#DTM500 – “All in all, those days went by way too quickly”
The DTM is celebrating a special occasion: on 25 August, the 500th race of the series, founded in 1984, will be held at the Lausitzring. Enough reason for DTM.com to talk to the DTM’s two most successful drivers: Bernd Schneider and Klaus Ludwig. After ‘Mr. DTM’ Schneider, it is now three-time champion Ludwig who recalls his years in the touring car series at DTM.com.
The DTM is having its 500th race. What thoughts about that are coming up for you?
Klaus Ludwig: “In all honesty, the first who comes to mind is Hans Werner Aufrecht. He is the father of the DTM and he has saved the series several times over the years. As the head of HWA, the joint venture partner of R-Motorsport, he was also involved behind the scenes in Aston Martin joining the DTM. After the collapse at the end of 1996, Aufrecht resurrected the DTM in 2000. Back then, he has also reactivated me and asked me whether I would support the reconstruction as one of the crowd pullers. I ended up third in the championship at the age of 50. Since then, the DTM has had 18 years with great, great races and many spectators. A continuous upward trend. For me, Aufrecht is the man of the DTM if ever there was one. Admittedly, I had an ambivalent relationship with him, but that was the case for everyone. We had an agreement at a different level and we had a way to get along with each other.”
How proud are you of being a significant part of the history of this race series?
„Looking back at my spell in the DTM sparks a lot of joy and also a certain sense of pride. There were many great people I have met and with whom I was allowed to work. I have had a lot of success with Mercedes, but my years with Opel in 1995 and 1996 also have to be mentioned, they were fantastic. I went to Opel because I wanted a four-wheel driven car, no matter what, and I got one. After all, we won the championship in 1996, although it was Manuel Reuter rather than myself who clinched the drivers’ title. But I only had to blame myself for that. Nevertheless, these two years were a really, really valuable time for me. All in all, the days have gone by way too quickly.”
Ludwig won his first DTM title in a Ford Sierra Cosworth in 1988
What is the most poignant memory of your spell in the DTM?
“There are so many flashbacks. Certain things are making me really proud, because people made me involved in aspects that had nothing to do with the set-up of my car. For instance, when the decision had to be made about who would become head of motorsport at Mercedes. Board member professor Hubbert asked me: ‘Klaus, who would you suggest?’ He presented me his list of candidates and I said who I thought would be the best. Or a few years later, at the end of 1995, when I got a phone call from Hans Wilhelm Gäb of General Motors from Zurich, telling me that there were budget cuts and they could no longer justify the programme. It was at the end of 1995 when he asked me whether I could guarantee that Opel would still be winning in 1996. I told him: ‘I guarantee it, I put my neck on the line for that’. At the end of the season, Opel was champion with Manuel Reuter. Such situations are making me almost prouder than my own victories.”
When Opel was on top: Klaus Ludwig and Manuel Reuter in 1996
What was your most beautiful victory?
“It is strange: when I think about my victories and title wins, I invariably also think about the titles that I only lost because I fell ill. Once, I had put the car on pole at Nürburgring in 1989, but I couldn’t race due to kidney stones. I had to miss the next round at Norisring as well. That is how I lost my chances that season. In 1996, we were doing unbelievably well with the Zakspeed Opel, and all of a sudden, I am getting these stupid kidney problems again at Mugello. Really annoying! But when summing it all up today, I would say: at the end, it was all good.”
You have experienced nearly all car generations. The cars of the late 1980s and early 1990s, then the first Class 1 generation, followed by the high-tech cars in 1995 and 1996 and finally the V8 cars of the ‘new’ DTM from 2000. Which car did you like most?
“Difficult to say. I recall that we started off with rather modest machinery in the 1980s, at least to today’s standards. The Ford Sierra Cosworth already was a balancing act. Not many changes were allowed on the cars at the time and driving them at the limit really was an art. The first Mercedes also was rather modest, but they improved really quickly. The 1992 Mercedes 190E 2.5-16 was a dream! That is the car I became champion with. Then, the C-Class arrived, another great car with which I won the title as the unloved fourth driver in the team. Perhaps, there was some luck involved as well, but I did win. In all honesty, I liked the high-tech cars in 1995 and 1996 best. Every day, we had a new idea and we were able to turn them into reality. A crazy time! But I also have to admit quite critically that it became too elaborate and too expensive in the end, something that should have been acknowledged earlier. Then, for the restart in 2000, the vehicle concept with spec chassis and strict engine regulations came, an idea that is still alive in the present-day DTM. Fantastic!”
Looking back today, who was your fiercest rival?
“Several come to mind, first and foremost Bernd Schneider, of course. A great partner, we always got along perfectly. The time came when he was the ‘leading driver’ at Mercedes and I was only number two. I won another title in 1994 because he was having a lot of bad luck, but that is the way things go. Johnny Cecotto and Steve Soper also were extremely tough rivals. Steve was a relentless fighter, we were at the same level. Simply great racing.”
And the young guns in 1995: Dario Franchitti or Jan Magnussen?
“At that time, I was racing for Opel while these to were with Mercedes. Really soon, we had our first encounters. I recall a race at Estoril where Franchitti thought he had to overtake me on the outside. He ended up in the gravel bed. So, the rivalry was set. But that is all part of motor racing.”
Klaus Ludwig (right) with his Mercedes team-mates Bernd Schneider (middle) and Roland Asch in 1994