AMG turns up the heat on the snow
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You start by patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. And the annual AMG Snow Experience just gets more complicated from there.
How hard does it look to complete a lairy drift -- not even a particularly elegantly-controlled one -- on a big flat apron of crunchy snow?
Um ... well ... Mercedes-Benz was keen to show customers and a few lucky members of the media, like me, that performing pristine figure-eights in AMG sportscars on slippery snow isn't as easy as you'd think. But it is achievable.
The AMG Performance instructors were keen to coach us towards the perfect icy-rooster-tail-spouting slide and -- hey, even if that remained frustratingly elusive -- they were insistent we have a heck of a lot of fun trying.
The venue for such snowy shenanigans? Central Otago's incredible Snow Farm, aka the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground; the world-famous 490ha test facility atop the Crown Range near Wanaka.
This is where carmakers from all over the world come to perform off-season winter testing.
Opened many years ago after Toyota suggested to the landowner, farmer and Cardrona skifield developer John Lee, that the site would make an excellent test facility during the Japanese summer, it now hosts up to 45 different companies each season.
What started with just a single ABS testing strip now boasts 16 separate facilities, cleverly arranged around the mountain so that competing companies can be in residence at the same time, yet never come into contact.
In addition to handling tracks and ice-covered skid pans, there are gradient ramps of heated concrete side-by-side with iced paths, an ice tunnel, refuelling and recharging stations and heavily shuttered windowless workshops where some of the auto industry's most secret stuff happens.
Of course we were far too busy looking out the side windows of an exceptional range of cars while attempting to go straight ahead to bother with all that.
The choice of AMG-badged finery was jaw-dropping; from the AMG A 45 pocket rocket, to the stunning AMG GT performance coupe (a rear-wheel drive beast, don't forget). Participants also got to steer SLC 43 Roadsters, CLA 45 4MATICs, C 63 S sedans, C 43 coupes and even the mighty G-Wagen (all mountain goat aesthetics and side-exhausts).
In fact, Mercedes-Benz transported more than $4 million worth of machinery up the mountain for this year's event.
So, with that price tag in mind, on to the snow flats participants went to see just how close to the snow banks we could possibly (or accidentally) drift.
The thing is, when weaving your way in graceful arcs through slaloms on snow, your steering wheel is next to useless; you pivot the car using the accelerator. A slight flick of the wheel to begin, then a short stab on the accelerator, pitches the car into an oversteer slide.
That's the easy bit; correcting your course and setting up for the next slide in the other direction is a lot tougher to get right. You have to be careful, because oversteer can turn into understeer at the next cone if you're not precise enough with those pedal pulses.
Not that I was particularly successful at this automotive ice skating, but I had something approaching an epiphany after a couple of hours sliding around like a horse on roller skates; once I stopped beating myself up and simply enjoyed myself, things started to work a lot better.
I even managed to string four or five opposite lock slides together.
Twenty minutes with some editing software and I'm sure the video footage would look brilliant.
Of course, just when you think you're getting the hang of it, along comes the AMG Performance team's tame racing driver, Peter Hackett, to show us how it's done. In the new 420kW / 750Nm AMG E 63 V8, no less.
With utmost precision, Hackett weaved his way at speed over what I can describe only as a toboggan run.
It's worth noting at this point that, aside from winter tyres, the brutally impressive AMG E 63 he was performing low-flying ice aerobatics in, was stock ... if "stock" is a word that can be applied to such a car as this.
The world's coldest hot-lap? It was an amazing way to finish one of those bucket-list kind of days.