44 SEPTEMBER 2017
GROUP C: SAUBER-MERCEDES C9
The Mercedes engine didn’t actually
race for the first time until 1986. The first
Sauber-Mercedes, the C8, was entered
for Le Mans in ’ 85, but non-started after
John Nielsen crashed on the Mulsanne
Straight. That was it for the season.
With backing from Yves St. Laurent
cologne brand Kouros, Sauber would be
back for a partial WSPC campaign in ’ 86,
which included a fortuitous win in a wet
two-part race at the Nurburgring. The
Kouros deal, which continued into ’ 87 with
the introduction of the C8-derived C9 for
another limited program, was brokered by
former BMW Motorsport boss Jochen
Neerpasch, then working for the IMG
“The engine was more efficient, and
more power always helps, but at the
first test it was actually slower”
POLISHING THE SILVER
Developed from the Sauber C8, C9 was an all-around step
forward in terms of stiffness, packaging and aero. The final
piece of the puzzle was fitting the M119 engine in 1989.
Positioning the C9’s radiator in the nose and changing the rear
suspension to horizontal spring/damper units allowed for a
more efficient low-drag aero package for Le Mans. In qualifying
for the ’ 89 race, the C9 hit 248mph on the Mulsanne Straight.
Replacing the M117 for1989, the
M119 retained the same twin-KKK
turbo, 5-liter V8 layout, but moved
to four valves per cylinder. In race
trim it made 720hp at 1.6-bar boost.
Uncluttered by an abundance of sponsor logos
and smooth in its lines, the Sauber-Mercedes C9
is an elegant throwback to earlier Silver Arrows.
The high-mounted, set-back rear wing is the most
visible element of the low-drag Le Mans package.
1989 C9/88: METALLIC ELEGANCE
management group. He would go on to
reprise his role with BMW at Mercedes
during Sauber’s glory years in sports cars.
Those glory years came after a
momentous boardroom decision at
Mercedes in mid-January 1988. Its
motorsport exile of 30-plus years would
come to an end with a WSPC program
with Sauber, plus a multi-team assault on
the German-based DTM touring car
championship with its 190E sedan.
Racing an uprated version of the C9
chassis in the colors of Daimler-Benz
subsidiary AEG, the renamed Team Sauber
Mercedes made a winning start as a
factory entry when it won the ’ 88 WSPC
opener at Jerez with its solo C9/88 shared
by Jean-Louis Schlesser, Mauro Baldi and
Jochen Mass. But the reality was that the
team wasn’t really ready to go toe to toe
with reigning champions Jaguar. Sauber
wouldn’t reach the top step of the podium
again until July, after a disastrous Le Mans