The performance and sound from AMG cars is purely intoxicating for a petrolhead.
AMG. These three letters are not new to the automotive buff. They are capable of accelerating your heartbeat and getting your pulse racing. Add to that the aural mayhem these AMG powered machines are capable off or soul soothing music as some like to call it, it is indeed pure nirvana. For those who haven’t really figured out what we are referring to, AMG is the performance arm of Mercedes-Benz and is known to turn their road cars into performance spitting beasts. AMG is a wholly owned subsidiary of Daimler AG and started off as a rather small company.
Originally an independent firm which specialised in performance improvement for Mercedes-Benz cars, AMG was founded in 1967 by two Mercedes engineers, Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher in Burgstall, near Stuttgart. The letters “AMG” stand for Aufrecht, Melcher and Großaspach (Aufrecht’s birth town). The headquarter moved to Affalterbach in 1976 (where it is today), in 1999 Daimler AG took over the company completely. Today, cars with the AMG badge have higher displacement engines, better driving dynamics and sportier looks. AMG engines are purely handmade with the engineer’s name engraved on each of the engines. Despite being handmade, the folks at AMG produce around 30 engines a day, which is a magnificent figure.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea to handle such raw power and this is where the AMG Driving Academy comes in. The AMG Driving Academy is a training school where you can hone your driving skills on the race track in a safe controlled environment under expert supervision. AMG cars produce insane amount of power and torque and the AMG Driving Academy trains you to tame these cars on the race track. This driving school offers various courses around the globe. Introduced in India in 2012, the AMG Driving Academy in India offers Basic and Advanced courses at India’s only Formula 1 venue, the Buddh International Circuit. We attended the Basic training program at the AMG Driving Academy to polish our driving skills. The AMG Driving Academy is essentially a two day program. The first day you are supposed to reach Noida and check-in the hotel by late evening as the theory session starts by around 6.30 PM. The second day is spent on the track and you are done with everything by 5.00 PM. We were put up at Jaypee Greens Resort and Spa, which is a mere 15 minutes away from the circuit.
Our instructor for the training was AMG ace Norman Simon. Having more than 20 years of experience under him, Norman takes up the training at most of the venues around the world. A jolly chap by nature, he has been in the thick and thin of professional racing right from his young days. He has been a test driver for the Jordon Formula 1 team and has also done 24 hour Le Mans and the list just goes on and on. The theory session focuses on certain rules and regulations for the program. Rule number 1 is to follow the rules at all times, listen to the instructor (who is on the radio while on the track) and keep safe distance between cars. Norman also stressed on some basics of driving such as the driving position, steering grip, oversteer, understeer, racing lines and flag rules.
The following morning, after a rather light breakfast we head to the Buddh International Circuit where Norman practically explained the right way to adjust the seating position and steering grip. Key points to consider are that there is an angle at the knee joint which helps to transfer more force in emergency braking situations and also prevents injury. The steering wheel should be held in 9 and 3 o’clock position to enable full lock as quickly as possible. The training was divided into four parts. Slalom course with emergency braking, follow racing lines on the track, lead-follow and taxi lap with the instructor.
After being introduced to the cars (more on that later), we set out for the slalom course. The purpose of this was to get yourself into the comfort zone in the car and try to complete the course as quickly as possible. At the end, it was a box where one had to slam on the brakes to ensure the car stops in the box. To be faster in this section, Norman explained that one has be gentle on the steering and throttle. The key is to see far out in front rather than the next obstacle. To apply brakes in an emergency, you literally have to stand on the brakes applying the complete body force. We also tried braking and manoeuvring to avoid an obstacle. In this exercise on has to do emergency braking as well as steer around the obstacle. The safety systems like ABS and ESP come alive to ensure that you are able to steer while braking hard without locking up the wheels. We tried the cars through the slaloms a few times in each of the cars and noticed how the dynamics change. The SLK55 AMG was the slowest car on the track but managed to get through decently due to its shorter wheelbase and lighter body. We tried the same with the E63 AMG and the C63 AMG, the latter turned out to be the most agile and nimble of the AMG cars.
Next part was to understand the racing line and we head out behind Norman, who was leading in the E63 AMG. While we had been to the Buddh International Circuit on numerous occasions, some of the participants were on the track for the first time. Therefore, Norman kept everything simple and easy to understand. In this exercise, we got to drive each of the cars following the racing lines while Norman would continuously be updating on the radio “brake now to turn right, kiss the apex and feed the throttle gently to accelerate flat onto the straight to carry maximum exit speed” (at turn 3). The aim is to go as fast as possible around the track and for this the correct racing line is of utmost importance.
The next exercise was the most exciting or adrenaline pumping. Lead-Follow as trainers like to call, it is when the trainer will lead the pack while the participants will follow behind and incorporate whatever has been taught so far. Here you actually feel how different each car is around the circuit and what makes each of the cars special in their own way. Some ground rules for this part of the training is to keep adequate distance between cars. Norman was quick to point out on the radio when two cars were getting precariously close. When speeds are in excess of 200 km/hr, it is essential to keep this distance and ensure the cars come back without any damage. As the speed doubles, the braking distance increases by nearly four times, so maintaining adequate distance between two cars is important.
Coming to the cars for the training, we had the finest lineup at our disposal (cars may vary from course to course). AMG’s flagship model, the SLS AMG needs no introduction. The first Mercedes-Benz car to be developed by AMG completely, the SLS plays the safety car in the Formula 1 World Championship. Known to be a spiritual successor to the Mercedes-Benz 300SL, the SLS AMG has the 300SL inspired Gullwing doors. This car takes adrenaline rush to another level altogether. The 6.3-litre naturally aspirated V8 produces 571 PS of power and a massive 650 NM of torque which propels the SLS AMG to 100 km/hr in just 3.2 seconds. You gotta love the soundtrack of this machine, throaty and brutal to the core. The SLS AMG means serious business and driving it on the track was another thing to tick off our bucket list. The acceleration literally pushes you back into the seat and we were able to hit 270 km/hr on the back straight (the car is limited to a top speed of 320 km/hr). The SLS is quite tail happy and we did encounter oversteer on sudden acceleration. The quick counter steer and gentle throttle inputs ensured the vehicle was pointing in the right direction.
The C63 AMG is the most fun to drive car on the track. Powered by the naturally aspirated V8 (the last of the naturally aspirated V8’s), the C63 AMG produces 457 BHP of power and 600 NM torque and can hit the century mark on the odometer in just 4.4 seconds. What makes this car special is the light weight and arguably the most responsive steering in any of the Mercedes cars. The C63 is well balanced and handles like a charm, thanks to its stiff suspension setup. Without any doubt, the most fun to drive AMG on the track.
The E63 AMG was the latest car in the lineup powered by the latest twin-turbo V8 engine. The E63 is one such car which can be driven for daily duties in the city and turns into a ferocious monster on the track. Powered by a 5.5-litre Bi-Turbo V8, the E63 AMG produces 557 BHP of power and 720 NM torque and does the 100 km/hr run in 4.2 seconds. And lastly, the latest from AMG in India, the SLK55 AMG. Though the SLK is a car for topless motoring, on the track we had the roof on our heads. The SLK produces 421 BHP of power and 540 NM torque from the 5.5-litre naturally aspirated V8 (doing 0-100 km/hr in 4.6 seconds). Changing over to each of these cars, we realised that each car is dynamically different and one has to adapt their driving style accordingly.
Next, Norman took us for a taxi lap in the SLS AMG. While we were strictly instructed to keep the ESP on at all times, Norman switched it off and did what he does best. Tame the beast by the scruff of its neck. With the ESP off, the car was oversteering around the corners and it was just a routine day at work for him as we watched him gracefully get the SLS pointing in the right direction. We maybe jostling around in the passenger seat but the adrenaline rush was out of the world.
Before the day ended, there was a small competition between the participants to sum up the days learning. A slalom course was designed keeping all aspects of the training in mind and the person clocking the fastest time through the course would be declared the winner. The stakes included a 3 second penalty if you hit any cone and a 6 second penalty if you don’t end up stopping in the box. Each person would get two runs and the best time would be counted and proud to say that yours truly managed to clinch the top spot adding an autographed Nico Rosberg cap (in the picture) to the collection. Each participant was awarded a course completion certificate.
It has been a fantastic day but like all good things must come to an end, so did this. There are many track experiences available in the country but the AMG Driving Academy is above all. Allow me to explain. Firstly, the amount of time you get on the track is unmatched by any of the experiences offered in India and if that’s not all, you are eligible to register for the next course, at any of the AMG Driving Academy locations globally. For more details and registration, log onto www.mercedesbenzperformancedrive.in. Aaah.. the sweet sound of the V8 is still ringing in my ears.
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