1. MERCEDES-BENZ C11
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