She never raced, episode 14: Mercedes-Benz C292

Before entering Formula 1, Sauber marked the history of sports prototypes by partnering with Mercedes. After several years of domination, Jaguar and Peugeot overtake Sauber-Mercedes in 1991. The German manufacturer wants to respond with the C292.

The C11 dominated the 1990 season. Among its pilots, a certain Michael Schumacher.

Thirty years after the Le Mans disaster, Mercedes officially returned to motorsport in 1985 with the Group C championship. In partnership with Sauber, the beginnings were difficult. Then, in 1989 and 1990, the Sauber-Mercedes won almost everything, with two world titles for drivers and manufacturers as well as a victory at the 24 hours of Le Mans 1989. The Mercedes C11 (Sauber no longer appears in the name), driven by a Mercedes M119 V8 biturbo with 5 liters of displacement and 730 horsepower, is a model of aerodynamic efficiency, reliability and controlled consumption, which was decisive in the regulations of Group C.

But in 1991, the world championship for sport prototypes changed radically with the end of turbocharged engines and the arrival of 3500cc naturally aspirated engines similar to those used in F1 since the previous season. While Ford-owned Jaguar may have had the V8 HB used by Benetton to power the XJR-14, Mercedes had to design an all-new engine, the M292 3500cc Flat 12 180 °. The latter is installed in a C291 chassis which appeared rather conservative compared to the rivals Jaguar XJR-14 and Peugeot 905 Evolution 1.

The domination comes to an abrupt end in 1991

Very quickly, problems with the design, reliability and power of the engine arose. The Flat12 only delivered 580 horsepower, a good hundred less than the competition. So much so that the best results, on the first races of the season, were obtained by the old C11 still engaged. While continuing to work on the C291 and Flat12, Sauber and Mercedes quickly set in motion the development of the C292, which was to bring significant change for the following season.

Great efforts have been made to the Flat 12, which now delivers 680 horsepower with a maximum speed of 13,500 rpm, or a power equivalent to the Peugeot, Jaguar (Ford) and Toyota blocks.

The 12-cylinder flatbed Mercedes

At the aerodynamic level, we notice the enormous rear biplane spoiler, which was lacking in the C291. Fast in a straight line at Le Mans, the C291 proved to be slower in corners than the XJR-14 and 905 due to the lack of downforce on the usual championship circuits. Introduced by Jaguar, this biplane fin was picked up by everyone. The motor, very wide with its 180 ° angle, was relocated with a horizontal inclination which cleared the tunnels and improved air flow.

Less radical arguably than a 905 Evo 2, the C292 seemed a lot thinner aerodynamically than previous Saubers, with sloping pontoons and more streamlined wheel fairings. At the front on the other hand, the C292 stood out by the absence of a front spoiler and an inclined and completely flat front face, clamped between the fairings of the wheels, which gave a little air of resemblance to the prototypes of the American championship. IMSA GTP. Cooling and support were judiciously provided by two openings at the base of the wheel arches.

Sauber-Mercedes C292

Unfortunately, this C292 won’t take to the track. At the end of 1991, for lack of sufficient fallout and in a context of uncertainty surrounding the future of the FIA ​​Sport-prototype championship (which will disappear at the end of 1992), Mercedes announces its withdrawal from the discipline. With Sauber, it’s a whole other challenge that awaits them: by 1993, focus on F1!

Images: Mercedes, flickr, wikimedia commons

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