The Mercedes-Benz CLR was a Le Mans Prototype built by Mercedes-Benz for the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans. It became infamous for spectacular crashes during its one and only competitive outing.
|Category||Le Mans Grand Tourer Prototype (LMGTP)|
|Chassis||Carbon fibre and aluminium honeycomb monocoque|
|Suspension (front)||Double wishbone suspension|
|Suspension (rear)||Double wishbone suspension|
|Wheelbase||2,670 mm (105 in)|
|Engine||Mercedes-Benz GT 108 C 5,721 cc (349.1 cu in) V8, naturally-aspirated, mid-mounted|
|Transmission||X-Trac 6-speed sequential manual|
|Weight||921 kg (2,030 lb)|
|Debut||1999 24 Hours of Le Mans|
In April 1999 Mercedes launched the new Mercedes CLR as successor to the FIA GT championship-winning Mercedes-Benz CLK-GTR and later CLK LM which would take part in the upcoming Le Mans 24 Hours. With tens of thousands of miles of testing on smooth race tracks, Mercedes felt that the car was quick enough to win the race, despite the short time spent on wind tunnel testing.
Three cars were entered, numbered 4, 5, and 6, each driven by a German, a French, and an English speaking driver, to allow efficient international marketing. Mercedes' major competitors, Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Nissan and Toyota, each entered two, three, or even four cars, making the 1999 Le Mans one of the toughest ever, particularly when additional competing smaller private teams like Panoz were considered. Only Porsche, the winner of the previous year's race, was missing.
However, Mark Webber's #4 car became airborne at the Indianapolis corner during the Thursday night qualifying session. The car was rebuilt from scratch on Friday, modified for more downforce at the front, and entered in the Saturday morning warm-up. This time, Mark Webber only made it to the Mulsanne kink when the car backflipped in spectacular fashion, this time caught in mid-air by photographers. Luckily, neither Webber nor anyone else was injured on either occasion.
Despite the second incident and its echoes of the 1955 Le Mans disaster, Norbert Haug decided to go ahead and enter the other two cars in the afternoon, with additional modifications and instructions to the drivers not to follow others cars closely over humps.
Still after over 4 hours, driven at the time by Peter Dumbreck, the #5 CLR chased a Toyota GT-One and became airborne two turns before Indianapolis, somersaulting and landing over the barriers into the trees, all on worldwide live TV. The crowd in the Le Mans grandstands was terrified, seeing the pictures on large screens without hearing any comment for a long time. No injuries were sustained in this incident. The race continued under yellow flag conditions. The #6 CLR, driven by Bernd Schneider, was immediately retired.
The flying Mercedes at Le Mans brought the almost immediate cancellation of the CLR project. Its planned participation in the Norisring event "200 Meilen von Nürnberg" was cancelled, as was participation in the ALMS series. Mercedes blamed the humps at Le Mans, which were lowered later. In similar incidents at Road Atlanta, the Porsche 911 GT1-98 of Yannick Dalmas had backflipped in 1998, and a BMW V12 LMR with Bill Auberlen did so on the same hump in 2000. Yet both these cars raced at Le Mans without incidents. Later on Mercedes claimed that a miscalculation during aerodynamic development had a role in the crashes as air was literally lifting the car off the ground from the underside.
The surviving #6 car was never raced again, and it is not shown at the Mercedes-Benz Museum. At least one CLR was exhibited in 2008 as part of an event for driver Bernd Schneider.
- 1999 Mercedes-Benz CLR, Michael J. Fuller, Mulsanne's Corner
- Mercedes CLR Flip at Le Mans, David Hansen, Mulsanne's Corner
- Mercedes CLK & CLR, Simon T Mallett, GreatRacingCars