DRIVEN: AMG SLS GT3 RACER
Thanks to the AMG Driving Academy - it could be you!
There's air conditioning, which my instructor suggests is left in for the 'not so fit' drivers. Among which he can count me, my pie-added bulk scraping through the medical required before being allowed to drive the GT3. It's tight, as it is in all racing cars, but the gullwing doors do make getting in easier, popping both feet in then swinging down by hanging onto the cage. Strapping in is the usual breathe in and click palaver, and rather than shift the seat the pedals and steering are moved towards you. Better for weight distribution and easier for access.
type his name and GT3 into YouTube) sounds similarly knackered after clambering into the passenger seat. And apparently he has a habit of jogging around tracks - mentioning last time he was at Spa he ran up Eau Rouge. Flat out, I hope.
While trying not to freak Patrick out with heavy breathing I'm taking in all the buttons - 39 - and practising my race face. I'm not overly concerned with the buttons, Patrick taking care of the essential ones, though I've taken note not to press the one numbered 13. It's in case you need to get out if you roll it, pressing it activating the explosive hinges on the doors. There'll be no rolling today though, hopefully, not least as AMG has the sense to introduce the GT3 to customers at the Groß-Dölln driving centre, a former Russian military air base in old East Germany. And my race face? Probably a look akin to terror, no matter how hard I try.
Various tracks have been set up, the one we're using being at the East end of the runway (in the darker portion on Google Maps if you input Driving Center Groß-Dölln and look at the satellite image). Other activities are going on around us, amusingly there are some army people out drifting Unimogs and eight-wheeled trucks for giggles on a skid pan. It's quite a place.
Juddering out onto the track with the transmission shunting and suspension bouncing I slip the clutch in an attempt to smooth things out. Racing cars don't do slow very well. The GT3 feels entirely different to the road car I've done ten or so sighting laps in. Sitting far lower the difference in intensity is like shorting an AA battery then grabbing an electric fence. The steering is so much more responsive and the feel so much greater. Why road cars can't offer this sort of, fine linear weighting, delicacy and precision remains a constant source of bewilderment and annoyance.
That's not to say driving is in any way a watered-down experience. Patrick gives tips, but he's largely quiet and lets me drive the SLS AMG GT3 as hard as I can. Revelling in the way it so quickly changes direction, shifts so quickly and washes off its speed it's actually relatively easy to drive, nowhere near as daunting, edgy or intimidating as you might expect from a race-winning machine. That's deliberate, as it's a car that's meant to be bought and raced by 'gentleman' racers. My sessions on track are punctuated by breaks every six-seven laps with an opportunity to check out telemetry data and discuss where I could improve my technique, and most importantly go faster.
Thing is though, I'm knackered, despite that air conditioning and the friendliness of the car. Forget 24 hours in one of these, 24 laps has me pretty much broken. It's not just me either, with even the fittest in the group waning from the intense mental fatigue of learning a track and experiencing a proper, competitive racing car. Tired, yes, but still wanting more, and wishing I was wealthy enough to drop €334,000 on one of these and take it racing. It'd be competitive, too, though perhaps not with me driving it; one of the cars being used here still wearing its racing colours having just returned from a podium in the Spa 24 hour race.