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Mercedes-Benz Festival of AMG
AMG breaks out a fleet of hyperactive beasts at wet-and-windy Phillip Island
5 May 2014
THE brace of Agusta helicopters touched-down, and the driving wind and relentless rain began, turning Phillip Island’s Grand Prix circuit into a treacherous obstacle-course of standing water and unpredictable cross-winds.
But we weren’t letting it deter us.
We were here to experience one of Mercedes' most lavish collections of AMG high-performance machines at one of Australia's most esteemed raceways, and even the worsening conditions couldn't dampen the sense of excitement.
Taking shelter in one of the specially transformed pit garages, Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy Chief Driving Instructor Peter Hackett explained that, with 45 professional drivers on-site to assist with proceedings, the 2014 Festival of AMG would be going ahead as planned.
Normally a spartan and functional space, pit-garages One to Six looked quite different today, with thick carpet, soft lighting and a barista replacing the usual tool-boxes and tyre-warmers.
Dominating the décor and highlighting the exclusivity of the occasion was an extremely rare Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black edition with its wings spread and representing a decent proportion of the $10 million worth of hardware on show.
Sadly this car wouldn't be making it out on to the track today, but after stepping outside to meet the fleet of 16 AMGs that would, any sense of disappointment quickly evaporated.
On offer were five examples of the most powerful C63 AMG to date –- the edition 507 — while another five E63 AMG S super-sedans sat alongside them.
Three big-booted CLS63 AMG S Shooting Brakes lined-up towards the end of the pits, and three elegant SL63 roadsters completed the smorgasbord of speed.
Sitting before us on 64 tyres was $4 million worth of machinery, possessing a grand total of 6550kW and 12,150Nm and waiting for someone to light the touch-paper.
And it was still raining.
Rolling out of the pit-lane and on to the soaking asphalt was a daunting prospect. Every car on the track had to get its V8 power down through just two wheels there was no all-wheel-drive get out of jail card here.
Before leaving the initial safety briefing Mr Hackett had summed up the challenges of a sodden Phillip Island.
“I would remind you to be extremely cautious of the white lines on the side of the track,” he said.
“You will all experience wheel-spin as you cross the grid markings along the start/finish line in a straight-line.
“The torque in these cars is so enormous that you can expect that over 180km/h to experience wheel-spin as you cross those white lines, so don't be too afraid if the orange light on the dashboard starts flashing at you.” Advice that would prove prescient before the day was out.
With no pace-car and the full un-reined performance of AMG V8s at our disposal, this was no duckling procession, with only the guidance of an experienced racing-driver in the passenger seat to keep us on the (rarely straight) and narrow.
In such diabolical conditions the importance of gentle commands and a carefully selected line was never more obvious. “Smooth is fast” said one instructor.
Only when asked to deliberately enter a corner too fast did the electronic systems step in to lend a hand, gathering up the back-end as it let go at the exit of Honda.
With the circuit offering so little grip, it was impressive just how effectively the fleet of hyper-Mercs could get their bountiful torque down to the tarmac, and with a careful hand (and foot) only the dreaded white markings could unsettle our progress.
With a relatively mild 323kW and 610Nm of torque, the baby of the fleet C63 AMG felt most at home on a sopping circuit, confidently diving into corners with the least weight to carry around and constantly relaying messages through the weighty steering and buttock-hugging seats.
With an extra few centimetres of crash-helmet added on top of our lucky driver's 188cm height, the C-Class coupe's low roof-line became all too apparent and hopping in to its more accommodating siblings was in some way a relief.
Larger E63 and CLS63 models couldn't hide their mass in such unsavoury conditions, with the ESC working harder to tame the abundant V8 turbo torque, but on the high-speed sections the larger cars were quickly snapping at the nippy C63's heels.
Clever flank-grabbing active seat side-bolsters really came in to their own on high-G cornering but occasionally got in the way of our elbows.
The true star of the show, however, was the breathtaking SL63 AMG with 415kW and a gargantuan 900Nm of torque, paired with true sportscar handling.
With all that grunt, piloting the SL around a wet Phillip Island was the most challenging of the four, but when the mighty cabriolet dropped in to a corner at just the right point, the brakes rolled on and off with care and the throttle treated like a firearm, the experience was sublime.
With all that power and torque on tap it was astounding that 15 cars managed to make it back to the pits unscathed, and as much a credit to the technology lying under the skin of AMG vehicles as to the top-notch instruction.
It was hard to tear ourselves from the snug seats and cease filling the air with the unmistakable AMG V8 bellow, but with a heavy heart we did.
The hours and rain-soaked kilometres flew by and before long it was time to bid farewell to the Island, but after such an inclement day, we felt a renewed intimacy with one of Victoria's most famous raceways.
The Festival of AMG is a carefully orchestrated event providing enthusiasts of hot Mercedes' an almost totally unbridled circuit experience, while all the time under the supervision of seasoned professionals.
During our day, the hostile weather and constantly changing circumstances couldn't tarnish the experience.
To be a part of the fun participants must stump up a $2400 fee and be a current member of the AMG club.
Three years membership is included with the cost of any new AMG vehicle and memberships can be renewed.
If Phillip Island isn't your favourite circuit, Mercedes offer a variety of experiences from a Formula 1 track drive at the Melbourne Grand Prix, to a snow driving course in New Zealand as well as experiences in New South Wales too.
“We offer an extraordinary experience at the Grand Prix – the ability of our AMG customers to drive around a Formula 1 circuit during Formula 1 week, while it's under the control of the FIA,” said Mr Hackett.
“We are the only manufacturer and this is the only country in the world that is allowed to do that.
“With the range of events we have at Mercedes-Benz, from our passenger car events right through to our performance events with AMG, I believe can cater for every driver.
“We have a car for everybody out there and now we have an event for every one of our customers as well.”
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