As I look back into some of my favourite bits of motorsports history, one name keeps cropping up over and over again: Klaus Ludwig. I’m not necessarily a big fan of the man himself, but I have an immense amount of respect for what he’s achieved over the course of his long and varied career. Some race drivers fade away after a decade or so of active racing, but not Klaus Ludwig. He’s made car racing a lifelong habit… and all the power to him for doing so!
As I’ve put this gallery together, I’m actually a bit taken aback by
just how many iconic machines Klaus has driven and by what a successful
career he’s enjoyed in Touring, GT and Sports Cars.
He’s won Le Mans several times, the FIA GT championship and the DTM
Championship three times not to mention Sebring and numerous IMSA, WEC, Touring car and
While this article isn’t going to get in to the driver psychology of Herr Ludwig, it will look through his career highlights in a gallery format….
… and we’ll also be able to get a sense of the evolution of car racing from the 1970s to present.
So let’s pick up the trail in the year 1974. Amateur photographer Paul Kooyman captured a young Klaus Ludwig on his way to seventh place at the ETCC Zandvroot race in Holland. According to the Racingsportscar.com results list for Klaus Ludwig this race was the first time he drove for the famous Zakspeed Team and was the start of his long association with the Ford supported racing outfit. He continued to drive with Zakspeed in the ’75 and ’76 DRM race seasons.
For 1977, Klaus switched to the Schnitzer run Group 5 2002 Turbo in the DRM Series; a car that we recently photographed in Germany. That year, he was one of the only drivers to challenge the factory BMW Junior Team in the Division II class, and recorded 1 victory at the Nurburgring.
By 1978, Klaus Ludwig graduated to pilot one of the GELO racing team’s squadron of 935s. It was a big year for him, as the team completed in over 20 events between the WEC European races, Le Mans and the DRM series. He took three victories that year: Mugello, Hockenheim and the Nurburgring and tied for 4th in the DRM Championship.
1979 was the first big result, which has helped to kick start the legend of Klaus Ludwig. At the start of the season, he moved over to the Kremer Racing team who were in the midst of launching their new 935 evolution model: the K3.
He campaigned this car in both the 1979 DRM season and more famously at Le Mans and in both cases came out victorious. He won DRM races at Zolder, Hockenheim (twice), Salzburgring, Mainz-Finthen, Norisring, Zandvoort, Diepholz, Nurburging and Zolder and was crowned the DRM Champion at the end of the season. And just to show his season of domination was no fluke, he also won WEC events at Watkins Glen and the Nürburgring.
I’m sure most people will remember him for his part in the famous Kremer 1979 Le Mans victory, when a production based Porsche overcame the sports prototypes for overall honours at La Sarthe.
Another year, another team change… for 1980 Klaus Ludwig made the risky decision to leave his slot at Kremer and return back to the Zakspeed team who were preparing a car they thought could break the Porsche 935 lockout in Div I.
And this was the car he chose to defend his championship with, the Div I Zakspeed Super-Capri.
As I’ve mentioned several times in previous articles, this is one of the only Group 5 cars that regularly saw off the might of the Porsche 935. With 600 horsepower on tap from its 1.7L turbocharged engine, the lightweight car was more than a match for the Porsches.
I recently discovered some photos of the Capri on the Ford Historical Media Archive. In this shot you can clearly see the full underfloor ground effect tunnels with sliding skirts.
The car won six times in 1980, and might have fared better in the DRM Championship had it not been disqualified from the first 2 events of 1980 because of an illegal rear wing configuration. Although Ludwig missed out on the overall DRM Championship that year, he did win the Div1 title.
For 1981 Klaus stepped down to a 1.4L Divsion II Zakspeed Capri.
It proved to be a wise decision as at the end of the season he had 11 victories to his name, and was crowned DRM champion yet again.
1981 also saw the start of a new American Zakspeed program. Ford of America saw the 1980 success of the Capri against the Porsche 935s. and commissioned Zakspeed to construct a Mustang shelled version of the Super-Capri.
Klaus and the Zakspeed Mustang proved to be instantly on the pace and scored a 4th place at Road Atlanta on April 12th 1981.
He took two wins with the Turbo 4 cylinder Mustang in ’81; at Brainerd and then at Sears Point.
It’s said that up to 700 hp was available in the car depending on how far the Klaus dared to twist the boost knob!
The winds of change were blowing hard in 1982; the Group 5 era came to a close and was replaced by a new generation of Group C prototypes. The Ford of Europe initially commissioned two C100 chassis (from two different chassis builders!), one of which they gave to Zakspeed to develop. The program was generally considered to be a bit of a disaster for Ford and the Cosworth DFL V8 powered cars were quickly swept under the carpet before they could be properly developed.
In the DRM, the prototypes ran alongside the old Group 5 cars for 1982 and Klaus switched between this Jagermeister liveried, Zakspeed run C100…
… and a Jagermeister Capri. I’m sure Klaus would say that ’82 was a frustrating season for him, but by the end of the year the Zakspeed developed C100 was developed enough to score two victories in the DRM.
The Zakspeed Mustang continued to be developed in 1982, as the GTX (Group 5) cars held out for 1 more year before being overrun by the new breed of prototypes.
Klaus only drove the Mustang twice in 1982…
… But netted another victory at Sears Point with the car.
The Zakspeed USA team was run in partnership with Roush racing and together the two concerns developed the new Mustang GTP for the 1983 season.
Some of you will see shades of the Panoz front engined GT1 car in the design of this machine. It used the same engine as the Zakspeed Capri, but packaged into a new front-mid engine prototype chassis. The car was fairly high tech for its time, with a full carbon/kevlar monocoque and bodywork, but the Bob Riley designed car had a fairly useless weight distribution of 53/47.
Amid a downpour, Ludwig managed to win his first race with the car at Road American on August 21st 1983 but this was as good as things got for the project.
Perhaps Klaus was losing his touch for being in the right team at the right time?
Zakspeed also continued to develop their own C100 in collaboration with Tony Southgate after Ford cancelled the project. For the 1983 DRM season, they rebuilt the car around the old Capri 1.7L Turbo engine. Now christened the Ford Zakspeed C1/4, the car was good enough to bring Klaus 5th place in the 1983 DRM. He continued to moonlight with the Zakspeed team for a couple outings a year with the car through 1985 but his focus was increasing turning to IMSA and the World Endurance Championship.
We’ll find out more about how Klaus took his career to the next level in Part2 of this retrospective.
Tx to Paul Kooyman, Racingsportscars, John Brooks, Theo Badri, Ford, Porsche, Mercedes and Bill Oursler for the photos.
The Bill Oursler photos are part of the Speed Merchants photo collection.