Slow in, fast out. As clichéd as it sounds, that’s exactly how my first experience of driving on an F1 circuit can be summarized in a few words. It is also a race car driver’s mantra for a fast lap around a circuit but let’s not dwell on that as I am not (optimistically… ‘yet’) a race car driver. What I am is a blessed journalist who now even snores making sounds of the bellowed beauties that were at my disposal for a full day at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC). As slow as it sounds though, it all begins with a briefing and a meal with the man who is going to train me at the BIC the next day.
The man in question here is Norman Simon. Norman has had a long racing career from participating in 24 hour endurance races to coming second in the British Touring Car Championship in 2002 to being a step away from Formula 1 in the nineties. He’s been a racing instructor since 2007 and clearly knows his craft. ‘I want you to slam the brakes so hard that your legs begin to hurt a little after a few attempts’ are one of the first few lines I hear from Norman.
But first a brief on the day ahead. I am at the BIC for the Basic training course of the AMG driving academy. It is the first stage of Mercedes’ racetrack program that aims at teaching me to exploit my driving potential and that of the cars at my disposal. These include a humble collection of AMG models – SLK 55 AMG, C 63 AMG, E 63 AMG and of course the SLS AMG. That’s close to 2100 PS of cumulative power under my right foot at most times… It’s going to be a good day.
My first lesson is a short handling course that includes a slalom, some heavy braking and basically driving the car with a lot of restraint to understand the characteristics of each car. The SLK 55 AMG is ideal for this type of course. The nimble footed convertible excels at quick direction changes with minimum steering input. Stepping into the C 63 AMG, it feels a bit slower through the course as the slightly heavier and longer car requires a bit more effort. It’s when you step into the E 63 AMG that you realize how different the handling course is for each car. The E 63 AMG is a good 100kg heavier and over half a metre longer than the SLK 55 AMG. But it also has 108 PS more power than the SLK so it required plenty of heavy braking and feathering of throttle to negotiate the tightly designed handling course. After a few rounds of the handling course, braking is next.
The main straight of the BIC requires heavy braking towards the end as you slow down to a crawl from top speed. Here the massive carbon ceramic brakes on the E 63 AMG I’m driving come in handy. Brake pressure is most when you first step on it, gradually decreasing as you slow down. Aware of this, driving at speeds close to 100kph, I step my right foot as hard as I can on the brake pedal to bring the car to a halt. The pace at which it drops speed is quite alarming at first but a few rounds later, I’m getting the hang of it.
I am told to gradually increase speed to understand braking distances at various speeds. It’s a good way to prepare me for the next session. The handling course teaches evasive maneuvering and the braking test gives me a feel of the stopping distances. I’m now ready to take on the full track at the BIC. The driving academy is structured is such a way that by the time you are driving on the full circuit, you are well aware of the car’s capabilities.
For laps on track, the SLS AMG is added to the line-up. Norman leads in the pace car showing racing lines around the track. I’ve got the lines mapped up and am ready to have some fun. Unfortunately, we are not allowed to turn off the electronic stability program so a lot of computer trickery is going to be working to keep me on track, if I don’t get it right that is. The ESP kicks in only when the car is unstable so the trick is to keep the balance right and give precise throttle inputs to prevent the ESP from taking over. It is a bit slow to begin with but a few laps around the BIC and I get into rhythm. I’m driving smoother and braking harder and I begin to enter a corner with the eagerness of attacking the next. The SLS AMG quickly shows me how good a car it is. 0-100kmph in 3.8 seconds and it’s agility on track makes it the pick of the AMG lot. I’m doing 250kmph on the main straight at the BIC with the next corner coming up a few hundred meters away. That sense of speed tends to slow everything else down as the day ends. I’ve done over 10 laps around the circuit in all the AMG models, still not satisfied as the day comes to an end. But it does as the last bits of fuel are burnt on track.
The basic driver training course is a first step to a racing career for some and an extremely fun day driving some powerful cars from AMG for most. Participation costs Rs 75,000 for a basic course. Mercedes Benz customers get it at a special price of Rs 50,000. If you plan to buy an AMG and want to know about it or own one but don’t know what they are capable of yet, it’s a good way to find out. One thing the driving academy ensures is that you will be a faster and safer driver at the end of the day.
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