Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR | FIA GT | 1997-1998
First off, just look at this beautiful car for a moment. Then, think about the fact that this amazing car was developed and produced in just 128 days by Mercedes-AMG. Finally, think about this: the Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR’s dominance in the 1997-98 FIA GT Championship seasons resulted in literally zero GT1 team entries for the 1999 season besides Mercedes-AMG. Zero. No BMWs, no Porsches, no McLaren F1s. Simply no one. This is the iconic racer’s story.
Engineered to win from the very start, the CLK-GTR was designed strictly as a race car but still included some road car elements. It was only after the original conception that the design was adapted for a road car, of which only 25 were built to meet FIA regulations, including 5 stunning roadsters which were produced in 2002 and 2006.¹ Interestingly, to aid in the design of their car, Mercedes-AMG secretly purchased a McLaren F1 GTR, which would be the primary competition in the coming 1997 GT1 season. With data such as specific lap times now readily available to the team, which gave them a target to shoot for and surpass, they set about attaching different bodywork to the McLaren to test and perfect the aerodynamics of the CLK GTR before ever building one.² 128 days after starting work on the CLK GTR the two prototypes were finished, using an AMG tuned, naturally aspirated 600hp Mercedes V12 that was upgraded to 630hp during the 1997 GT season.
The CLK GTRs debuted at the start of the 1997 FIA GT Championship season. After setting pole at the first two rounds and finishing right on the tail of a McLaren F1 GTR in race two, a CLK GTR picked up a win after setting pole again in the fourth race. The CLK GTRs went on to win 5 of the remaining 7 races with AMG-Mercedes taking the teams’ championship and Bernd Schneider taking the drivers’ championship.
Then came the 1998 FIA GT season, where the Mercedes really found their stride, to say the very least. The first race resulted in a 1-2-3 finish for the CLK GTRs, and AMG-Mercedes took the next race as well. The CLK GTRs were then replaced by the CLK LMs which had been developed for racing at the 24 hours of Le Mans, where both cars unfortunately suffered early engine failures. Changes included use of a naturally aspirated 600hp Mercedes V8 as well as aerodynamic improvements which resulted in a top speed of 205mph (330km/h). The CLK LMs went on to win all 8 of the remaining races with six 1-2 finishes. The AMG-Mercedes team again won the championship with nearly three times as many points as the second place team while drivers Klaus Ludwig and Ricardo Zonta shared the drivers’ championship.
The following year Mercedes was the only team to enter the GT1 class, resulting in the elimination of the GT1 class that season. Then in the 2000 season the previous GT1 class was deemed GT with a second class called N-GT. Thus, the CLK GTR (and LM) was used only in 2 seasons, handily eliminating all competition.
As a personal side-note, when I was about 12 or 13 years old I had the privilege of seeing a CLK GTR that had been used in the FIA GT Championship at a dealership near my hometown. I vividly remember the huge Mobil 1 wing and the size and beauty of the machine. It was there for a few weeks or so before I happened to be there again while it was loaded into a truck and carted off to an auction where, if I remember correctly, bidding started at 1.2 million dollars (I don’t know what it ended up selling for).
¹Different sources provide different production numbers; some say 19 coupes and 6 roadsters, and some also say 20 coupes and 6 roadsters.
²Taken directly from Wikipedia which had no source listed for this information regarding the purchase/testing of a McLaren. If anyone has a source for this please send me it; I wasn’t able to find one.
(Sources: Wikipedia, ultimatecarpage.com:GTR, LM and roadster pages)