When I heard the words ‘AMG Driving Academy’ the first thing that came to mind was my own little version of Jason Statham in “The Transporter” – tearing the car around bends, hand-brake turns and vicious power at my fingertips! I couldn’t have been more wrong. Well, except the viscous power part, this is AMG after all…
Knowing that I had big day on the track coming up, I decided to get an early night and plenty rest so as to ensure I was awake and focused for the day of training, and of course, to show off my skill behind the wheel. I managed about two hours of sleep due to the excitement, equal to that of a little boy on Christmas eve! Regardless, an early start saw me on the way to the renowned ‘ADA’ (AMG Driving Academy) at the Zwartkops Raceway. Lo and behold, an elegant building that reflects Mercedes-Benz design, with a powerful sign rotating on the roof… AMG. Enough to strike equal fear and excitement into the heart.
Having pulled myself towards myself, I was greeted by Donovan, one of the instructors, and accompanied to the registration, all the while putting me at ease and making me feel at home. However, glaring at me from the showroom floor was something dark, something powerful, its wings spread like a dragon flaunting its might. “So is this my ride for the day?” I jokingly said to Donovan as I dared take a closer look at the magnificent beast that stood before me, more commonly known as the Mercedez-Benz SLS AMG Coupe. This 6.3 litre, naturally aspirated V8 commands respect (and attention) from all that see it, A truly magnificent piece of engineering and design.
After some much needed coffee we were ushered into the briefing room, greeted by Don and the team of professional, yet friendly instructors. The briefing was short enough to keep your attention, yet brimming with interesting and important information that didn’t only focus on the brand and how incredible Mercededs-Benz and AMG is, but gave a wealth of insight into the dynamics of how vehicles work and respond, and though the vehicle that you drive does play an important part when it comes to things like mechanics, technology and safety, at the end of the day the emphasis was primarily focused on the driver and the driver’s attitude towards the motor vehicle, the road and the surroundings. The informative briefing had myself and all the other participants contemplating what we thought we knew and what an exciting journey we were about to embark on! Don kept all ears tuned towards him with his whit and light hearted humour, as he ran through the course and what would be covered.
I was fortunate enough to be placed with the much loved and respected, “Uncle Stan”, father to Clint Weston, owner and pioneer of the ADA. Uncle Stan proceeded to take us to our main car for the day, the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, A V8 bi-turbo boasting 410Kw that sheds any doubt that the E-Class is an “Old mans car”! The skid pan was the first of the challenges that had been set. Easy as pie! I had of course been out on the skid pan in the good old days at Wesbank raceway, but this was a little different, by little I mean a few hundred kilowatts and a few hundred thousand rand. “If you can break the brake, you can take the car home” laughed Uncle Stan as we went spinning through the water fountains with the ESP off and my foot instinctively coming off the pedal to avoid locking the wheels. With a few hours spent learning how to handle not just the vehicle, but oneself in hazardous situations, such as a sopping wet road, was vital, and really opens one’s eyes to a whole other world.
Once the basics had been learned and my pants changed, the Gymkhana was the next challenge and what a blast! The confidence that comes with knowing how to drive, handle and respect your car the way it should be is truly empowering – especially when swerving in between the instructors at full speed trying not to hit them! I am joking of course, there were cones, but you really do get so immersed into it, it all feels so real! I was fortunate enough to try out some of what I like to call, the toys.. The A 45 AMG Hatchback, which I can say without a doubt is the finest hatchback on the road today and has that unruly teenager on steroids kind of feel to it, all the power in the world and it just goes! What a far cry from the first generation A-Class, well done Mercedes! The other, was the slightly newer GLA 45 AMG, boasting the same 2.0L Turbocharged 265Kw engine as the A 45 AMG, yet the difference comes in with the 4Matic drive system. It somehow feels less violent than the A45 AMG, and like chewing gum to your shoe, it sticks to the road like nobodies business. Our team didn’t fare so well in the gymkhana, we killed a few cones, but we did manage to beat the instructors! Although, to be fair, we did move the finish line without their knowledge.
I wouldn’t say the best part of the day finally came, as every part of the course really is so interesting and incredibly fun, but lets face it, hitting the racetrack really was the cherry on top! The chance to really see what these machines can do, and I don’t just mean one of them, I mean the chance to take all of them out on the track. Back in our respective cars, Uncle Stan took us on a lap and ran through everything from taking corners to emergency stops at high speed. We were asked to estimate where the vehicle would stop if emergency brakes were applied at 60km/h and at 120km/h. Let me tell you, everyone that guessed would have been hit or killed should it have been a real life situation, so keep that safe following distance at all times. After all the serious business, the instructors took us, one on one around the track, watching your driving and advising our every move until we each started chipping off the seconds on our laps. Once completely psyched up and prepared we embarked on the final time challenge of the day, which I can happily say, our team won, no thanks to some serious driving by a very unassuming housewife named Kate.
After all the serious driving and learning was done, we were able to take our pick of the cars and test them out on the track. Every motor head’s dreams! The list was as follows – A45 AMG, GLA45 AMG, C63 AMG (Old and new model), CLA45 AMG, CLS63 AMG, E63 AMG and to everyone’s amazement (and my dream come true) the SLS AMG. What a car. With my foot down and pedal to the metal it feels like I was trying strangle a dragon!
When asked what I think of the course, the answer is very simple: I was driving home on our beloved N3 highway just the other day, cruising in the fast lane when two vehicles suddenly smashed into one another just a few meters in front of me. I slammed on brakes and was able to steer out of the way and back into the lane unhindered. Without a doubt, this was all thanks to what was learned on that day at the AMG Driving Academy.
Man, woman, young (especially), old, car enthusiast, AMG driver or not, I truly believe that every motorist should attend the AMG Basic Training Driving Course. Knowledge is power and can save your life and the lives of any who may find themselves in the passenger seats of your vehicle.