Photo credit: Opel
The 1996 season offered racing at the highest level. The touring cars according to Class 1 regulations were in no way inferior to Formula 1 in terms of their technology. With the blessing of the FIA, the German DTM had become the International Touring Car Championship ITC. The races took place from Hockenheim in Baden to Sao Paulo in Brazil. The television was always there live, every run a frenzy for the fans - with prominent pilots and thrilling overtaking maneuvers. At the end of the season, Opel celebrated the greatest racetrack success in its history by winning the manufacturers 'and drivers' championships - against strong competition from Alfa Romeo and Mercedes. The 1996 touring car champions were Opel Calibra V6 4 × 4 and Manuel Reuter.
The field of drivers in the 1996 ITC season was peppered with stars. Former Formula 1 drivers like Alessandro Nannini, JJ Lehto and Hans-Joachim Stuck competed with young stars like Giancarlo Fisichella and the DTM winners Nicola Larini (1993), Klaus Ludwig (1994) and Bernd Schneider (1995). The works teams Joest, Rosberg and Zakspeed competed for Opel in the international series. The class 1 touring cars were bursting with the very finest of high-tech: V6 engines with a displacement of 2,5 liters and 500 hp, thoroughbred racing chassis; In the case of the Opel Calibra with all-wheel drive including racing ABS, hydraulically adjustable stabilizers and a semi-automatic system in which gear changes were carried out in fractions of a second using paddles on the steering wheel. The lap times of the ITC touring cars matched those of the Formula 3000 - the build-up series for future Formula 1 drivers at the time.
The 1996 ITC season
The season began for Opel with a dream start at Hockenheim: on April 14, 1996 - 25 years ago today - Manuel Reuter won the first of the two races with his “Cliff” Calibra. The Mainz man finally secured the championship in a turbulent rain race in Sao Paulo, in which he was able to leave his worst rival for the title, Mercedes driver Bernd Schneider, behind. In addition to the drivers 'title, Opel also took first place in the manufacturers' championship at the season finale in Suzuka, Japan, with 349 points ahead of Alfa Romeo (340 points) and Mercedes (305). Nine wins - four for Klaus Ludwig (Opel-Team Zakspeed), three for Manuel Reuter (Joest), two for "Strietzel" Stuck (Rosberg) - as well as 19 further podium places in 26 races were achieved by the Calibra drivers and thus won the Opel Triumph in ITC '96.
The technology of the Opel Calibra V6
With the V6 engine based on the Opel Monterey engine, the Calibra got a new, 1996-hp athlete's heart for the 500 season. Its further development was continued during the season at Opel’s British partner Cosworth Engineering. Its aluminum block saved weight compared to its predecessor. The wider bench angle (75, previously 54 degrees) led to a lower overall height and thus a more favorable center of gravity; in addition, it allowed shallower suction paths.
There was also a hydraulically operated six-speed semi-automatic. The technology developed together with Opel partner Williams GP Engineering relieved the driver, especially in tricky racing situations, and protected the sophisticated engines. A hydraulic system working at high pressure operated the shift drum to change the six sequentially arranged gears. The driver gave the electronic command either via the rocker switch or the push of a button on the steering wheel. The semi-automatic function prevented overspeeding and thus significantly extended the stability of the gearbox and engine. Ultimately, there was a considerable time saving compared to the tried and tested H-shift: while the gear change used to take a good 200 milliseconds, the semi-automatic in the Calibra required just 40 thousandths of a second, including the clutch.
Another hydraulic system varied the pressures in the differential locks. Sensors measured the slip of a wheel, and the electronic brain converted the information into the optimum hydraulic pressure - increased it, for example, in acceleration phases and thus closed the differential lock. Once the route and thus the traction behavior were recorded in the computer at every point, the locking degrees of the differentials - as well as the automatic adjustment of the stabilizers - could be programmed. The road holding of the ITC-Calibra was also significantly improved thanks to the work of the aerodynamics specialists: In 200 wind tunnel hours, they increased the downforce by an astonishing 28 percent.
With the Opel triumph at the end of the 1996 season, the era of the class 1 touring car had reached its climax. The sophisticated "Formula 1 with a roof" had become too expensive in terms of development and operating costs. The ITC was history again after just two years. In 2000, the DTM then celebrated its comeback - now as the German Touring Car Masters - with new, technologically greatly simplified regulations - and again with works teams from Rüsselsheim. Again it was Manuel Reuter who achieved two victories with the Opel Astra V8 Coupé. Joachim Winkelhock and Uwe Alzen also celebrated first places.
Today, most of the touring cars from the ITC and DTM times stand side by side in the Opel Classic collection. The black and white “Cliff” Calibra from 1996 is parked right at the front. The world champion has been the unchallenged pole position here for 25 years.
The Opel teams of the 1996 ITC season:
Start number 7 Manuel Reuter (D, ITC champion)
Car number 8 Oliver Gavin (GB)
Starting number 24 Yannick Dalmas (F)
Starting number 25 Alexander Wurz (A), Tony Kanaan1 (BR)
Starting number 27 Masanori Sekiya1 (J)
Starting number 43 JJ Lehto (FIN)
Starting number 44 Hans-Joachim Stuck (D)
Start number 16 Uwe Alzen (D)
Start number 17 Klaus Ludwig (D)
Starting number 23 Volker Strycek1 (D)
Giudici (private team)
Starting number 13 Gianni Giudici (I)
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25 years ago: Opel wins the World Touring Car Championship with the Calibra
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