By the early 1990’s the popularity of the World Sportscar Championship was at an all-time high. Involvement from huge manufacturers like Porsche, Toyota, Jaguar, Nissan and Mercedes meant spectacular races with blisteringly fast machinery. The category had grown so immensely popular that it was even starting to threaten the position of Formula 1.
Group C as a category had been home to the fire-spitting, 1000 horsepower, turbocharged C1 cars and the lesser naturally aspirated C2 cars. The latter division had experienced some problems with reliability, due to the often used Cosworth DFL engines expiring before race end. For the FISA this supposedly meant bad business, so an attempt was made to rule out C2 cars beginning in 1990. To replace it they made a rather curious decision.
A new naturally aspirated 3.5L category was introduced, which used engine specs eerily similar to those used in Formula 1 at the time. This effectively meant that only Formula 1 engines could be used, as there were no real alternatives. Another measure instated by the FISA was the banning of the big C1 cars after the 1991 season.
In the meantime the turbocharged monsters would be moved down to “Category 2” and receive weight penalties to bring them down to the “Category 1” 3.5L performance level. The changes caused almost every former C2-team to leave the series, as the F1-engines were stupidly expensive to run for these privateer entries.
The rising costs left the new formula almost exclusively to major manufacturers. Peugeot, Toyota, Jaguar and Mercedes all developed a new 3.5L car. As a result the championship received a big wound, which started to slowly bleed out. The entry sheets were slimming down steadily, with more and more teams dropping out.
Some say a certain high ranking Formula 1 official had suggested the changes, as he was starting to feel the pinch from the wildly popular WSC. As a side-effect of killing WSC he would force major manufacturers to build expensive F1-engines, an investment he knew they would like to use for an extended period of time. As soon as the WSC crumbled this would lure them into F1. His plan worked perfectly, as the series died after a dismal 1992 season. Consequently, both Peugeot and Mercedes joined Formula 1 by 1995.
One privateer caught in the crossfire was team owner/driver Franz Konrad. The Austrian had been a loyal customer to Porsche’s Group C program over the years, and had enjoyed successes with their dominant 962 model. Konrad would have been happy to continue this way, but the new rules instated by the FIA gave him a bit of a headache. Porsche had no interest in developing a new car for the 3.5L formula, which left him without any wheels.
Not content with just giving up and finding another series, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He set about building an entirely new chassis through the process of reverse engineering. Together with his engineers he closely studied the 962 and used it as a template for his new car.
With absolute power and top speed no longer the objective in the 3.5L era, the body of the KM-011 was geared for more downforce.
With his team occupied with loosely copying the Porsche’s chassis, Franz Konrad focused on his second mission point: finding an engine. To this end he contacted American automotive giant Chrysler, who had recently purchased Lamborghini. Shortly after its acquisition by Chrysler, Lamborghini had started supplying a dedicated Formula 1 engine it had designed earlier to the backmarking Larrousse-Lola team in 1989 and Lotus in 1990.
Chrysler was eager to rejoin the sportscar racing scene with Lamborghini. It wanted to make the public forget all about the first failed attempt with the Lamborghini Countach QVX back in 1985. The 3512 V12 engine was not a front runner in Formula 1 though, and it suffered from consistent reliability problems. Chrysler assured Franz Konrad that their engineers were assisting Lamborghini to make the engine a real contender. With the deal done the furious 600 horsepower V12 was mated to a 5-speed manual transmission and fitted to the finished chassis, designated KM-011.
The car was then entered into the fifth round of the World Sportscar Championship at the Nürburgring GP-Strecke. Driving the KM-011 were Franz Konrad himself and the hugely experienced former Ferrari F1-driver Stefan Johansson (SWE). Despite the obvious talent behind the wheel, the car suffered from technical issues and failed to qualify for the event. This forced Konrad to wheel out his old 962. Together with Harald Becker (GER) he managed a respectable 9th place overall.
The KM-011’s second chance came at the next round, which took place at Magny Cours, France. Stefan Johansson returned and together with Franz Konrad managed 10th on the grid. The car was actually 4 seconds slower than the fastest of the older Category 2 cars, but the split in categories meant it could start in front with the other Category 1 machines. In reality the KM-011 had qualified a disappointing 16th overall. The situation took a turn for the worse when the starter motor refused to turn over at the car’s first pit stop. After just 18 laps the car was again stranded.
Despite the adversity faced in the final European rounds of the 1991 championship, Franz Konrad decided to press on. He gathered the funds to send the KM-011 on a transatlantic flight for the seventh round of the championship at Autódromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Mexico City.
There a slight improvement was made with 9th on the grid (17th overall time). This time the car got a decent amount of laps in after a successful race start. Sadly the count wouldn’t go past 36, when a destroyed transmission ended the race prematurely.
With the Interserie excursion again a minor disaster, Konrad flew the car to Japan. Reunited with Stefan Johansson he managed another 10th place (11th overall time) on the grid. So far not much had changed about the speed of the car. Reliability was in similar short supply. After just 24 laps the KM-011 suffered both a suspension and a transmission failure, and was out of the running.
The car made one final appearance at an Interserie round at the Nürburgring in early 1992. In the smaller, less professional field it finally made a good showing. In the first heat it clinched a 3rd place podium finish, followed by a 4th in the second. By this time all the flying around the globe and fixing expensive parts had become too much to handle for Franz Konrad, and funding for the project disappeared. Although the car was on the entry list for the 1992 World Sportscar Championship, it never showed up again.
The Konrad KM-011 was born out of pure necessity. Peculiar championship-killing rule changes by the FISA forced Franz Konrad to abandon his comfy position as a customer and start for himself. As with all Category 1 entries, reliability was a tremendous issue.
Aside from the few privateer entries, even the major manufacturers had trouble to make the flimsy F1-engines work in an endurance format. The KM-011 was both a child and a victim of these troubled times, and remains the only car Konrad Motorsport ever built.