"Have you got a race licence?" was the question. "Yes," the answer, one ARDs test years ago and a single race, in an MX-5, meaning I've still got a valid licence. Not, you might think, qualification for driving a GT3 car, but I've been lucky enough to drive a few, this Mercedes-AMG GT3 being the latest. It's not all new; indeed, AMG's GT3 first raced in 2016, replacing the SLS GT3, though the people at AMG have made a few revisions to keep it at the front end of the grid. There's improved aero, better brake cooling and new engine management equipment, as well as new tech like drop start (which automatically starts the engine when the air jacks are released), quick adjustment for the rear wing, and RFID to monitor the lifespans of individual components.
The revisions are all the result of feedback from teams running them. Things like the front crash structure behind the front bumper have been changed, it now being sacrificial and quickly replaceable, whereas previously you'd likely have holed the radiator and packed up the truck rather than get the GT3 back out on track. The same is true around the back; take a knock on the side and it, rather than the whole bumper, can be replaced. All of the changes make the GT3 easier and quicker to work with, and cheaper to run. New? Around €400,000 depending on taxes, and specification, things like that auto start and RFID being cost options.
If you've an 'old' AMG GT3, you can update its spec, and look to match the 2020 car here, AMG selling you a kit for around €45,000. Don't want to commit to buying, or need a car to run while yours is being re-built? AMG will rent you one for €16 per km, plus deployment and transportation costs.
Not inexpensive, then, but the GT3 is a car you can buy, stick a hot shoe companion in and put at the front of any national or international GT championship. It is, like its SLS predecessor, designed not only to be easy to work on, but easy to drive. Thomas Jäger, AMG's test and development race driver, and Maro Engel, have spent countless hours ensuring it's as straightforward as possible for the gentleman (and woman) drivers who make up a portion of the people behind the wheel, and the majority of people paying for it. Think of me as one of them, then, only without the bottomless wallet, and my driving talent a considerable way off that of Jäger and Engel.
That's obvious from my amateurish entry into the first corner of Germany's EuroSpeedway Lausitz, where I briefly glimpse 250km/h on the digital readout of the Mercedes-AMG GT4 before standing on the brakes at the 200m marker to make the turn. I'm too early; I could, and should, have left it way later. I don't mind admitting it, I'm fairly tentative, largely because there are other people waiting for a go, and I don't want to be the one to bend it and ruin their day. Thing is, it works better the quicker you go, my confidence growing as the sighting laps go on, familiarity with both the track and the car revealing more with every kilometre passing under the slick racing rubber.
Unlike the GT4, the GT3's engine isn't the 4.0-litre twin turbo of the road car, instead it carries over the 6.2-litre naturally-aspirated V8 from its SLS GT3 predecessor. The thinking behind that makes tremendous sense, as it's an engine the teams running it were familiar with, it's not short on power - its output varying depending on the Balance of Performance formula, but circa 550hp - and it, as Jäger says, is "bombproof". So much so, that AMG's people say it'll run as much as 40,000km between re-builds, which is ridiculous for a race engine, the transmission able to do about half that before it'll need stripping. running costs, which, if you own it, work out at around €9 per km, before tyres and fuel.
It's a magnificent V8, power and torque delivered in a beautifully linear fashion. It revs quickly to its redline, signalled by glowing LEDs on the Bosch digital instrument display ahead of me, the cacophony of sound resonating around the stripped interior signalling that as much as those lights.
Inside I'm holding what can only be described as a yoke, the pistol grip-style handles perfectly formed, the paddles for the transmission a finger reach away. There are buttons on there for the essentials, pit radio, speed limiter, engine start and neutral, the transmission tunnel having knobs for adjusting ABS intervention, the traction control, lights, cooling and brake bias. It's all rather user friendly, Jäger suggesting I play about with the traction control and loosen it off, but that's advice I'll probably just ignore today.
The 3.4km, partially banked track is testing; the infield features some big stops and tight second gear corners, where that traction control is evident meting out the power to allow the quickest exit without me ham-fistedly putting it into the scenery. What's quickly clear, after just one lap, is how right Jäger and Engel are - it is easy to drive. Actually, more so than the GT4, which felt far wilder, edgier and nervous compared to the assured way in which the GT3 goes about its business. A lot of that is down to the downforce. Jäger won't reveal how much of it there is, but suggests, grinning, that it's 'a lot', which is hardly surprising given the front splitter is seemingly as wide as the track, while the back wing and huge diffuser exhibit similarly cartoonish proportions.
Evidently, they do their job, because I'm still facing the right way as the speeds increase. Usually it's the brakes I come away from racing cars blown away by, but today, despite prodigious, repeatable stopping power, it's what happens when you're bleeding off them that really astounds. Turning that steering 'wheel' has the GT3's front end react immediately, yet there's so little weight that it's effortless to tip it into a corner. There's feel there, too, that yoke delivering information through the thick rim and racing gloves, sending clear messages as to what those front wheels are doing. It's so accurate, so faithful to input, yet so easy it's initially difficult to comprehend.
While the steering is the standout feature, it works together with a chassis that's beautifully controlled. Lausitz's infield revealed itself to be pretty bumpy in the GT4, enough to trouble the traction control, but with the GT3 it's not an issue, even when I'm in an ever-faster rhythm as the laps count down.
That, says, Jäger, is deliberate, the GT3's make up such that it'll allow a driver to run it hard for hours, and be able to get out feeling relatively fresh. Certainly it's less demanding than the GT4, despite the greater speeds and forces it places on you. On the one or two occasions I did have it moving around beyond its limits of grip, it all felt benign and easy to gather up. Ten laps are up, and all I can think is how I'd love more, hours more, though I'm realistic enough to know that lining up on a grid with 20+ other drivers around me with the talent of Jäger and Engel, would be an entirely different story. It is, however, still one I'd love to tell...