team Persson Motorsport CLK-GTRs. Despite losing their left front wheel late in the race, Australian Mark Webber, co-driving with 1997 FIA GT Champion Bernd Schneider, was able to limp around to the pit lane for repairs, re- join the race and finish third. A fourth CLK-GTR, driven by Persson Motorsport pilots Bernd Maylaender and Christophe Bouchut, retired after 91 laps with gearbox trouble.
Round two of the FIA GT Championship is scheduled for May 17 at the Silverstone circuit in England.
Among Formula One, CART and FIA GT events, Mercedes-Benz won 40 percent of the races it entered in 1997, claiming titles in two of the three categories. The three-pointed star has continued that momentum into 1998, scoring a pair of one-two victories in the first three F-1 races, two seconds and a fourth in the FedEx Championship Series, as well as this most recent FIA GT success. Mercedes' motorsports heritage dates back more than a century to the world's first auto race.