Schnitzer’s staggering success
Charly Lamm steps down as Schnitzer boss with an astonishing record of sustained success – in touring cars and way beyond. With Motorsport Images’ help we look at the highlights
Schnitzer - an astonishing chapter in motorsport history
The news last week that legendary BMW touring car boss Charly Lamm is to step down at the end of the year as the head of Schnitzer Motorsport brings to a close an astonishing extended chapter of motorsport history.
Lamm is the younger half-brother of the team’s founding Schnitzer brothers and worked with the team initially during weekends while still a student, before joining full-time and becoming team manager – the key hands-on boss at the race tracks. He oversaw the Schnitzer team’s almost other-worldly success with BMW, routinely bagging titles in multiple territories around the world, sometimes in the first attempt, as well as jewel-in-the-crown races including the 1999 Le Mans 24 Hours.
And while Schnitzer is mainly associated with dominating touring cars, its successes spanned far wider. With the help of Motorsport Images’ fantastic photography we look at some of the many historic high points in the history of Schnitzer Motorsport.
1975: Not all about tin-tops
In 1963 brothers Josef and Herbert Schnitzer bought a damaged Fiat which they restored then raced themselves. Three years later Josef won the first Schnitzer title in German touring cars piloting a BMW 2000ti he had tuned himself, then the Schnitzer concern went on to dominate the European Hillclimb Championship, winning four titles in a row by 1971.
In 1975 Schnitzer helped conquer a single seater category too, in Formula 2. It modified a BMW engine for extra power and this allied to a well-constructed Tico Martini designed chassis meant Jacques Laffite cruised to the European Formula 2 title, winning five out of 14 races, and wrapping up his championship – which looked a formality from the off – by two-thirds’ of the way through the calendar.
1978: Bittersweet championship
Schnitzer in 1977 sought to conquer German touring cars, the series then known as DRM, with a dual effort also involving a quirky Toyota Celica Turbo. That was rather a disaster, and for 1978 Schnitzer stuck to what it was good at with the BMW; Harald Ertl also swapping the Toyota to drive it.
The Schnitzer-BMW turbo had been quick but unreliable the previous year. Now given undivided attention, it was consistent while most rivals hit problems. Among Schnitzer’s direct opposition, the Zakspeed Escort was aging while the new Capri was late and unreliable. Ertl tied up the championship, but it was a bittersweet year as Josef Schnitzer died from injuries sustained in a road accident.
1983-1991: Golden years
From the mid-1980s the Schnitzer legend truly began, as with a succession of BMWs it bagged championships and blue riband race wins routinely – to the point that its record reads like fantasy. Three European, one World, and one German touring car championship was bagged with Group A BMWs between 1983 and 1989 and then three Italian Supertourismo crowns on the spin were taken by 1991. The team also took four victories in six years at the famous Spa 24 Hours race, then a jewel-in-the-crown touring car event.
Its battles in this time with Texaco-liveried Ford Sierra RS 500s have gone into folklore. Driver Roberto Ravaglia was particularly successful, as well as two of the Spa 24 Hour races he took also six titles in a row covering World, European and German series before going on to take back-to-back crowns in Italy.
1993: They came, they saw, they conquered
Much was stacked against Schnitzer as it sought now to conquer Britain. BMW was 1992 champion but the effort had fallen apart amid acrimony in the close season. BMW with Schnitzer had pulled out of the German category unhappy with the rules, and weeks later threw its lot in with the BTCC.
The Super Touring British championship was on the rise. It had eight fully fledged factory outfits – and competitive ones at that. It also had a reputation for chewing up the uninitiated. But Schnitzer took things seriously – setting up a satellite base at Silverstone, and it won seven of the first eight races. Local Steve Soper was expected to lead the way but it was team-mate Joachim “Smokin’ Jo” Winkelhock who got on top with an early season victory hat-trick. And while from mid-season an additional weight penalty as the sole rear-wheel drive competitor and a strong Paul Radisich/Mondeo challenge made things tougher, Winkelhock and BMW held on for their titles with reasonable comfort.
Schnitzer was also active in endurance racing and in 1997 had a near-miss of victory in the most prestigious sportscar race, the Le Mans 24 Hours. Entering a McLaren F1 GTR with BMW power and up against a Joest Porsche prototype as well as Porsche and Nissan GTs, the JJ Lehto and Steve Soper pairing from the FIA GT Championship were joined in the Schnitzer line-up by Nelson Piquet, and qualified fourth.
Schnitzer's McLaren assumed the lead in the race’s opening hours as the Porsche prototype was forced to make more pitstops than it, but then the McLaren was majorly set back when the water line split. The car made a determined recovery though and was back up to seventh place in the morning before it crashed out. The other Schnitzer entry, driven by Roberto Ravaglia, Peter Kox and Eric Helary, did pick up some of the pieces, coming home in third place three laps shy of the winning Porsche prototype.
1999: Le Mans at last
For Schnitzer Le Mans victory awaited two years on, in the event more commonly associated with a series of airborne crashes for the Mercedes CLRs. It proved a hare and tortoise affair, for Schnitzer and everyone else. Martin Brundle took his first ever Le Mans pole in a Toyota but early hydraulic problems dropped the car out of contention. That left the Schnitzer BMW LMR of JJ Lehto, Jorg Muller and Tom Kristensen in a furious fight for first with another Toyota of Thierry Boutsen, Allan McNish and Ralf Kelleners. And the BMW was left with a massive lead when Boutsen had a huge accident overnight, which he was lucky to survive.
But a bizarre problem denied the lead BMW – an anti-roll bar broke and got among the pedals, jamming the throttle open and sending Lehto into the barriers. This left the Schnitzer BMW driven by Pierluigi Martini, Yannick Dalmas and Jo Winkelhock into a first place they kept, ahead of Toyota’s own backup effort of Ukyo Katayama, Toshio Suzuki and Keiichi Tsuchiya.
2001: Stateside success
Schnitzer, continuing its “I came, I saw, I conquered” ways, had added Asia-Pacific and Japanese touring car titles in the 1990s as well as couple of German Super Touring Car Championships by the end of the decade. Just after the turn of the millennium it added stateside to its conquests, by taking the 2001 American Le Mans Series GT class championship with Jorg Muller and JJ Lehto at the wheel of its BMW M3 GTR.
Again it was its first season in the category and it immediately got down to business and swept all before it – at challenges as diverse as Jarama and Sears Point. Schnitzer claimed five wins in ten rounds and with it aided BMW to the manufacturers’ crown. Four wins were for the Muller-Lehto pairing, with the other going to stablemates Dirk Muller and Fredrik Ekblom.
2012: Class is permanent
Perhaps like Alexander the Great being left with no worlds left to conquer, Schnitzer returned to the DTM category when BMW returned in 2012 after 18 years away. And in its first season back it headed straight for the championship – beating the established, in every sense, might of Mercedes and Audi. Bruno Spengler, with four wins from 10 rounds, finally got his DTM drivers’ title after an annual succession of near misses – holding off championship rival Gary Paffett of Mercedes in the final round with shot tyres and brakes to secure the race and championship.
For BMW and Schnitzer the wait was even longer, them having won their last DTM title in 1989. Even better the result in the last race allowed BMW to vault from last to first in the manufacturers’ stakes, making it a championship double. The photocall featuring the modern day M3 and that from previous glory days meant the historical thread was lost on no-one.
More great touring car content
- Top 10 Super Touring Cars
- Video: When touring cars ruled the Spa 24-hours
- Browse classic BMWs for sale on AutoClassics
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images
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