FIA-GT: On To Le Mans, Mercedes-Benz Team Wins Second-Straight
19 May 1998Montvale, N.J. -- To say the least, last week was a very successful one for the AMG Mercedes-Benz FIA-GT Championship team. The week began with a test session in the south of France, saw the announcement of Mercedes return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans and ended with a victory over Porsche and BMW in the British round of the FIA-GT Championship.
The AMG Mercedes team scored its second-consecutive victory as drivers Bernd Schneider and Mark Webber drove their CLK-GTR entry to their first win of the new season at the Silverstone Circuit in Great Britain, May 16. The win also moved defending series champ Schneider into the early 1998 points lead and provided valuable momentum as the teams prepared for the greatest sports car race in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, June 7-8.
Another AMG Mercedes CLK-GTR driven by Klaus Ludwig and rising-star Ricardo Zonta ran as high as third at the outset but finished fourth behind two Porsches.
A Week of Speed
Four days of successful pre-Le Mans tests in France at Le Circuit Paul Ricard began the week's run-up to the Silverstone win. Then it was straight to England with a "Amomentary" pause Friday, May 15, when Mercedes-Benz Motorsport chief Norbert Haug formally announced what many had expected: Mercedes return to Le Mans for the first time since 1991.
Haug noted that after an accelerated period of development, extensive testing and Le Mans pre-qualifying in which the new race cars were not only fast but reliable, Mercedes-Benz partner AMG would run two completely new Mercedes CLK race cars at Le Mans. Named the Mercedes-Benz CLK-LM, they are powered not by the six-liter V12 engine used by the Silverstone winning car, but by a normally aspirated six-liter V8 based on the M119 production engine from the S-, SL- and E-Class Mercedes-Benz automobiles.
Battle To The End
The Silverstone race itself was a hotly contested battle with Schneider thrilling the fans with his exciting drive to the front after an early race encounter with a competitor dropped him to seventh place. Later, a collision between Uwe Alzen's Porsche and David Brabham's Panoz allowed Schneider to seize the lead and stretch the gap to his pursuers. Teammate Mark Webber took over and extended the lead to 35 seconds before handing the race car back to Schneider for the battle to the end. It was a thrilling charge as the leading pair ran at a record pace despite heavy traffic. In fact, one of the Porsches closed the gap to just eight seconds at the final flag.
Mercedes Motorsport Chief Haug congratulated the entire team on their grueling but highly successful week, "This result is a great compliment to AMG. After four days of Le Mans testing at Paul Ricard they have come here and finished their 'Speedweek' with a great victory. I am very proud of these guys. Since Monday night they have been working flat-out at Paul Ricard and since Friday at Silverstone. What better reward could they have than winning?"
1998 FIA GT Series
Driver Standings 1. Bernd Schneider, AMG Mercedes 14 Mark Webber, AMG Mercedes 14 3. Klaus Ludwig, AMG Mercedes 13 Ricardo Zonta, AMG Mercedes 13 5. Jean-Marc Gounon, AMG Mercedes 6 Marcel Tiemann, AMG Mercedes 6 Uwe Alzen, Porsche 6 Jorg Muller, Porsche 6
Team Standings 1. AMG Mercedes 27 2. Zakspeed Racing 8 3. Team Persson 6 Porsche 6