Any event at a racetrack is a wonderful experience, and playing with AMG cars on Sepang circuit is especially exciting. The Mercedes-AMG Performance Drive was not the usual drive-at-your- own-pace-and-time track day. What was planned for us, a bunch of journalists mostly from Singapore, was a series of “workshops” where the practical activities were obviously all done in the driver’s seats of some very delectable cars.
The cars ranged from the A45 hatchback to the two-door GT S sports car. All were essentially in road-going trim with no special modifications for the particular purpose of track-driving. So the cars were what lucky owners would drive on a daily basis. All are performance cars, of course, and the essence of driving any of these cars is for the driver to be able to perform.
For me, apart from the A45 and C63 V8 cars that I have always enjoyed, the event offered the opportunity to experience the new, “junior” range of AMG cars powered by the twin-turbo V6 engines of 3-litre capacity. These cars in SLC, saloon, coupe and SUV coupe body styles all carry the C43 badge and are built on the 4Matic (Mercedes term for 4-wheel-drive) chassis.
Led by chief instructor, Australian racer Peter Hackett, our Performance Drive included some specific on-track cornering training. For this, Sepang was split into two sections, something the track was originally designed for. The more interesting exercises, however, were the Drag Race and the Drift Sessions.
We lined up in twos at the Sepang start/finish straight for a no-nonsense straight-line shoot-out. Although these cars have standard ESP and hence automatically control wheelspin during take-off, AMG cars have a launch mode.
First, you select Sport Plus or Race. Then, you flick both the paddles at the same time until the display asks if you indeed wish to select launch mode. You confirm your intention by flicking the right paddle. This sequence allows the driver to hold the brakes with full throttle which brings engine speed to a maximum of 4000rpm. The drive kicks in aggressively when the brake pedal is released for an optimised-wheelspin start from rest. After a few runs, it was clear that the AMG GT was the quickest and cleanest off the line.
Not so clean, and deliberately, was a C250 equipped with some very unusual rear tyres at another exercise. Yes, you guessed it – the Drift Training. Well, we all know that highly inflated bald tyres are ideal for drifting, but the AMG guys offered us tyres on a Mercedes saloon that would make even NTUC shopping trolleys look agile at any speed!
Made of plastic, these prototype tyres are designed specially for drift training and hence possess the kind of grip nylon would have on tarmac. All so that the car would start to throw its tail out at anything more than quarter-throttle at any speed above 30km/h.
It was easy to drift, indeed, but to maintain a drift took quite a bit more than plastic tyres. You needed plenty of practice and loads of skill!