The 1996 season featured the best of touring car racing. The cars of the Class 1 had a technology comparable to that of the F1. With the approval of the International Automobile Federation, the German DTM he became the International Touring Car Championship (ITC). The races were held all over the world, from Hockenheim, in Germany, until Sao Paulo, in Brazil. They were broadcast live on television and each race beat fans to their televisions, with famous drivers and exciting overtaking maneuvers.
At the end of the season, Opel celebrated the greatest success in its history in competition by winning the Drivers 'and Constructors' Championships, in the face of fierce competition presented by Alfa Romeo y Mercedes. He Opel Calibra V6 4 × 4 y Manuel Reuter ITC monarchs were proclaimed in that year.
The pilot lineup was littered with stars. Former F.1 pilots, like Alessandro nannini, JJ Lehto y Hans-Joachim Stuck, competed with young stars like Giancarlo Fisichella and the DTM winners, Nicola larini (1993) Klaus Ludwig (1994) y Bernd Schneider (1995).
Class 1 passenger cars had high technology: V6 engines with 2.5-liter displacement and 500 hp, pedigree chassis and, in the case of the Opel Calibra, Four-wheel drive with ABS and a semi-automatic gearbox whereby the gears were changed in fractions of a second from paddles behind the wheel.
The lap times achieved by ITC passenger cars were comparable to those of the Formula 3000 International, the anteroom through which aspiring Formula 1 drivers of that time had to pass.
THE 1996 ITC SEASON
For Opel, the season started off with a dream start at home in Hockenheim. On April 14, 1996, Reuter achieved victory with his Calibra “Cliff” in the first of the two heats. The Mainz, Germany driver clinched the championship in a bumpy race in the rain in Sao Paulo, in which he was able to outrun Schneider (Mercedes), the previous year's champion and his biggest rival for the title.
In addition to the drivers 'title, Opel also claimed first place in the constructors' championship at the end of the season in Suzuka, Japan, with 349 points, ahead of Alfa Romeo (340 points) and Mercedes (305).
The Calibra drivers achieved nine victories: four from Ludwig (Opel Team Zakspeed), three from Reuter (Joest) and two from “Strietzel” Stuck (Rosberg), as well as another 19 podiums in the 26 races.
THE TECHNOLOGY OF THE OPEL CALIBRA V6
With a V6 engine based on that of the Opel monterey, the Calibra developed around 500 hp in the 1996 season. Cosworth Engineering carried out further development during the season. The aluminum block was lighter compared to its predecessor. The greater angle of inclination (75 degrees instead of 54 degrees) allowed to reduce its total height and, therefore, to achieve a more favorable center of gravity, which also allowed to resort to flatter air intakes.
In addition, it had a semi-automatic, six-speed hydraulically actuated gearbox. This technology, developed together with Williams GP Engineering, an Opel partner, reduced the driver's workload, especially in difficult racing situations, and avoided exceeding the engine rev limits.
A high-pressure hydraulic system managed the sequential gearbox. The driver changed gears via paddles located behind the steering wheel or by pressing a button. The Calibra needed only 0,004 seconds to pass the changes, with clutch actuation included.
Another hydraulic system varied the pressures in the differential locks. The sensors measured the wheel slip and the electronic control unit translated the collected information to achieve the optimal hydraulic pressure: increasing it during accelerations, for example, and thus closing the differential lock.
Once the trajectory was recorded in the computer and, therefore, the behavior of the traction at each point, the locking of the differentials could be programmed, as well as the automatic adjustment of the stabilizer bars. The stability of the Calibra ITC also improved considerably thanks to the work of the aerodynamic specialists: with 200 hours of work in the wind tunnel, they increased downforce by a staggering 28%.
With Opel's victory in the 1996 season, the era of Class 1 passenger cars reached its peak. The "Formula 1 with a roof" they had become too expensive both in terms of development and competition costs. The ITC went down in history after just two years.