With nearly 500 horse power under the hood, foot down all the way on the accelerator, thundering down the straight stretch, suddenly there’s a hazard on the right, now it’s all up to instinct and awareness to do the right thing.
That is precisely one of the training sessions that participants have to go through at the Mercedes-Benz AMG Driving Academy.
AMG, as most of know, are Mercedes-Benz’ in-house tuning nutters. They take the standard MB cars and do magic with turbos and new engines, basically turning standard road cars into monsters. The AMG Driving Academy gives customers an opportunity to learn how to tame these beasts. The best part is, this training happens at the Buddh International Circuit, the F1 Track in Greater NOIDA. What a perfect location to let the dogs out. The cars available at the BIC are the C63, E63, SLK55 and the SLS. Unfortunately due to technical problems the SLK55 and the SLS were retired for our session.
India hosts only two levels of the Driving Academy, namely the Basic and the Advanced. Advanced training is only open once a year and with the limited seats the slots fill up extremely quick. Basic training has a quite a few dates allocated to it.
Norman Simon, an ex-Le Mans driver and professional racer is the instructor for the training at the track. A man of immense patience and understanding, Norman has a knack of explaining what has to be done in a way that is affirmative yet relaxed. He allows the participants to figure out what works for them and what doesn’t after providing the instructions needed. “It’s one of the best ways to learn, trial and error, as long as you don’t damage the car,” Norman laughs.
The Basic training is a lot about control and handling. It teaches participants both the theory and practice behind reacting safely and confidently at the wheel of a high performance vehicle. The whole day at the track is broken in to parts that deal with car handling at the Auto-cross loop, emergency braking, cornering and race line and then lead and follow on one of the quickest tracks in F1. The day culminates in a timed test session at the autocross-handling track and a taxi-ride with Norman in one of the AMG cars.
Being able to get out of your current car and go straight into an AMG is a whole different experience. One can really experience what 585hp of the 5.5L twin turbo V8 in the E63 S-line really feels like. It also allows customers to unleash the wrath of these engines on to the tarmac. A basic driving sense is obviously needed when driving quick around the track and with Norman monitoring every participant’s moves, there is not much room to really mess up or go crazy.
Coming back to the series of events of the day, the auto cross is a series of short, quick corners marked out by cone gates, culminating in a short slalom. The whole point of this exercise is to really get the feel of the car and to teach the participants the “viewing technique.” It pushes the participants to look ahead, and anticipate corners and at the same time improves co-ordination between the brakes and the throttle. Hitting a cone means adding 3 seconds to your time. Too much throttle translates into not being able to control the car and too much braking means for an extremely slow time. The slalom ends with an emergency breaking in a box marked out by cones. Stopping outside the box means adding five seconds to your personal best. The aim is to navigate through the corner gates, fly through the slalom and slam on the breaks as hard as you can right as you approach the stop box to prevent the car from overshooting out side the box. Norman’s reaction, “Harder, harder on the brakes, if you break the brake pedal you get to keep the car.” Well, that hasn’t happened yet.
Slamming on the brakes as hard as possible is something that we do not do everyday, but understanding what slamming on the brakes can really do when it comes to saving your life is an eye opener. The breaking exercise shows the participants the cars ability to stop in an emergency situation. It allows the drivers to experience the ABS, and the capability the car has in letting one maneuver to avoid an obstacle. Norman’s running commentary and the tips and comments he gives to each of the drivers really helps you to understand what is actually happening in emergency situations when sudden hard braking is required.
“From the extreme left, the outside of the turn, don’t brake too early now, steer with feeling, cut the apex and then as you are exiting, put your foot down and accelerate again. Use the whole width of the track! Very good.” Norman talks you through each corner of the track. The lead and follow really allows drivers to mimic the racing line and cornering style of the professional racing driver in the car ahead. With Norman dictating cornering tips it is very hard to make a mistake. Follow what he says and by the end of the day you will be one accomplished track driver.
Driving is a skill that everyone thinks that they have and are good at. Driving on a racetrack and handing emergency braking situations is not something that everyone is used to. Al of us get used to the car we drive. We know how much pressure to apply on the brakes to make the car stop, we know how to turn without making other people uneasy, but that is all because we are still in our comfort zone. We have had our own vehicle for a while now and hence we are comfortable with driving it the way we do. When it comes to an AMG car, the equation has changed. This car can brake later, handle better, accelerate faster and put a smile on your face, something that we are not accustomed to everyday and the AMG Driving Academy and it’s team really goes out of the way in making people experience what basic track/race driving in a 500hp super car feels like.
Money is what enables us to create new and unique experiences. Most of the time it’s a holiday in a foreign country or a fancy dinner in a new restaurant along with a movie or a relaxing drive, but there the few that go and explore activities that not everyone does, like Scuba diving or paragliding. All those make for good stories among family and friends. If you have half a lakh to spare, the Basic Training of the Mercedes-Benz AMG Driving Academy is a great option, especially for those that are passionate about cars and enjoy driving. This academy really gives its participants a great overall experience with some amazing machines.