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Celebrate 120 Years of Racing

From the first automotive race to the 24-hour Le Mans, a history and photo tour of 120 years of racing

by  Jim Davis  | 


Over the course of 2014, Mercedes-Benz Classic will be celebrating “120 years of motor sport”. Activities will begin at the brand’s stand at the Rétromobile specialist exhibition in Paris (February 5 to 9, 2014), designed and implemented in close collaboration with Mercedes-Benz France. The focus here will be on the historic motor sport successes achieved by Mercedes-Benz in France. “Many of the most exciting motor racing stories associated with the three-pointed star and its predecessor brands took place on French soil,” according to Michael Bock, Head of Mercedes-Benz Classic. “Among the highlights, without doubt, are the very first automotive race ever to take place, the Grand Prix victories of 1908, 1914 and 1954, wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and a whole series of more recent successes.”

The world's first automobile race on July 22, 1894. The photo shows the car of Alfred Vacheron in the reliability trial between Paris and Rouen.

The world’s first automobile race on July 22, 1894. The photo shows the car of Alfred Vacheron in the reliability trial between Paris and Rouen.

Mercedes-Benz Classic will reference the topic of “120 years of motor sport” at various points throughout the year, making it the key theme of its participation in a selected programme of events in the international classic vehicle calendar. The company will also initiate events of its own to mark a few extra-special highlights.

Since its invention in 1886, the automobile’s performance potential and reliability have been put to the test time and time again: right from the very early days, Daimler and Benz vehicles were taking part in all notable events in Europe as well as in other countries around the world. They won races and repeatedly set new speed records in record-breaking runs. Motor sport was born some 120 years ago in France – and the success of the winning vehicles was all down to their two-cylinder “Système Daimler” engines. These first moments of glory were followed by numerous other motor racing events that were to prove significant in the success story of the Mercedes-Benz brand. A look back over the company’s involvement in motor sport makes clear the extent to which this became the driving force behind the rapid developments made in motor vehicle technology.

The Mercedes-Benz Classic stand at Rétromobile 2014 (Hall 1, K64) will focus on the brand’s motor racing successes in France, with a display of historically important exhibits commemorating 120 years of motor sport history:

  • Daimler two-cylinder V-engine, 1894. The “Moteur système Daimler” built under licence in France, propelled cars from Peugeot and Panhard & Levassor to victory in the Paris–Rouen and Paris–Bordeaux–Paris motor races.
  • Mercedes Grand Prix racing car, 1914. In the French Grand Prix in Lyon, the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (Daimler Motor Company) achieved the first one-two-three victory in the history of motor sport with vehicles of this model.
  • Mercedes-Benz W 196 R “Streamliner”, 1954. The Silver Arrows marked their comeback after the Second World War in dramatic style: with a double victory in the French Grand Prix in Reims.
  • Sauber-Mercedes C 9, 1989. This Silver Arrow won the prestigious 24-Hour race of Le Mans.
  • McLaren Mercedes MP4-15, 2000. The vehicle in which David Coulthard won the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours.
  • Mercedes-Benz DTM C-Class, 2009. Gary Paffett’s winning vehicle in the DTM race at Dijon-Premois.

Rétromobile 2014: the Mercedes-Benz Classic exhibits

In the world's first automobile race from Paris to Rouen (126 kilometers) in 1894, cars with Daimler engines emerged as the winners. Benz cars also competed in this race successfully.

In the world’s first automobile race from Paris to Rouen (126 kilometers) in 1894, cars with Daimler engines emerged as the winners. Benz cars also competed in this race successfully.

Daimler two-cylinder V-engine, 1894

The automobile powered by a combustion engine was just eight years old on 22 July 1894 when it took part in the first public race, a 126-kilometre reliability run for “horseless carriages”, between the French cities of Paris and Rouen. The selection process ahead of the race was tough: of 102 vehicles that applied for a place in the starting line-up, only 21 were admitted. Of these, 17 would go on to reach the finishing line, 9 of them powered by a Daimler engine built under licence, including the winning vehicles. The 2.6 kW (3.5 hp) engines, built according to original designs by Gottlieb Daimler, gave the cars an average speed of up to 20.5 km/h. First place in this first-ever motor sport event was shared by a vehicle built by Panhard-Levassor and one by the Peugeot brothers, both of them powered by a “Moteur système Daimler”. The day was a great cause for celebration for Gottlieb Daimler, for incontrovertible proof had been provided to the general public, and to the world of European motor racing, that his universally applicable, high-speed petrol engine was the one to have prevailed in the highly competitive field of automotive propulsion systems.

Mercedes Grand Prix racing car, 1914

On 4 July 1914, Mercedes celebrated a triumphant one-two-three victory in the French Grand Prix by Christian Lautenschlager, Louis Wagner, and Otto Salzer. The race was held over a 37.6-kilometre circuit south of Lyon. The vehicle entered by the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft was its newly developed Grand Prix racing car. Some 20 laps over the tricky course, or a good 750 kilometres, were the order of the day, and Mercedes was up against apparently almost unassailable competition – above all from Peugeot and Delage from France, Sunbeam from England, and Fiat from Italy. Theodor Pilette and Max Sailer were forced to retire with technical problems, but Christian Lautenschlager, Louis Wagner, and Otto Salzer took the remaining cars on to finish the race at the front of the field after more than seven hours: the first one-two-three victory in the history of motor sport had been achieved.

The regulations limited engine displacement to 4.5 litres. The Mercedes Grand Prix racing car featured a completely redesigned four-cylinder engine with an overhead camshaft and two intake and two exhaust valves per cylinder – making this the first Mercedes engine to make use of four-valve technology. The racing engine delivered a peak output of 78 kW (106 hp) at a – quite literally – revolutionary 3,100 rpm.

French Grand Prix in Reims, July 4, 1954. At the wheel of streamlined Mercedes-Benz W 196 R racing cars: Juan Manuel Fangio (start number 18), the winner of the race, and Karl Kling (start number 20) who finished in second place. Behind them Hans Herrmann with start number 22.

French Grand Prix in Reims, July 4, 1954. At the wheel of streamlined Mercedes-Benz W 196 R racing cars: Juan Manuel Fangio (start number 18), the winner of the race, and Karl Kling (start number 20) who finished in second place. Behind them Hans Herrmann with start number 22.

Mercedes-Benz W 196 R “Streamliner”, 1954

The W 196 R racing car, which appeared initially with a futuristic-looking streamlined body, featured a naturally aspirated engine with a displacement of 2497 cc and desmodromic (positively closing) valve control. At the beginning of the season, it delivered a peak output of 188 kW (256 hp), with a top speed at this initial stage of around 275 km/h. The new “Streamliner” lined up for its first start at the French Grand Prix in Reims. Even in training the W 196 R vehicles with their fully enclosed bodywork achieved the fastest times; in their racing debut on 4 July in Reims they surpassed all the expectations of both the public and their competitors. Indeed, newly appointed Argentinian driver Juan Manuel Fangio, the World Champion of 1951, and Karl Kling delivered a triumphant double victory. This sensational success is also historically significant in that it is now exactly 40 years since Lautenschlager/Wagner/Salzer drove to triple victory in Lyon.

The heat of success: the Sauber-Mercedes C9 with the classic Silver Arrows paintwork on course for victory in 1989.

The heat of success: the Sauber-Mercedes C9 with the classic Silver Arrows paintwork on course for victory in 1989.

Sauber-Mercedes C9, 1989

The late 1980s and 1990s marked the return of Mercedes-Benz to the race track: the first vehicles to sport the three-pointed star were Group C racing sports cars. The 530 kW (720 hp) Sauber-Mercedes used since 1987 also underwent some visual modifications for the 1989 season: the hitherto virtually all-black livery gave way to a silver paint finish, identifying the cars unmistakeably as Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows. Between 1989 and 1990, the new racing cars brought home 16 victories from a total of 18 races. These included the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which took place on 10 and 11 June 1989, in which the Mercedes-Benz drivers Jochen Mass/Manuel Reuter/Stanley Dickens and Mauro Baldi/Kenny Acheson/Gianfranco Brancatelli secured a double victory with Silver Arrows in their C9 guise – 37 years after that outstanding win with the first Silver Arrow of the post-war period: the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL racing sports car (W 194).

McLaren-Mercedes MP4-15, 2000

In the 2000 race season, Mika Häkkinen and David Coulthard became runners-up in the constructors’ championship in the McLaren-Mercedes MP4-15, while Häkkinen took second place in the drivers’ championship behind Michael Schumacher in a Ferrari, and Coulthard third. The McLaren-Mercedes MP4-15 differed visually as well as technically from its predecessors: it had a flatter nose section, additional head protection to either side of the cockpit and an engine that was shorter by 2 centimetres, the three-litre FO 110J V10-engine with an output of 600 kW (816 hp). The powertrain, a completely new design, took into account the findings of development work undertaken over the course of the previous season. Compared with the previous version the new engine was more compact and lighter in weight, yet at the same time offered better driveability and improved performance. Also new was the seven-speed transmission, developed in-house by McLaren. The Silver Arrows were victorious in 2000 in Spain, Austria, Hungary, and Belgium (Häkkinen), and also in Great Britain, Monaco, and France (Coulthard). The vehicle on display at Rétromobile is the one in which David Coulthard won the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours on 2 July 2000. He considers the race he won there to have been one of the best of his career.

AMG-Mercedes C-Class DTM 2007

AMG-Mercedes C-Class DTM 2007

DTM AMG-Mercedes C-Class (model series 204), 2009

The new C-Class of the model series 204 was a new arrival on the circuits for the DTM races of 2007. The Hans Werner Aufrecht (HWA) racing car construction team began building the first DTM vehicle of the new model series in December 2006 in Affalterbach. As there was a ban on further development of the engines, the only work permitted and possible was their ongoing optimisation. Since 2000, the DTM regulations have stipulated a 4.0-litre V8-engine with four valves per cylinder, in which the intake of air is limited by two air restrictors with a diameter of 28 millimetres. Power is transmitted to the axle drive with a differential lock via a uniform transaxle transmission with sequential gearshift. The biggest differences between this and the previous racing car lay in the modifications to the body and the design of the wheel suspension. On 11 October 2009, driving the vehicle displayed, Gary Paffett, who would subsequently become season runner-up, won the penultimate round of the DTM at Dijon-Premois.

Rétromobile 2014: the brand ambassadors

David Coulthard, former Formula One racing driver on McLaren-Mercedes, with McLaren-Mercedes MP4-15 and Mercedes-Benz C 320 (203 series). Photo from 2000.

David Coulthard, former Formula One racing driver on McLaren-Mercedes, with McLaren-Mercedes MP4-15 and Mercedes-Benz C 320 (203 series). Photo from 2000.

David Coulthard – Born on 27 March 1971 in Twynholm, Scotland

David Coulthard began his go-carting career at the young age of 11. He was junior go-carting champion in Scotland from 1983 to 1985. After racing in various Formula categories, in 1994 he joined the Williams Formula 1 team. In 1995 David Coulthard came 3rd in the Formula 1 World Championship. At the beginning of the 1996 season the Scot moved to McLaren Mercedes, teaming up with Mika Häkkinen (Finland). At the Australian Grand Prix in 1997, Coulthard secured Mercedes-Benz its first Formula 1 win since 1955. In 2001, Coulthard came 2nd to Michael Schumacher in the World Championship. From 2005 to 2008 he raced for Red Bull Racing; in 2008, Coulthard ended his Formula 1 career. In all, David Coulthard competed in 246 Grand Prix races between 1994 and 2008, including 150 for McLaren Mercedes. He notched up 13 wins, 12 of which were for McLaren Mercedes. From 2010 to 2012, David Coulthard raced for the Mücke Motorsport team in the DTM at the wheel of an AMG-Mercedes C-Class. He ended his active racing career in October 2012. The Scot has now taken up an involvement in historic racing as a brand ambassador for Mercedes-Benz Classic. His start in the 2013 Eifel race at the wheel of the 220 SE (W 111) “Fintail” racing car belonging to Mercedes-Benz Classic marked the first time ever that a Formula 1 championship runner-up had started in the Dunlop FHR Endurance Cup.

Hans Herrmann – Born on 23 February 1928 in Stuttgart, Germany

Following his motorsport debut, 25-year-old Hans Herrmann was engaged by Mercedes-Benz racing manager Alfred Neubauer for the 1954 season with the Daimler-Benz AG works team. In the Swiss Grand Prix on 22 August 1954, Herrmann took 3rd place. The Avus race on 19 September 1954 ended in a one-two-three victory for the Mercedes-Benz drivers in their W 196 R “Streamliner” vehicles, in the finish order Karl Kling, Juan Manuel Fangio, Hans Herrmann.

In the 1955 racing season, Herrmann competed in 8 sports car races and 10 Formula 1 races. At the Monaco Grand Prix he stood in for Kling and was badly injured in an accident. Despite making a full recovery Herrmann never raced for Mercedes-Benz again, due to the company’s withdrawal from motor sport in October 1955, which put an end to his active involvement with Mercedes-Benz.

In the years that followed, he would go on to compete once again in motor sport and sports car racing. After driving in Formula 2 and Formula 1, he ended his racing career in 1970, steering a Porsche to victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Even to this day, Herrmann is regularly to be found taking the wheel for Mercedes-Benz at classic events.

Jochen Mass – Born on 30 September 1946 in Dorfen near Starnberg, Germany

Jochen Mass, originally a seaman by profession, began his varied career in motor sport in 1968, racing touring cars for Alfa-Romeo and as a works driver at Ford between 1970 and 1975. During this period he won the Spa-Francorchamps 24-Hour race (1972). At the same time, he also took part in Formula 2 (1973) and in 105 Formula 1 Grand Prix races (1973/74 with Surtees; 1975 to 1977 with McLaren; 1978 with ATS; 1979/80 with Arrows; 1982 with March). After winning the German Racing Car Championship in 1985 and a stint until 1987 as a works driver at Porsche, he joined the Sauber-Mercedes team as a works driver. He drove for this team in Group C until 1991. In the new Silver Arrow – the Sauber-Mercedes C9 – Jochen Mass won the 24 Hours of Le Mans together with Manuel Reuter and Stanley Dickens and came second in the 1989 World Championship. Three years later Mass moved into team management in the DTM. Sir Stirling Moss described him as “a driver with a great feeling for racing cars and a high level of expert knowledge, who is familiar with all eras of racing history”. It is therefore hardly surprising that Jochen Mass should still be found lining up for Mercedes-Benz Classic at classic racing events. Whether it is the W 125 “Silver Arrow” or the legendary SSK supercharged racing car – Jochen Mass knows and drives them all.

Gary Paffett – Born on 24 March 1981 in Bromley, England

The foundations of Gary Paffett’s career were laid in the world of karting. With several championship wins and the title “McLaren Mercedes Kart Champion of the Future” of 1996 under his belt, he went on to win the Formula Vauxhall Junior Winter Series in 1997 and 1998, and received the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award in 1999. Advancing to Formula 3, the Briton dominated the BRDC Formula 3 Scholarship Class of 2000 and became the youngest driver ever to receive the BRDC Silver Award – the promotion of young talent by the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) in various racing series and through a range of programmes thus found its full justification in him and in the various career steps he has taken. In 2001, he moved to the German Formula 3, coming 6th in the overall classification at the end of the season in his debut year – a success capped by his becoming German Formula 3 Champion in the following season, 2002. His first drive in the DTM was in 2003. In 2004, he became runner-up in the DTM championship, driving an AMG-Mercedes C-Class. The 2005 season then saw him win the championship, following five wins and four pole positions. Since 2006 Gary Paffett has also been a test driver for Formula 1 – and an obvious candidate for a seat in the cockpit in this, the premiere class of motor sport.

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