GT1 Monsters: CLK GTR vs Porsche 911 GT1

Homologation Specials - Episode 2: The GT1 Monsters

46w ago

Mercedes and Porsche have often been rivals when it comes to Motorsports. The two brands have competed on and off the track and carry a very strong German heritage. Porsche and Mercedes were like two highly competitive, high scoring, academics in a classroom.

So the story begins in 1994, when Porsche expressed interest in top level sports car racing with the introduction of the BPR Global GT series(later became the FIA GT Championship). For a large part the BPR series that lasted a full 2 years (1994-1996) was dominated by the Ferrari F40 and the Mclaren F1 GTR, two cars built on the outgoing Ferrari F40s and Mclaren F1s.

The 911 GT1

Porsche who wanted to join the BPR tribe went on to create a car based on the 993 the then outgoing version of the 911. They named it the 911-GT1. When the car was unveiled in 1996 the sports fraternity was awestruck. What Porsche had done was, rather than developing a race version of one of their road going cars, Porsche created a purpose built sports prototype and later built similar road going versions in-order to comply with the regulations. The 911 GT1 Strassenversion- which meant Road Version was the road going version car.

In spite of its 911 moniker, the car actually had very little in common with the 911 of the time, only sharing the front and rear headlamps with the production sports car. However its frontal chassis was shared with the then (993) 911, while the rear of the chassis was derived from the 962 along with its water-cooled, twin-turbocharged and intercooled, 4 valves per cylinder 3,164 cc (3.2 L) flat-six engine fuel fed by Bosch Motronic 5.2 fuel injection, which was longitudinally-mounted in a rear mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout, compared to the rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout of a conventional 911. The engine generated a power output of about 600 PS (441 kW; 592 hp). In comparison, the 993 generation 911 GT2, which was otherwise the company's highest-performance vehicle at the time, used an air-cooled engine with only two valves per cylinder.

While the Porsche engineers were working on a dream car, Mercedes engineers were still contemplating on the good old days when their cars raced at top level races at prestigious circuits racking up points. The end of DTM racing had taken a toll on Mercedes engineers and they were desperate to put one of their cars on high-speed races. ENTER THE CLK GTR

The Mercedes CLK GTR

With the success of the BPR Global GT Series leading to the FIA taking over and turning it into an international series known as the FIA GT Championship, Mercedes-Benz saw an opportunity to go against manufacturers like Porsche and Ferrari.

AMG's designers and engineers designed and developed a car which shared some design elements with the Mercedes-Benz CLK, yet had all the standard features of a racing car underneath. A Mercedes-Benz M120 V12 engine would be at the heart of the car, mounted behind the cockpit. The bodywork would be made entirely of carbon fibre, and would have many aerodynamic design elements and cooling vents in order to survive on the race track.

To test the CLK GTR before the actual cars were built, Mercedes-AMG actually took an unusual measure. Through secrecy, Mercedes-AMG was able to purchase a disused McLaren F1 GTR, the defending BPR GT series champion, from Larbre Compétition. This purchase first allowed Mercedes-AMG to see the kind of lap times that their competitors could run, to serve as a measurement of the CLK GTR's abilities. However, more importantly, Mercedes-AMG set about modifying this F1 GTR by attaching bodywork that was meant to be implemented on the CLK GTR. Mercedes-Benz also used their own LS600 6.0-litre V12 engine in place of the BMW V12 unit. This allowed Mercedes-AMG to be able to perfect the aerodynamics of the car before it had even been built.

The Racing scene

The 1996 911 GT1 clocked at a top speed of exactly 330 km/h (205 mph) on the legendary Mulsanne Straight in the practice sessions of the 1996 Le Mans 24 Hours Race. For the 1997 season Porsche revised the GT1.The revised car was known as the 911 GT1 Evo (or Evolution). As far as performance goes, the car had the same engine as the previous version, but new aerodynamic elements allowed the 1997 version to be considerably faster than the 1996 version - acceleration was better, although the top speed was still around 330 km/h (205 mph) on the La Sarthe Circuit (in the race, the GT1-Evo attained a top speed of 326 km/h). At Le Mans the works cars led the race but did not last the full distance; a privately entered 1996 specification GT1 managed 5th overall and third in its class.

On the other hand Mercedes, who debuted the CLK GTR at their home track of Hockenheimring, could not give their best since their cars were plagued with brake and clutch issues. However, by the next round at Silverstone, the CLK GTR began to show its pace, finishing less than a second behind the winning McLaren. By the fourth round, returning to Germany for the Nürburgring, a third CLK GTR was added to the team. In this race, Mercedes-Benz successfully outperformed the fleet of McLarens, taking first and second places.

24 hours of Le Mans 1998

Debuting at the 1998 season of Le Mans, the new V8 (thought to be more reliable) powered CLK LMs(the Le Mans versionof the CLK GTR) and was immediately quick. The two car team took the pole, ahead of custom built open cockpit Le Mans prototypes. However, Mercedes-AMG's belief of the M119LH engine's reliability and capability was proven wrong as both cars suffered engine failures within the first few hours of the race, leaving Mercedes-Benz dejected.

Porsche too had problems but had Lady Fortune on their side . The BMW V12 LM retired with wheel bearing trouble, and the Mercedes CLK-LM cars had oil pump troubles in the new V8 engines that replaced the former V12. The 911 GT1-98, despite being slower than the BMW or the Mercedes, fulfilled Porsche's slim hopes, taking both first and second place overall thanks to reliability, giving Porsche its record-breaking 16th overall win at Le Mans, more than any other manufacturer in history.

By 1999, Mercedes had wreaked havoc in the FIA GT1 class co much that, all other participants had withdrawn from the race. This lead Porsche also to withdraw from the race. Mercedes had proved the reason they entered the game.

The 911 GT1 and the CLK GTR were tough competitors and no one could have won against the two cars. The story of the two cars prove to show the exceptional quality of German engineering and have overcome time to become some of the most remarkable cars.

Stay Tuned for episode 3 of Homologation Specials- The Group B Guerrillas

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Comments (1)

  • Good write-up. I miss these racing classes and cars. They should have just called them “silhouette” racers though instead of trying to claim they were production-based. Of course McLaren was the daddy of them all and only legit production car. But kudos to Mercedes for building 25(?) CLKs?

      10 months ago