Exactly twenty five years ago today - 4 April 1993 - the Alfa Romeo 155 V6 TI claimed its first ever victory, coming on its debut, in DTM in the hands of Nicola Larini, before the Italian added a second win a few hours later, and in the process opening a stunning chapter in the brand's racing history.
The story goes back a while and after quitting Formula 1 at the end of 1985 following a seven-year return to the highest echelon of motorsport, Alfa Romeo turned its hand to touring cars with the 75 Turbo programme, which included tackling the 1987 FIA World Touring Car Championship, before setting its sights on Indycars.
That stateside single-seater programme which was born out of Ferrari’s stillborn 637 chassis and engine project would see Alfa Romeo build a 2.65-litre V8 engine, run in a March chassis between 1989-91, a three year campaign that didn’t yield any podiums, a fourth place being the best finish.
After that programme fizzled out at the end of 1991 Alfa Romeo then looked to touring cars once again, this time using its new C-segment 155 sedan which had replaced the 75 and was launched at the Geneva Motor Show in 1992. Unlike the 75 this new model was front wheel drive and while the 75 had been developed in house the 155 shared its platform with the Fiat Tipo and Lancia Dedra.
Alfa Corse successfully developed the 155 to fit “Super Touring” regulations and the new car, dubbed the 155 GTA won the Italian SuperTurismo Championship in the hands of former F1 driver Nicola Larini the same year.
After a period in the doldrums touring car racing was on the up and the FIA harmonised the regulations into two classes for the 1993 season, “Class 2” was reserved for “Super Touring” cars, 2.0-litre engines with limited modifications; however, “Class 1” was a very open formula which allowed entrants to develop highly sophisticated racecars.
While most national series plumped for Class 2, which had been modelled on the British Touring Car Championship's (BTCC) popular regulations, Germany’s brash "Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft" (DTM) series, which regarded itself as the biggest and best in the tin top world, adopted Class 1 rules.
DTM, which had up to that point was run based around modified Group A regulations, had enjoyed a high profile run since it had been formed and had grown into one of the most popular championships in Europe. Manufacturers had thrown their weight behind it as the 1980s counted down, but the departure of Audi and BMW had left Mercedes as the only manufacturer remaining involved and the series’ viability was left hanging by a thread.
Alfa Romeo, buoyed by its instant success in Class 2, was enticed by the challenge of the new Class 1 regulations, which DTM immediately adopted for the 1993 season. With DTM needing at least one more manufacturer to join quickly to secure its future Alfa Romeo held all the cards with its newfound interest in entering the series and it’s believed Mercedes stalled debuting a new Class 1 contender for an extra year, instead entering the 1993 season with a revised version of its 1992 DTM season winning Group A-based 190, in order to give the Italians a distinct upper hand and thus entice them into the series.
Alfa Romeo set about developing a racecar from scratch to meet the Class 1 regulations – the fearsome 155 V6 TI – which would enjoy instant success on track and quickly go on to earn its place amongst the brand’s most legendary racecars.
It would prove to be quite a car as Class 1 threw away most of the established rules and DTM embarked on a brief golden age that was reminiscent of what rallying had enjoyed a decade earlier when the legendary “Group B” machines were unleashed.
The 155 V6 TI would owe very little to its production sister. The heart of the Class 1 machine was the power unit and the rules were wide open here with the units requiring the V-angle and the cylinder centre lines to come from a production range engine. Traction Control (TC) and Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS).
In the 155 V6 TI the engine, which was a 2,498cc 60-degree V, was mounted as far back as the rules allowed and significantly lowered thanks to the use of a dry sump. To accommodate this new subframes had to be developed. The engine in its debut season offered up around 420 hp.
Electronics were opened up for the first year of Class 1 with Traction Control and ABS allowed (although for the second season of Class 1 regulations in DTM some of the “driver aids” would be rolled back).
Four-wheel-drive was permitted, with the system being free, but the gearbox had to be mated to the engine if that’s where it was located in the original car or on the transaxle if that was the case.
The four-wheel-drive system and differentials would occupy much of the designers’ attentions as maximising its ability to deliver power to the wheels would be key to the Alfa 155’s chances of success. The front and rear axles would use a ZF limited slip units with a Ferguson viscous coupling unit sitting in the middle.
With the engine pushed back the gearbox sat almost in the middle of the car to help achieve an ideal front to rear weight balance. The 50:50 torque split ratio used advanced electronics to evolve to the track surface, speed and the tyre conditions – this was one of the 155’s winning cards.
The suspension had to be based on a current production model also and so Alfa Corse chose the Alfa 164’s arrangement of McPherson struts at the front and rear and multilink rear suspension. (Later in the, albeit short, life of the Class 1 regulations, suspension systems were completely freed up).
A wider track was permitted thanks to an increase in the wheel arch width and all aero below the wheel centerlines was opened up, hence the 155 sported a very visually sophisticated front splitter, rear diffuser and side skirts. The car weighed in at 1,010 kg.
As the newly crowned SuperTurismo champion Nicola Larini was the logical choice to lead the new DTM programme. The Italian was winding down an F1 career that had started back in 1987 with Enzo Coloni’s team before moving on to Osella (1988-89), Ligier (1990) and Modena (1991) all of which brought scant rewards.
He was left high and dry for 1992 which opened the door to the Alfa Romeo drive but right at the end of the F1 season he made two substitute appearances for Scuderia Ferrari in the Japanese and Australian Grands Prix. Larini replaced Ivan Capelli, who was fired by the team, but he was handed the new F92AT, the team’s first stab at a single-seater featuring active suspension. Unfortunately, the updated car was 30 kg overweight and entirely uncompetitive leaving Larini to potter home P11 in Japan and P12 in Australia.
Alongside Larini in the Alfa Corse lineup came Alessandro Nannini. Once regarded as one of Italy’s most promising future stars Nannini had made his name with the factory Lancia LC2 sportscar programme before entering F1 in 1986 with Minardi. Two years later his stirring performances had earned him a drive with the Benetton team and he repaid that faith with a string of good results, including victory in the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix. However, that promise, which had grown as far as getting strong interest from Ferrari, came to an abrupt end in October 1990 when he suffered arm injuries during a helicopter accident.
His arm was saved but it ended his F1 career although he would earn a test drive with Ferrari in 1992 in a special adapted car. Nannini instead turned his focus towards touring cars and having raced for Alfa Corse behind the wheel of a 155 GTA in the 1992 SuperTurismo alongside teammate Larini was a second perfect fit for Alfa Corse as they graduated from SuperTurismo to DTM with the same leading driver lineup.
Alongside the two factory entries, which sported an all red livery with giant outlines of the badge across the bonnet and the flanks, came several private entries, top German team Schübel Engineering ran 155s for Christian Danner, whose F1 career has spanned stints with Zakspeed, Osella and Rial between 1985-89 and had swapped to start a DTM career in 1990, and longtime Alfa Romeo test driver Giorgio Francia whose career included two unsuccessful attempts to qualify for F1, with Brabham in 1977 and Osella in 1981, but had most recently driven for the 155 Super Touring in the Italian championship.
Wealthy Italian privateer Gianni Gudici also bought a 155 V6 Ti, this driver stepping up to DTM after a 12-year stint in the Italian SuperTurismo and continuing with the brand after wrapping up that involvement with an Alfa 75 Turbo Evoluzione in 1992.
Finally, in a nod to the “Class 2” rules that would form a sub-class on the DTM grid to boost numbers, German dealer and regular racer Franz Engstler via his Engstler Motorsport outfit would drive a 2.0-litre two-wheel-drive Alfa Romeo 155 TS, a project that was also developed by the factory alongside the Class 1 effort and which would also go on to cause a shock that same year by winning the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) in the hands of another former F1 driver, Gabriele Tarquini, who would later be rewarded for his performances in the 155 TS by getting a DTM factory seat.
Alfa Corse ran an extensive test programme before their debut in DTM and the evolution of the 155 V6 TI’s aero can be clearly seen through the winter months.
When the opening round of the 1993 DTM season ticked into view, the team was very well prepared to go racing – and that would prove to be the case. The year kicked off with a short trip over the German border to Belgium’s historic Zolder Circuit and with the BMW brand now consigned to DTM history a titanic Mercedes-Benz vs Alfa Romeo battle loomed large.
It would be a battle that would go dramatically one way at Zolder as Larini topped the practice timesheets and that would be an solid omen for the weekend. The Italian romped his way to pole position in qualifying and come Race 1 – held exactly 25 years ago today – he crushed the opposition to score a dominant win. After 47 minutes and 44.89 seconds of racing Larini crossed the line with Danner coming home second to make it a 1-2 for the 155 V6 TI on its debut race. Francia in P7 made it three Alfa Romeos in the top ten with Nannini retiring at the halfway point.
In fact, the weekend was entirely his as he added victory in the following Race 2 to his tally to make it two poles and two wins from two races. Race 2, later the same day, would see an Alfa 1-2-3 as Danner chased Larini across the line, just 1.43 seconds adrift, while Nannini was a further fifteen seconds back and the first Mercedes in P4, that of Roland Asch, was a full half a minute down on the winner with Francia retiring. Emphasising Alfa Romeo's dominance, Danner claimed the fastest lap in Race 1 and Larini was quickest in Race 2.
That also put Larini at the top of the championship standings and he would never relinquish that advantage as he went on to win eight more championship counting races on his way to the 1993 DTM Drivers’ title while Alfa Romeo claimed the Manufacturers’ crown as the 155 V6 TI wrote its way into the brand’s rich sporting history as one of its most successful ever racecars – no mean feat for a company with so much racing success.
For the record Larini wound up the year with 261 points with Mercedes drivers Asch (201 points), Bernd Schneider (172 points) and Klaus Ludwig (171 points) next up. Then came Danner (161 points) while Francia (127 points) and Nannini (121 points) were seventh and eighth.
Nannini would also make his mark with two wins during the 1993 season while in the non-championship round at Donington Park, Larini and Danner would claim a win apiece. Privateer Gudici, meanwhile, would claim a best result of P14 at Hockenheim.
Today the 155 V6 TI remains an icon, not just for fans of Alfa Romeo, but as a highly recognised racing car to all motorsports’ enthusiasts.
Photos: Alfa Romeo 155 V6 TI