Klaus Ludwig – What A Career
will not now take part in the Nürburgring 24 Hours, for reasons
explained in our coverage of that event. Nevertheless, his drive
in the Viper on the Nordschleife earlier this month (May ’03)
qualifies as a comeback of sorts and we hope you enjoy this look
at the man's career – as remembered by Gary Horrocks.
Of Klaus Ludwig Images
The simple mention
of the man's name brings back memories. Chasing down Brian Redman
while coping with a “sticky” throttle at Sears Point.
Taking back-to-back wins at Laguna Seca in 1986 and 1987. Laying
down a blazing qualifying attempt at the last second to take pole.
There are just too many to list them all.
When I heard that King
Klaus was coming back, even if for a few races this season in Germany,
a rather dismal day at work suddenly became much more bearable.
Klaus, to me, was truly a magnetic figure, who burst onto the IMSA
scene in the early ‘80s with the outrageous Zakspeed Mustang.
His flamboyant driving style immediately caught my attention, especially
in the flame throwing turbo Fords.
The first time I saw
Klaus race was at Sears Point in 1981. This was my first road trip
to a race, and even today, many things from that event are still
fresh in my mind. And while it may have taken 12 hours for my dad
and I to drive there, it was worth it.
This was very much a
transitional year in IMSA, as the future belonged to the GTP, such
as the Lola T-600, and the past was the Porsche 935. Somewhere in
between was the Zakspeed Ford Mustang. Blatantly based upon the
European Group 5 Zakspeed Capri, this car was absolutely spectacular.
The first thing I saw at the track when we arrived on Saturday was
a burnt spot in the hills, which later we found was where a Porsche
935 burnt to the ground the day before. In hindsight, maybe there
was something very symbolic about that.
the race, Klaus, in the Mustang, jumped out to a big lead, only
to be caught and passed by Brain Redman in the Cooke-Woods Lola
T-600. As the race wound down, Klaus put on a charge, and was right
on the tail of the Lola entering the last turn before start / finish.
In front of them was a slow monster of a Datsun V-8 Turbo, driven
by Paul Newman. This car was a beast in the corners, and when Brian
had to brake hard to avoid the Datsun, Klaus was caught out, and
the Ford and Lola touched. Both cars spun, but Klaus was able to
gather himself back up quicker, and was able to hold off Brian for
the win. I immediately had a new hero. Legend has it that the Ford
suffered a stuck throttle, and that was the reason Klaus dropped
back. Looking back, I find it difficult to believe that anybody
could drive that fast at that track with a stuck throttle, using
the ignition switch as an engine control. But that is what I wanted
The next time my dad
and I got to see Klaus run was in 1984 at Laguna Seca, where Ford
entered two of the exotic front-engined Mustang GTPs. For this race,
Klaus was partnered by another European legend, Bob Wollek. Both
Fords were fast and were obviously the class of the field. Klaus
had an early problem that caused an unscheduled stop, leaving Bob
in the lead. Coming down the hill into the tight last corner, Bob’s
Ford went silent. As was common in this program, the car was out.
Oh well, Klaus was running well and was storming through the field.
But on the very next lap, at the very same point, the remaining
Ford went silent. For me, the race was over, and I don’t even
really remember much else of it. It was a long drive home.
1985, we again made the trek to Laguna, mainly to see Klaus debut
the Ford Mustang Probe, which in my eyes is the most beautiful racecar
ever. The car, as was common for the Ford IMSA Prototype effort,
really showed promise, but did not last the race. This event was
also one of the first races for the Nissan GTP, at this time in
the black markings of California Cooler. This car ran so badly that
every time it went by, I barked at it. I’ve never claimed
to be smart. Who knew what that Nissan would turn into in three
returned again to Laguna in 1986 and 1987. The first of those two
years, Klaus drove the Probe to its only victory, which was one
of the few times it actually finished a race. In 1987, the Ford
GTP program was gone, a victim of internal politics, but Klaus was
back. This time he was in a Bayside 962 Porsche. It just didn’t
matter what the car was, he won yet again at Laguna.
I saw many other IMSA
races in the GTP era, but those are the ones that really stood out
for me. Looking back, I feel very fortunate to have been able to
witness Klaus get those victories at Sears Point and Laguna.
to 1997. When I heard that the FIA GT Series was coming to Laguna,
it didn’t take much convincing to get me back there again.
The racing was great - the best in years - and I believe this race
was instrumental in the revival of interest in sportscar racing
here in the States. The opportunity to see those cars race in 1997
and 1998 was great, but to see Klaus again take back to back wins,
this time for Mercedes, was simply amazing. And to top it off, I
got to see him win the FIA GT Championship, in his first ‘final’
race, in 1998.
Now I am not
writing this to be the end all story of Klaus’ career. I’ll
leave that to better and more knowledgeable writers. This is simply
a tribute from a fan and an admirer. OK, maybe my wife might think
it was a bit beyond that, as I considered naming one of my children
Klaus; didn’t happen though. We had two girls. Probably just
had started racing in open wheelers of course, but as with so many
others, doors closed, and he went to sportscars and sedans. Initial
success came in 1974, racing a Zakspeed entered Ford Escort, followed
by victories in a Ford Capri 3.4 liter RS3100 in ’74 and ‘75.
This connection with Zakspeed would continue to feature, on and
off, throughout the remainder of his racing career.
When the Group 5 era
opened up in the late ‘70s, the Porsche 935 became the car
to have. While sportscar racing worldwide was in another down cycle,
the German Championship was striving. Klaus found himself in demand
with Georg Loos and then the Kremer Teams. He was very successful
driving for them, and in 1979, he had a dream season, winning 10
of 11 German Championship races, and also won Le Mans, leading the
Kremer team to a rather unexpected win in the revolutionary Kremer
K-3 variation of the 935. Just as Klaus was to be rewarded the Porsche
Cup for his dominating performance, Ford came back into his life.
The Zakspeed connection
was revived, and Klaus was signed to lead the team in their incredible
Group 5 Turbo Capri. Another German Championship was earned in 1981,
this time in the Capri. At this time, working with long time friend
and confidant Michael Kranefuss, Klaus came to the United States,
helping to revive the sagging image of Ford. This was a major undertaking,
and one of the major parts of the initial plan was the presence
of Klaus in a rebodied Group 5 Capri, suitably modified to resemble
a Mustang. The IMSA circuit was the intended target, and soon the
underdog Ford was taking on Porsche, and eventually winning. This
led to the spectacular, but ultimately unsuccessful, efforts with
the Ford Mustang GTP and Ford Mustang Probe.
Also, in 1981, Ford was
preparing to enter the upcoming Group C series, and to prepare,
a new Ford endurance racer was designed and raced as a Group 6 configuration
C-100. An evolution of this car emerged in 1982, as a true Group
C car, but owing to corporate politics and poor planning was also
not successful, despite showing some tremendous potential. The program
was cancelled in 1983, but Zakspeed was allowed to continue development
with its own motor, and was able to have some success in the German
national series with their variation, designated as a Zakspeed C1/4.
As the Ford prototype
program ended in Europe, Klaus was able to hook up again with a
privateer effort, driving a Porsche. The combination of Klaus, Joest
Racing and a Porsche 956 was strong, and resulted in back to back
victories at Le Mans in 1984 and ’85. Other victories occurred
in Porsches, on both sides of the Atlantic, and his success was
so great, that by 1988, Porsche forgave his earlier defection, and
signed Klaus as a factory driver.
Ford was not entirely
out of the picture for Klaus though, as he was an integral part
of the success of the all-conquering Ford Cosworth Sierra in the
various worldwide touring car series. This again led Klaus back
to the German home series, which was now the DTM, winning the series
First, his success was
with Ford, but he then signed with Mercedes, where more success
followed, including championship wins in 1992 and 1994. A short
term with Opel in the DTM was mildly successful, but when Mercedes
decided to get back into sportscar racing, they brought Klaus back.
The Mercedes team absolutely dominated the short-lived FIA GT series
in both 1997 and 1998. Klaus, who had earlier in the 1998 season
announced that this was his last season, teamed with Ricardo Zonta
to win the finale at Laguna Seca, and also the Championship.
In what was supposed
to be a one off, Klaus teamed yet again with Zakspeed to win the
Nurburgring 24 hour race in 1999. But in 2000, Mercedes called again,
and Klaus answered, helping promote the “new” DTM Series.
While he was not able to take the Championship, as Bernd Schneider
was absolutely unstoppable, he was able to finish a strong third
in the final points, helped along by a couple race wins. Now, after
spending time commentating in the television booth for the DTM coverage,
it appeared that once again the competitive juices were flowing,
as Klaus planed to race at the Nurburgring, in the Viper again -
a full 34 years after he started. And in many ways, it should have
been back to his roots yet again, teaming with his old Zakspeed
Klaus was one of the
most dominant drivers of his era. It is, in hindsight, rather unfortunate
that he chose to be so loyal to Ford, as who knows what he could
have done with a factory deal with Porsche while they were dominating
Group C. If he was in a more competitive drive consistently through
the ‘80s, his already impressive resume might be even yet
more impressive. But then again, fans like myself could have missed
some spectacular drives here in the States.
you – for so many memories. What a shame that the Viper drive
at the ‘Ring didn’t happen.