Doomed to Fail: The Mercedes-Benz CLR

This car could have been a Le Mans winner, but it had one main flaw

13w ago

The year is 1999, and there are three main contenders for the win at Le Mans: BMW, Toyota and, of course, Mercedes. The new cars, Toyota's GT-One and Mercedes' CLR, both wield a V8 engine, whilst BMW's improved V12 LMR lines up alongside. However, with Mercedes retiring all 3 cars from the race, the title went to BMW after another gruelling 24-hour race. But what actually happened to the Merc? Well, as it turns out, there was a reason they retired from the race.

Credit: Top Car Rating

Credit: Top Car Rating

In 1999, due to Mercedes' dominance, the majority of GT1 competitors did not show up for the season and the FIA eliminated the category. In order to re-develop their highly successful CLK GTR for LMGTP regulations, they built the CLR. Powered by a V8 engine enlarged to 5.7 litres to meet restrictor limits, this car produced about 600bhp with a weight of just 900kg. It was also lower than its predecessor for less drag, but this, as you may expect, had a major side effect.

Credit: Road & Track

Credit: Road & Track

The CLR's flawed design allowed air to build up underneath the nose, leading to some dreadful moments. After going airborne during Thursday night qualifying, an uninjured Webber soldiered on as Mercedes made a few tweaks to try and fix the problem. These things did not, however, make any difference at all, as Webber's car lifted off again during a warm-up. His car landed on its roof and was retired from the race, with the Aussie miraculously escaping harm once again.

Despite these terrible misfortunes, they decided not to pull out of the race, instead opting to do more emergency tweaks to try and improve stability. Just before the bumpy Indianapolis corner, Peter Dumbreck moved out of the slipstream of a GT-One at high speed, somersaulting through the air and landing in a forest clearing. This event, unlike the previous two, was caught on camera and broadcasted worldwide, and Mercedes immediately retired from the race.

Credit: Wikipedia

Credit: Wikipedia

A single aerodynamic defect can have a huge impact on an entire race, and what went wrong with the Mercedes-Benz CLR back in 1999 led to the manufacturer leaving Le Mans behind for good. This incident was similar to the one suffered by a Porsche 911 GT1 the previous year. The car itself could have been great, with racing driver Christophe Bouchut praising its technology and handling, but in the end, the CLR turned out to be one of motorsports biggest failures.

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Comments (2)

  • the real question, is it a car that wont stay on the ground, or plane that wont stay in the sky......

      3 months ago