Deadbeat Dad - 1990 Opel Omega 3000 24V DTM

In 1982, the Federation Internationale l’Automobile introduced a completely new formula for motor racing across the board. Gone were the confusing and inconsistent Groups 1 through 7, and in were Groups A,B,C and N. The change was a reaction to dwindling numbers caused by the high fuel prices seen in the late 1970’s, and was meant to simplify and cheapen racing in GT, sports prototype, rally and touring car racing.

DRM's mad Group 5 formula had to be abandoned in 1982.

DRM's mad Group 5 formula had to be abandoned in 1982.

For the budding West-German racing scene, this ironically meant the formerly hugely popular Deutsche Rennsport Meisterchaft (German Racing Championship) had to switch from Group 5 super silhouette racers to much more expensive Group C sports prototypes. The Oberste Nationale Sportkommission für Automobilsport in Deutschland, the top racing authority, quickly realized the advent of Group C left a huge gap to lower categories.

In an effort to close this gap, the ONS instigated the formation of the Deutschen Produktionswagen Meisterschaft based around the new Group A touring car rules in 1984. In stark contrast to the extreme Group 5 DRM-cars, the new series would feature near-standard production vehicles.

With much stricter homologation rules (minimum production 25,000, 2500 specials, 500 evolution models), Group A promised a massive reduction in costs. To reflect on increasingly competitive machinery and harsher racing, the series was renamed to Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft in 1986.

The Group A-based DTM promised lower costs and competitive racing.

The Group A-based DTM promised lower costs and competitive racing.

As the new category started gaining traction, more and more manufacturers joined the fray. In just a few short years, the DTM saw factory appearances from usual suspects BMW, Ford and Mercedes-Benz but also oddballs like Rover and Volvo. One conspicuously absent from the list however, was German people’s car champion Opel.

Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, Opel had been at the forefront of the battle for Europe with arch-rival Volkswagen. With models like the Kadett, Ascona, Rekord and Manta, the firm managed to reach the top position in several European markets. By the mid-1980’s though, this dominant position was starting to falter. Sales for the latest Kadett and the new Corsa were still strong, but the glory days were definitely over.

Opel entered the DTM with the front wheel drive Kadett GSi 16V in 1988.

Opel entered the DTM with the front wheel drive Kadett GSi 16V in 1988.

Trying to claw back some of its image, Opel banked its chances on the old adage of Win on Sunday, sell on Monday, hoping good results in motorsport would lead to enough exposure for the brand to increase its waning sales.

Their preferred arena of competition had been rallying, but the cancellation of Group B and Group S in 1986 cancelled their already questionable Kadett-based rally monster.Cutting its losses, the firm refocused its efforts on Group A racing with the front wheel drive Kadett GSi 16V, its ultimate hot hatch offering. The little car performed admirably in two-wheel drive rallying, but it was generally left in the background.

The recently face-lifted Opel Omega A2 was chosen as the company's first full bore DTM weapon.

The recently face-lifted Opel Omega A2 was chosen as the company's first full bore DTM weapon.

With its rallying program scaled down to a dramatically low level, Opel shopped around for new means to promote the company. Inevitably, the firm’s management ended up with the now immensely popular DTM. Wasting no time at all, a DTM version of the Kadett GSi was conjured up with help from in-house tuning division Irmscher, and Opel joined the fray in the sub 2L class in 1988.

After two mediocre season running in the lower class, it was again apparent the brand needed something more. The three-wheeling Kadett certainly looked like fun, but what Opel really needed was overall victories. In order to reach this goal, the company would have to do better than a dinky front wheel drive hatchback.

To win outright, Opel went bigger, much bigger.

To win outright, Opel went bigger, much bigger.

So for the 1990 season, Opel started to develop a new challenger around the recently introduced Omega A2. The move was an unusual one, as the Omega was a rather large family sedan. Compared to the lighter and more nimble BMW M3 Sport Evolution and Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.5-16 Evo, the Omega was positively gigantic.

The reason for Opel’s seemingly ill-advised choice was very simple. There were no alternatives. The Omega was the last rear wheel drive car left in Opel’s range, and it carried the most powerful engines. The Vectra was little more than an oversized Kadett in terms of driving dynamics and outright power, so the rear wheel drive , straight six engined Omega was burdened with the task of defending Opel’s honor in the DTM.

DTM's established front runners were much lighter and smaller cars.

DTM's established front runners were much lighter and smaller cars.

For obvious reasons, Opel settled on the top of the line 3000 24V version of the Omega. In road legal form, this sporty model generated an impressive 204 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 270 nm at 3600 rpm from its 3L, dual overhead camshaft, variable intake (Dual RamC30SEJ straight six engine. For the average family man this was a bucketload, but the DTM demanded much more.

With help from Irmscher, Opel pushed the big six to 360 horsepower at a stratospheric 8500 rpm, while the torque figure shot up to 338 nm at 6000 rpm. In an effort to ensure optimum performance regardless of the type of tack, the car had the option of a 5-speed or 6-speed manual gearbox.

Nevertheless, the big autobahnstormer was always capable of sprinting from 0-100 kph in 5.5 seconds, and with the right setup could reach a top speed of 300 kph (186 mph). As all aerodynamic aids had to be homologated in a 500 “Evolution” production run first, the Omega featured completely stock bodywork.

Compared to most of its rivals the smooth-bodied 4.7 meter Omega looked unusually enormous.

Compared to most of its rivals the smooth-bodied 4.7 meter Omega looked unusually enormous.

In terms of power, the Omega was right up there with the front of the pack in DTM. But there were however a few drawbacks. Inevitably, the big Opel was far heavier than the offerings from BMW and Mercedes. The M3 weighed just 980 kg (2160 lbs), with the 190E at 990. As Group A didn’t allow for the extreme modifications so prevalent in the Group 5 days, Opel couldn’t possibly match that number.

The end result was a race ready weight of 1130 kg (2491), some 150 kg heavier than the BMW M3. The excessive weight badly affected acceleration, braking, fuel economy and brake and tire life. Luckily, the straight six gave Opel a 30 horsepower advantage over the lighter cars, but its longer and heavier straight six had a negative impact on weight distribution. With more weight further forward, the Omega was prone to understeering out of corners, and wore its front tires out much quicker.

The supersized Omega got some unwanted company from Audi's brutal V8.

The supersized Omega got some unwanted company from Audi's brutal V8.

More worryingly, Opel wasn’t the only one to go racing in a big way. Volkswagen’s luxury brand Audi had also decided to join the DTM in earnest, and fielded the even more colossal V8 quattro model. Audi’s racing limousine was 10 centimeters longer than the Opel, and some 100 kg (220 lbs) heavier.

To the outside observer it seemed like the German rally kings had somehow made a monumental mistake, but nothing could be further from the truth. The vast vehicle featured a V8 fashioned from two Golf GTI 16V engines, producing 414 horsepower, and more importantly employed the dark art of four wheel drive. With V8 grunt and all wheel drive traction, the four-ringed behemoth was a formidable opponent. Being at a disadvantage in weight, handling, traction and power against its various rivals, the Omega was in for a tough uphill battle.

Opel Team Irmscher entered a two car effort in the DTM, with legendary Ford factory driver Klaus Niedzwiedz (GER) as the number one. Niedzwiedz had campaigned a Ford Capri Turbo in the Group 5 years, a Ford C100 in Group C and was busy racing the Sierra Cosworth all over the world when Opel offered him a drive for the works squad.

Joining him would be Markus Oestreich (GER), who had experience in Formula Three, Formula 3000, DPM, DTM, ETCC, and the one-off WTCC. Additionally, Oestreich had raced the Kadett GSi 16V for Opel in 1989.

Niedzwiedz leading Oestreich, AVUS-ring 1990.

Niedzwiedz leading Oestreich, AVUS-ring 1990.

As Opel had feared, neither driver could take the fight to BMW, Mercedes or Audi. The Omega 3000 24V had to wait until the fourth round of the season to get its debut, and the results were bitterly disappointing.

Berlin’s AVUS-ring was little more than a section of autobahn with two hairpins at each end, which presented humongous strain on the engines and brakes. The Opels were promisingly quick in the qualification race as Oestreich took 4th Niedzwiedz finished 9th. However, trouble wasn’t far away.

The car’s first ever race swiftly turned into a drama for Opel. Oestreich dropped out on lap 3 due to an run-in with Mercedes-ace Jörg van Ommen , while Niedzwiedz was classified 25th and dead last after a crash with Danish Mercedes drive Kurt Thiim caused by brake failure on lap 17.

Race 2 was little better. Both cars were still suffering from the damage incurred in race 1, which left Markus Oestreich without the ability to change gear, and Klaus Niedzwiedz with an ECU full of oil. The stricken cars limped home to 21st (Oestreich) and 22nd (Niedzwiedz) in the standings.

Things weren't looking very positive for Opel.

Things weren't looking very positive for Opel.

At the airfield circuit of Mainz-Finthen, Opel recorded a shocking quadruple DNF, as neither car made it through a single heat. Race 1 saw differential failure for both drivers, and both cars succumbed to electrical faults in race 2. For the next round at another airfield track, Wunstorf, Opel Team Irmscher fielded only a single car for Klaus Niedzwiedz to sort things out. In the meantime, Markus Oestreich went off to compete in the German Porsche Carrera Cup.

By his lonesome, Niedzwiedz started to get the Omega where he wanted it. Race 1 at Wunstorf was again disappointing with a puncture leading to retirement on lap 18, but the second time out was decidedly more promising. Driving his heart out, he managed to clinch 12th position, with a gap of 41 seconds between him and winner Hans Joachim Stuck.

At the support race for the 1990 ADAC 24H race on the fearsome Nürburgring Nordschleife, Klaus Niedzwiedz took advantage of his skill and a high rate of attrition to grab a 9th place in race 1, again 41 seconds down on winner Jacques Laffite and his BMW. Race 2 saw him continue his march upwards, as he managed to score an amazing 5th place, 11.97 seconds behind Frank Biela’s winning Mercedes.

The tiny Norisring street circuit was next on the calendar. There Niedzwiedz ran into bad luck once again, as he failed to finish in both races. And engine failure in on lap 11 in race 1 was followed by a broken gearbox the second time around on lap 26. This mechanical malaise coupled to totally uncompetitive qualifying times made it frightfully clear that consistency, overall pace and more importantly reliability were still not on Opel’s side.

Klaus Niedzwiedz, Norisring 1990.

Klaus Niedzwiedz, Norisring 1990.

For the next round, the DTM-circus moved to the third and final airfield venue on the 1990 calendar, Diepholz. The race marked the return of Markus Oestreich, but didn’t present the hoped results. Klaus Niedzwiedz dropped out with another engine failure on lap 14. Meanwhile Oestreich managed to bring the car home 15th from 29th on the grid.

Unfortunately Niedzwiedz’s car couldn’t be repaired in time, leaving his teammate to do the work alone. Oestreich delivered a fine drive however, and came in 10th to secure Opel’s third hard-earned top 10 finish of the season.

Markus Oestreich returned at Diepholz.

Markus Oestreich returned at Diepholz.

The 10th round of the 1990 DTM season again took the teams to the Nürburgring, but this time the gorgeous Nordschleife was left untouched. Instead the race took place on the newer and much shorter GP-Strecke which promised much more close quarters action.

Sadly for Opel, the team’s car could only fight for a low top 20 classification. Oestreich led the charge form 17th, with Niedzwiedz close behind in 18th. In race 2 both cars crashed, with Oestreich out on lap 7, and Niedzwiedz still being classified as 16th after a shunt late in the race.

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The final round of the season was contested at Hockenheim, a super fast track scything through a dense forest. Famous for its combination of high speed straights and a tight and technical stadium section, the track was the ideal test of a car’s performance. To make the most out of the final race in terms of development, Opel reversed their earlier strategy and added a third car for 1984 DPM champion Volker Strycek (GER).

Strycek delivered on his promise, and grabbed an 8th place in race 1. Markus Oestreich was classified 17th after a spin, and Klaus Niedzwiedz retired with a busted radiator on the penultimate lap. His car was unable to make the grid for race 2, which compounded the double retirement suffered by Strycek and Oestreich. An engine failure on lap 7 for Oestreich and a malfunctioning clutch for Strycek on lap 8 wiped away Opel’s hopes of a decent result in one fell swoop.

Hockenheim, 1990.

Hockenheim, 1990.

After the horrors of 1990, Opel was understandably disappointed. Despite this the team held on for 1991, and escalated their efforts with the improved Evo 500 model. After a long wait, the development of the original 3000 24V had finally passed homologation.

Forged internals, more power, less weight, a wider track and a crucial large aero package were among the improvements seen in the Evo. Rather than produce all-new cars, the outfit decided to retrofit the existing cars with Evolution parts and continue racing them. Still faced with ever-increasing competition from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and a dominant Audi, Opel Team Irmscher would stubbornly continue to fight the establishment in 1991.

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The Opel Omega 3000 24V DTM was the result of a faltering car maker trying desperately to save face. After an embarrassing incident with their Group B prototype and the subsequent cancellation of the category, a struggling Opel was forced to think of something entirely different.Seeking to polish away the rapidly increasing blemish on its formerly squeaky clean image, the company turned to the wildly popular DTM touring car racing championship.

Win on Sunday, sell on Monday was the mantra, but it never worked out. As if to predict Opel’s imminent downward spiral, the original Omega refused to work properly for most of its short career. Persistent reliability problems plagued the car incessantly, leaving it with no chance to prove its worth as a genuine touring car.

As the season dragged on the results never really improved, but Opel was determined to see things through. Sadly, the original incarnation of Opel’s top level DTM program only succeeded to thoroughly embarrass itself.