For Mercedes-AMG Motorsport, the international 2020 GT season is all about the tenth anniversary of its Customer Racing programme. Since 2010, the race cars of the performance and sports car brand from Affalterbach have been successful at the race tracks of this world. Within only one decade, the involvement of the German manufacturer has resulted into one of the world’s leading customer racing programmes. In the past ten years, more than 390 race cars were handed over to customer teams from all over the world who went on to rack up 418 overall wins, 788 class wins and 171 national and international championship titles in over 120 series. The foundation of the success is a programme that is aimed at maximum support and includes numerous features that can be considered as benchmarks. For the 2020 anniversary season, Mercedes-AMG is setting the course for the success story to be continued with the new AMG GT3 and the further developed AMG GT4. Limited-edition models of both cars are produced at the occasion of the anniversary.
Mercedes-AMG’s involvement in customer racing dates back to the company’s earliest days: in the 1960s already, AMG founders Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher, commissioned by privateer teams, converted their Mercedes-Benz cars into successful competition machinery. As the AMG 300 SEL 6.8, painted in red, the first race car to officially carry the AMG badge, claimed an undisputed class win and second place overall in the Spa-Francorchamps 24-hour race in 1971, AMG’s motorsport legend was born. From these historic roots, today’s Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing Programme is coming full circle.
The gullwing for the race track
It was the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG that prompted the initiation of the Customer Racing Programme in 2010. The homage to the legendary gullwing 300 SL was the first car fully developed by Mercedes-AMG. During a press launch at Laguna Seca in 2009, model range manager Christoph Jung and the two ex-DTM drivers Bernd Schneider and Thomas Jäger together came up with the idea to bring the SLS to the race track. However, the logical option of works participation in selected events wasn’t sustainable enough for the three of them, so they started working on an entirely new customer sports concept for Mercedes-AMG.
On this basis and inspired by the positive feedback from numerous clients as well as by the demand from race teams and participants of the AMG Driving Academy, Mercedes-AMG decided to enter the new motorsport segment. In close co-operation with HWA AG, a GT3 version of the new gullwing was developed within six months. The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 had its maiden competition outing in a round of the VLN Langstreckenmeisterschaft Nürburgring on 25 September 2010 with Mercedes-AMG test and development drivers Bernd Schneider and Thomas Jäger behind the wheel. While the race debut was still used to rack up valuable mileage in testing, Thomas Jäger and Christopher Haase already scored the historic maiden win with the BLACK FALCON team in the second race.
The programme to complement the car
Simultaneous with the development of the car, Mercedes-AMG worked on the concept of an innovative customer sports programme. While other manufacturers rather focussed on works efforts, Mercedes-AMG intentionally put the privateer teams and their drivers in the limelight. Next to a fully matured race car, the aim was for them to be able to benefit from comprehensive support with a transfer of know-how from the initial firing up of the car to the joint plotting of race strategies. The defined goal was to get teams and drivers into a position to enable them to win races as quickly as possible. In line with the philosophy of the programme, the international customer teams became a kind of brand ambassadors of the Driving Performance made in Affalterbach.
Newcomer of the year
The concept worked: in 2011, its first full season, the SLS AMG GT3 became the most successful newcomer of the year. 40 cars were sold to teams from all over the world that scored over 20 victories on four continents. The teams’ title in the FIA GT3 European Championship for HEICO Motorsport crowned the debut season. Boosted by these achievements, customer sports soon became established as the third pillar of Daimler AG’s involvement in motorsport at the time, next to Formula 1 and DTM.
Grand Slam in endurance racing
In the following years, both the SLS AMG GT3 itself and the accompanying programme were continuously developed further. Next to its spectacular design, its excellent driveability and its innovative safety concept, the reliable endurance performance in particular turned out to be a factor for success. The 2013 season proved as much in an impressive way as customer teams won the ‘Grand Slam’ of all the major GT3 endurance racing classics: the Dubai 24-hour race, the Bathurst 12-hour race, the 24-hour race at the Nürburgring and the 24-hour race at Spa-Francorchamps. The success in Belgium with the HTP Motorsport team and drivers Maximilian Buhk, Maximilian Götz and Bernd Schneider also marked the 100th victory for the SLS AMG GT3 since the Customer Racing Programme got underway.
Open for special assignments
Part of the ten-year customer racing history is also a race car that was created as a part of a special project: in 2014, Mercedes-AMG developed the CLA 45 AMG Racing Series, built in a small run of 29 cars and since having been used in a dedicated one-make series, the CLA AMG Cup as a part of the Brazilian Mercedes-Benz Challenge.
The legacy of the gullwing
However, GT racing has always been the centre of Mercedes-AMG’s Customer Racing Programme. With its huge success, the SLS AMG GT3 had raised the bar for the further development of the programme to an extremely high level. With the Mercedes-AMG GT3, launched in 2015, the engineers from Affalterbach succeeded in bringing a worthy successor with a spectacular new design to the race track. Proven technology such as the large-capacity AMG 6.3 litre V8 atmospheric engine or the sequential six-speed gearbox were further optimised for the new model which led to an even better durability and reliability. The Mercedes-AMG GT3 also remained loyal to the aim for utmost safety, among others with a carbon fibre race seat and a safety cell mounted to the aluminium space frame. Once again, Bernd Schneider and particularly Thomas Jäger contributed with their experience to the new development, having already given decisive input for the development of the SLS AMG GT3.
A victory for all eternity
Like its predecessor, the new GT3 also got its baptism of fire in the VLN at the Nürburgring-Nordschleife: for the first test in race conditions on 4 July 2015, Bernd Schneider, Thomas Jäger and Jan Seyffarth alternated behind the wheel. In 2016, its first full season, the newcomer arrived on the scene with a stir: in the 44th running of the ADAC Zurich 24h-Rennen Nürburgring, the first four places and sixth position went to teams with the Mercedes-AMG GT3. Maro Engel, Bernd Schneider, Manuel Metzger and Adam Christodoulou claimed victory with the new GT3 run by BLACK FALCON. The historic quadruple victory on 29 May 2016 still stands as both the biggest single-race achievement in Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing history and in the record books of the classic endurance race. The high level of competitiveness right away also sparked demand: with almost 70 cars delivered, expectations for the debut year were clearly exceeded.
Conquering a new category
Boosted by the achievements and the continuously increasing popularity of GT racing, the portfolio was expanded by a new vehicle category for 2017. Unveiled at the Spa-Francorchamps 24-hour race, the Mercedes-AMG GT4 combines its production-based origin with benchmark-setting safety features, proven competition technology and excellent efficiency. The Mercedes-AMG GT R (combined fuel consumption: 11.4 l/100 km, combined CO2 emission: 259 g/km)1 was the perfect basis with its powerful 4.0 litre V8 engine with direct injection and biturbo technology. In spite of the proximity to the production model as required by the regulations, the new Mercedes-AMG GT4 for the Customer Racing Teams is a considerably more thoroughbred race car than previously was the norm in this class.
Like with the introduction of the SLS AMG GT3 and the Mercedes-AMG GT3, an intense test phase preceded the debut of the GT4. Traditionally, the ‘Green Hell’ served as the venue for the competition debut: in the VLN round on 19 August 2017, the Mercedes-AMG Test Team Uwe Alzen Automotive with Fabian Hamprecht, Mike Stursberg and Mercedes-AMG test and development driver Thomas Jäger scored a class win in its maiden outing.
Bigger, faster, further
With the new models, Mercedes-AMG also accelerated the internationalisation of its Customer Racing Programme from 2016/2017. Separate technical and logistics centres were established in the USA, Asia and Australia to ensure even faster and more reliable spare parts supply and even more direct technical support for teams in the region. It didn’t take long for success to arrive: in 2017, its debut year, Riley Motorsports achieved a triple championship win with drivers’, teams’ and manufacturers’ titles in the hard-fought endurance cup of the North American IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with the Mercedes-AMG GT3. In Asia, Edoardo Mortara drove the Mercedes-AMG GT3 to victory in the FIA GT World Cup at Macau in 2017. In 2014 and 2015, Maro Engel had already claimed victory at Macau’s narrow street circuit with the SLS AMG GT3.
The year 2018 was yet another season of success for Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing: with the GT3 and GT4 cars from Affalterbach, Customer Racing Teams racked up 373 podium finishes and 141 victories from 394 races. More than 40 championship title wins, including the overall win in the Blancpain GT Series with Raffaele Marciello and the AKKA ASP Team as well as the International GT Challenge drivers’ titles with Tristan Vautier (overall) and Kenny Habul (bronze). Moreover, in the first full season of the Mercedes-AMG GT4, teams scored a pair of class wins in the Nürburgring 24-hour race (SP10 and SP8T).
The 2019 season matched the achievements of the successful previous year: again with over 40 championship wins, the track record was boosted significantly, especially by the Mercedes-AMG GT4 in its second full season with more than 115 cars already delivered: 484 races, 624 podium finishes and 246 wins were the impressive results for the GT cars from Affalterbach. Raffaele Marciello crowned yet another top season for Mercedes-AMG by beating the world’s GT3 elite in the FIA GT World Cup, the fourth Macau win for Mercedes-AMG since 2014. In the VLN Langstreckenmeisterschaft Nürburgring, Customer Racing Teams also shone with a record: the eight point-scoring races of the series at the Nordschleife resulted into no less than six overall wins for Affalterbach. Four-time race winner Patrick Assenheimer claimed the drivers’ championship in the SP9-Pro class.
Ready for the next generation
In 2019, the Nürburgring also served as the venue for the unveiling of the latest Mercedes-AMG GT3. Launched at the occasion of the 24-hour race, the further development has a new look and numerous technical optimisations, yet again improving the already strong performance characteristics of its predecessor. Reduced running costs and enhanced serviceability contribute to making the team’s race activities even more effective and efficient. As an example, the engine rebuild interval was increased to 25,000 kilometres. As a result, rebuilds of the AMG 6.3 litre V8 atmospheric engine, known to be particularly reliable anyway, are required even less frequently. On top of that, the arrival of the new AMG GT3 also includes further benchmark innovations such as the optional drop start function or a tracking system that allows for automated collection and analysis of running time of vehicle components.
After initial test races in 2019, the new spearhead of the GT fleet celebrated its first podium finish on 2 February 2020: in the legendary Bathurst 12-hour race, the Intercontinental GT Challenge (IGTC) season opener, Mercedes-AMG Team Triple Eight Race Engineering secured third place with Shane van Gisbergen, Maximilian Götz and Jamie Whincup.
Following the further development of the GT3, the GT4 now also receives an update with new design elements and technical optimisations, particularly aimed at enhancing the endurance performance. Like with the GT3, the modifications lead to reduced running costs. With the two new GT cars, Mercedes-AMG has set the course for a successful continuation of its involvement in customer racing. To celebrate the anniversary season in 2020, both the Mercedes-AMG GT3 and the Mercedes-AMG GT4 will come in limited-edition versions.
Programmed for innovation
Next to the different vehicle generations, Mercedes-AMG’s Customer Racing Programme has also brought about many innovations with which the company has repeatedly set new benchmarks in the customer sports segment. For instance, Mercedes-AMG was the first to develop and offer a comprehensive Customer Service Portal (CSP), allowing teams to receive support and to order spare parts on a 24/7 basis. The central online platform also facilitates communication with the teams as relevant information and updates are made available here. Moreover, all participations and race results of all Mercedes-AMG GT cars since 2010 have been documented in a database.
Another innovative new element is the possibility to rent GT cars from the Mercedes-AMG fleet if required. This service was introduced in 2011 to give teams even more flexibility for their activities. The Mercedes-AMG service team that has an on-site presence with its own engineers as well as service and spare part trucks is also one of the support elements for clients all over the world. As an additional service, individually arranged spare part packages can also be ordered and delivered to any required race track. Thanks to the technical and logistics centres in the USA, Asia and Australia, this global service has become not only quicker and more efficient, but is also more sustainable for the environment as transport is reduced.
Since 2015, the Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing Championship has been an addition to the programme. This is a brand-internal global competition for all those driving or operating a race car from Affalterbach. Divided into the GT3 and GT4 classes, drivers and teams are collecting points with their competition achievements throughout the season. As a transparent system, participants can keep track of the development of their point score through the CSP at any time. During the traditional end-of-season celebration of the Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing family, the best drivers and teams are honoured. As a result of the separation between Pro Drivers and Drivers, amateur drivers (bronze) can obtain the same valuable prizes as the professionals.
With the GT3 segment becoming more and more professional, Mercedes-AMG also combined its team support with a new incentive from 2016 onwards: privateer customer teams can qualify to run as so-called Performance Team by means of outstanding success and achievements. Beyond the proven technical support, such teams receive additional assistance by engineers and motorsport specialists from Affalterbach. Moreover, Customer Racing Teams also still have the possibility to hire Mercedes-AMG race engineers for their activities to achieve the perfect car set-up and to make their own teams become experts for the GT cars from Affalterbach even more quickly
Professionals behind the wheel
A key feature in the support activities is the assistance for the teams by drivers from the Mercedes-AMG Driver Pool. Among these drivers are some of the best-known names in motorsport, making their ability and their expertise fully available for the respective teams during the specified activities. The current driver portfolio for 2020 includes Maximilian Buhk, Yelmer Buurman, Adam Christodoulou, Maro Engel, Maximilian Götz, Thomas Jäger, Raffaele Marciello, Dirk Müller and Luca Stolz. Next to Maro Engel, Bernd Schneider and Karl Wendlinger are also active as brand ambassadors.
A record to be proud of
Since the first SLS AMG GT3, Mercedes-AMG has sold a total of over 400 race cars to international customers. In the same period of time, the number of Customer Racing Teams showed continuous growth: currently, almost 100 teams worldwide are running the cars from Affalterbach. Since 2010, the track record of the GT3 and GT4 activities includes over 6,000 race participations in over 120 race series that led to more than 400 overall wins, almost 800 class wins and over 170 national and international championships. That makes Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing nowadays to one of the biggest and most successful customer sports departments in the business.
Tobias Moers, Chairman of the Board of Management of Mercedes-AMG GmbH: “Parallel to the rapid growth of our portfolio of road cars, our Customer Racing Programme has also shown an incredibly strong development in the past decade. From the outset, we have already been successful with the SLS AMG GT3 and we have since been taking on all other renowned sports car manufacturers at motorsport stages all over the world, competing for race wins and championship titles. Without any doubt, that is also the achievement of our many customer teams all over the world who are doing their utmost every race weekend. Not in the least thanks to the close links of the GT3 and GT4 models with the production cars, these achievements cast a positive light on our brand and underline the high-performance level of our products. With our system of equal support for all customers up to the opportunity for teams to run our race cars on a rental basis, we also underline the strong service-oriented character of our programme. The tenth anniversary is a good opportunity not only to look back, but to look ahead as well: with our new GT3 and GT4 cars, we will be doing everything to expand our leadership ambition that we have established over the past ten years during the next decade as well. To do so, I wish all the drivers and teams a lot of success.”
Stefan Wendl, head of Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing: “Mercedes-AMG’s Customer Racing Programme is unique in the world. With us, customer teams can rely on top-level cars and maximum support. At the same time, we have also considerably expanded our dedicated factory support for the GT highlights like IGTC, the FIA GT World Cup in Macau or the 24-hour races at the Nürburgring and at Spa. And we did so with success: in terms of race wins and championship titles, we have been able to improve year after year. That isn’t obvious, because competition is getting more and more intense and the quality in the drivers’ field is increasing as well. For us, that is a motivation to keep doing our utmost. In our anniversary year, fans can look forward to a couple of highlights. And beyond that, we already have plans to expand our programme even further.”
Bernd Schneider, Mercedes-AMG brand ambassador: “At the time, the road-going version of the SLS AMG was the very first car fully developed in-house at Mercedes-AMG. From the outset, it was clear to us that we absolutely wanted to bring this fascinating sports car to the race track in a GT3 version as well. And that also was the initiation of the customer sports programme. We have worked very intensely on the implementation to make it as easy as possible for the teams and drivers. After all, one thing was clear: when Mercedes-AMG becomes involved in customer racing, it will not be just to make up numbers! And with that, we were more than successful. I am very glad to be a part of this success story and to have been able to contribute to the development of the SLS AMG GT3 and all the further customer race cars.”
Thomas Jäger, co-ordinator Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing Programme: “We founded the Customer Racing Programme ten years ago to provide a new home for the passion our customers all over the world have for motorsport. It was the aim to make them successful with excellent products and comprehensive service. Since our arrival in GT racing, we have set new standards in terms of performance, safety, driveability and efficiency. That is also our ambition for the future. For us, the successes and the loyalty of our clients are the biggest motivation to continue bringing benchmark products to the market and to provide a reliable platform for our clients with the Customer Racing Programme.”