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Group C: The Rise and Fall of the Golden Age of Endurance Racing: Sauber

Submitted by on February 27, 2023

By Marcel Hundscheid / Speed-O-Graphica

We continue our Group C retrospective with a look back at Sauber’s long journey to the top.

For competition in the World Endurance Championship, Swiss manufacturer Sauber built the Sauber SHS C6 in cooperation with Seger & Hoffman, a Swiss engineering firm. Sauber was no stranger to the world of sports car racing. During the 1970s they began building sports cars and competing in hill climb events. However, they became widely noted for building two lightweight frame models from the BMW M1. These cars were 90 kg lighter than other Group 5 M1s that competed at Le Mans.

To compete in Group C, Sauber formed a consortium which led to the C6, powered by a 3.9 litre Ford DFL engine. Two cars were entered in the World Endurance Championship in 1982. GS Tuning ran a car for Hans Stuck and Hans Heyer, the other one was Sauber’s works car raced by Walter Brun and Sigi Müller Jr. Plagued by vibrations, neither of the cars managed to finish a single race during that season including participation in Le Mans. Modifications to the chassis and the use of a smaller 3.3 litre DFL engine successes gave similar results, but, after installing a 1.7 litre turbocharged BMW, the C6 found success.

For the 1983 season Sauber developed the C7, a replacement for the C6 equipped with a BMW M88 3.5 litre engine instead of the troublesome Ford Cosworth engine. Sauber created just a single car that debuted at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. That car finished the race in 9th place with Diego Montoya, Tony Garcia and Albert Naon overall behind eight Porsche 956s. After the 24 Hours, the C7 appeared at races at Fuji and in Miami, when Sauber decided to sell the car to Fomfor Racing from El Salvador to participate in the IMSA Camel GT Championship from 1984.

After a year off Sauber found the way back to the track through a partnership with Mercedes-Benz. This resulted in the Sauber C8 for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1985. Sauber created a chassis for Mercedes to house the M117, a five-litre turbocharged V8. Initially the marque evolved the earlier C7 for the new C8. However, it turned out that modifications were needed to house the larger M117 engine. Although they managed to qualify the car, the C8 driven by John Nielsen was involved in an accident. The damage caused was so extensive that Sauber had to withdraw the car before the race. Sauber then did not appear at the remaining races of the world championship.

For the 1986 World Sportscar Championship Sauber ran as Kouros Racing Team. Participation in Le Mans resulted in a DNF, although the team achieved its first victory at the 1000 km of the Nürburgring with Henri Pescarolo and Mike Thackwell. At the end of the season Kouros Racing Teams finished 5th in the teams’ championship.

In 1987 the C8 was replaced by the Sauber C9, a continuation of the partnership with Mercedes-Benz. The C9 was developed from the previous C8 equipped with a monocoque that was stiffer and had lots of other improvements.  Kouros Racing entered two C9s for their debut in 1987 but without significant success.

For 1988 the team was renamed Sauber Mercedes. Claiming five wins, Sauber Mercedes managed to finish second in the World Championship that year behind Jaguar. Tyre issues forced the team to withdraw for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The team upgraded the C9 in 1989 with the 8.4-litre turbocharged M119 engine. They were able to win all but one race of the 1989 World Championship, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a smashing 1-2 victory. Jochen Mass, Manuel Reuter and Stanley Dickens drove the nr. 63 car to victory, five laps in front of the nr. 62 car driven by Mauro Baldi, Kenny Acheson and Gianfranco Brancatelli.

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