1. MERCEDES-BENZ C11

Motor Sport News - - Le Mans Preview: Retro -

BEST RE­SULT: 5th (1991) The ul­ti­mate Group C tur­bo­car failed to show up at Le Mans in 1990 af­ter a lot of pol­i­tick­ing and the re­moval of the race from the cham­pi­onship. Given the fact the C11 was only beaten once dur­ing the cam­paign and that the C9 had won the year be­fore, the Sil­ver Ar­rows would have been hot favourites.

They were in 1991 too and the C11 topped qual­i­fy­ing and set fastest lap, but not one of the three en­tries made it onto the podium.

Kept off pole by rules that re­quired the new-era 3.5litre nor­mally as­pi­rated cars to start ahead of the Group C tur­bos, the C11 was fastest in prac­tice de­spite only run­ning race boost. Jean-louis Sch­lesser quickly moved through to third in the early stages, be­hind the frag­ile Peu­geot 905s, be­fore al­low­ing Os­car Lar­rauri’s charg­ing Porsche to go by. The 905s soon hit trou­ble, and Michael Schu­macher headed the Mercedes at­tack as the Sil­ver Ar­rows grad­u­ally moved into first, sec­ond and third.

The ju­nior car led un­til the in­ex­pe­ri­enced Fritz Kreutz­point­ner took over in the evening, al­low­ing Sch­lesser to move the ‘vet­eran’ ma­chine ahead. Karl Wendlinger then dropped the #31 on cold tyres, requiring re­pairs.

Kurt Thiim in the third Mercedes couldn’t match Jochen Mass, so af­ter six hours the #1 car held a lead of al­most a lap and headed a C11 1-2-3. The fourth­placed Mazda was al­ready four laps be­hind. Shortly af­ter 0100hrs, the charg­ing ju­nior car re­took sec­ond.

The first real crack in the Mercedes ar­mour ap­peared shortly be­fore the 10-hour mark, with Jonathan Palmer pit­ting #32 with an un­der­body dam­aged by de­bris. Nev­er­the­less, at half-dis­tance, the Sch­lesser/ Mass/alain Ferte car led Schu­macher/wendlinger/ Kreutz­point­ner by a lap and the Mazda-jaguar duel for third by three.

Then the sec­ond-placed car hit gear­box trou­ble and dropped down the field. When the re­cov­er­ing #32 car re­tired with an engine prob­lem, it was thought to be the re­sult of the ear­lier dam­age.

The lead car did start over­heat­ing, but such was its ad­van­tage that the driv­ers were able to back off and were still three laps ahead af­ter 18 hours. Schu­macher’s car then hit over­heat­ing is­sues and a wa­ter pump drive belt was re­placed, giv­ing a hint to the team as to a po­ten­tial prob­lem.

Then, with just over three hours to go – and while still three laps ahead – the lead C11’s al­ter­na­tor sup­port bracket frac­tured and Ferte crawled in. The same pul­ley drove the al­ter­na­tor and the wa­ter pump so the C11 was re­tired with a cooked engine. An­o­dis­ing the part for no ap­par­ent rea­son had made it brit­tle.

Mazda thus took its fa­mous Le Mans win, with the re­cov­er­ing ju­nior car, now it­self run­ning hot, fifth. Schu­macher’s fastest lap was lit­tle con­so­la­tion. In all, a C11 had topped the hourly clas­si­fi­ca­tion 20 times dur­ing the race...

“We should have won, we were so far ahead, but things like that hap­pen,” says Mass. “There wasn’t a bet­ter car around. It was fan­tas­tic.

“I re­gret most the car didn’t win be­cause it de­served the pedi­gree to be a Le Mans win­ner.”

The view the other Group C cars got of the V8 C11 Lead car dom­i­nated un­til clos­ing stages Sportscar leg­end Mass thinks C11 de­served LM win

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