AMGs take to Bathurst snow
TESTING AMGS AT BATHURST WITH V8 SUPERCAR DRIVERS? NO PROBLEMO
It happened as if in slow motion, like it always seems to.
You know, those moments when something has gone horribly wrong at high speed and you are suddenly a passenger on the way to one of two possible outcomes: you will do some serious damage to something expensive that doesn’t belong to you, or you will get away with it and just make yourself look a bit of a tool.
And it was all about to happen at a place where it really was all or nothing — the Chase at the bottom of Conrod Straight at the legendary, terrifying and unforgivingly technical Mt Panorama circuit at Bathurst. The only place where the equally legendary Peter Brock ever rolled a racing car.
I felt the front of the Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG slide as the nose pushed drastically wide, blatantly ignoring the direction of the front wheels. Grip was gone and we were floating wide at a fairly decent rate of knots. Like I said before, all in the graphic sensory detail of slow motion.
We bounced over the outside kerb and slewed sideways across soaking wet grass. Clearly thinking exactly the same thing that had just jumped into my head, the AMG instructor next to me yelled, “Get on the gas!” just as I slammed my foot back on the throttle.
There was no chance in hell I was going to get stuck here. Not with a bunch of fellow Kiwi journos coming down the mountain behind me. That would simply never go away.
The CLA let out an indignant bellow as it hit the rev limiter and chattered and banged away as we powered out of the slushy mud and snow, back on to the track.
Wait, you say, what was that? Snow? Oh, yeah, there was that as well. Snow. At Bathurst. While we were driving some of the most stupidly powerful road cars available around it at speed.
We were at the Festival of AMG event — an almost insanely over-the-top exercise in brand building that Mercedes-AMG had put on for its customers. The numbers involved were simply staggering — close to A$12 million ($13.1 million) worth of cars put on the track for AMG owners to thrash around. More than 60 instructors (including a number of V8 Supercar pilots), plus all the support staff. And us: a small bunch of Kiwi journos who got to crash the party on the last day. Almost literally in my case.
All week had been cold and wet,but we were assured that we were the lucky ones; it was set to clear for the final day.
So it did come as no small surprise when we arose the next morning to be greeted with a most unusual sight: Mt Panorama under a generous layer of snow. This curtailed the morning’s exercises as a G Wagon couldn’t make it up to the top on the road, let alone a brand-new AMG GT S, which was the first thing we got to play with.
But it was the afternoon that mattered most, as that was when the full laps got started. The start, for me, was the spectacular GT S. As sexy as this car is in the photos, it is utterly spectacular in real life.
What appears to be slightly retro-looking styling in the pics is revealed to be completely modern in the metal. It looks at its most stunning in a less expected colour than the traditional Mercedes silver.
It sounds rather startling too, with the 375kW/650Nm twin turbo 4-litre V8 providing the perfect soundtrack for belting around The Mountain. I say “belt” but our first few laps were somewhat tentative, with a limit of just 80km/h enforced over the top for the first few exploratory laps. When you crest Skyline and can only see white for as far as the eye can reach, you understand why.
My first laps in anger were in the new C 63 AMG. Powered by the same 4-litre V8 as the GT, the C 63 pumps out slightly less power and torque — 375kW and 700Nm respectively — and somehow manages to feel like a different car, even on the sometimes treacherously bumpy surface.
What did we learn about the new C 63 and GT S? Well, apart from the fact that they are both ferociously fast, sound utterly fantastic and that the GT is a lither, sharper tool, while the C 63 is sharp, yet ridiculously composed and comfortable ... not a lot.
Bathurst demands ALL your attention if you are to go even remotely fast around it. It is technical, terrifying and utterly relentless. You don’t get much time to take in the finer points of the car.
The GT is undoubtedly the car in the AMG range best suited to it but the little 4WD A-Class-based 45 AMGs are utter weapons around Bathurst too. Which brings us nicely back to where we started — a slow-motion slither across the mud and snow at the Chase in the CLA. Why did it happen? I had been braking too late all day and barely getting away with it in the RWD cars, but the 4WD CLA 45 was having none of that. Brake a bit too late, the nose pushes wide and I was off the dry line. Then it was all over.
Still, as I slipped the CLA into the pit lane looking like it had just finished a WRC stage, the instructor’s laughter echoing in my ears, I was happy. After all, I got to drive at speed on one of the world’s most fearsome race tracks in some of the best cars on the planet. I also got to do it in the snow AND I had an off and got away with it. How many people can say that?