BATHURST BL

Mercedes un­leashes its AMG hotrods on Mt Panorama, and PAUL GOVER goes for the ride

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Special Report -

SCRATCH Mount Panorama and it oozes blue and red. Bathurst has been the tra­di­tional Ford-against-Holden bat­tle­field since the 1960s, de­spite oc­ca­sional up­set wins by Jaguar and Nis­san and even Volvo and BMW.

But Mount Panorama shone a bright shade of sil­ver when MercedesBenz took con­trol of the track for the most am­bi­tious new-car event in the his­tory of Aus­tralian mo­tor­ing.

It closed the course for four days and rolled out a mas­ter-blaster line-up of its hotrod AMG mod­els.

To­gether, they cost more than $7 mil­lion and each had the abil­ity to crack 220km/h down Con­rod Straight and thun­der across the top of the moun­tain at bet­ter than 150km/h.

It was a big call. A brave move. Why did it hap­pen?

‘‘We want to em­pha­sise that Mercedes-Benz is the first choice in lux­ury cars,’’ Mercedes-Benz Aus­tralia man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Horst von San­den says.

To prove the point, he signed a cheque for more than $2 mil­lion, as­sem­bled a bat­tle group of more than 100 peo­ple, then ap­proved a 35-car line-up for Mount Panorama.

It in­cluded al­most ev­ery AMG Mercedes model from the all-new C63 to the four-wheel-drive ML55.

There was no sign of the latest SL or the su­per-fast 65 mod­els, but a rare CLK63 Black Se­ries car was on dis­play in the pits.

It sold, de­spite cost­ing more than $300,000, less than half a day into the pro­gram. And what a pro­gram. The plan was sim­ple: get a bunch of fast cars to­gether, strap race driv­ers into the pas­sen­ger seats to en­sure some con­trol, then open the track and let them loose, with me­chan­ics on standby to re­new tyres, brakes and fuel, and some dis­creet sales­peo­ple to take de­posits on the cus­tomer and dealer drive days.

But, re­ally, it was a case of light­ing the fuse and stand­ing a safe dis­tance from the ac­tion.

AMG Ben­zes are bril­liant cars — even if the ML is a hulk and the CLK con­vert­ible flexes — and Bathurst is a bril­liant strip of bi­tu­men.

Put them to­gether and you get a full day of ac­tion and a chance to cut loose in cars that are usu­ally far, far bet­ter than they can prove on sub-stan­dard Aus­tralian roads with strict speed lim­its.

From the driver’s seat the AMG event was a hoot. Fast, fun and chal­leng­ing.

Ev­ery one of the AMG cars felt quick, some­thing you don’t of­ten ex­pe­ri­ence on a race­track, and the run over the top of the moun­tain was al­ways a chal­lenge with a won­der­ful pay­back in adrenalin and smile time.

Which of the AMG cars was our favourite? The S was sur­pris­ingly quick for a limo, but too soft and keen to up­change to pro­vide much fun.

The ML was some­thing to avoid, the CLK con­vert­ible was too blus­tery with the top down and floppy over the moun­tain, but the CLS was sur­pris­ingly quick, de­spite a lot of com­pli­ance in the steer­ing.

The CLK was a chal­lenge and a bit of a hand­ful, with a lot of pace ev­ery­where, and laps in the C63 were as frus­trat­ing as re­ward­ing when the co-pi­lots kept the trac­tion con­trol on full nanny set­ting.

So our favourite was the E-Class AMG. It felt gen­uinely fast on the straights and su­per-re­spon­sive over the top. In some ways, in­clud­ing its V8 bel­low and mid-cor­ner grip in the quicker turns, it felt like a road­go­ing V8 Su­per­car.

Which is ex­actly what Benz wanted. And why it was pre­pared to spend so much to get own­ers, deal­ers and jour­nal­ists into the Mount Panorama ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ev­ery lap in ev­ery car was spe­cial in some way, even for some­one like me who has raced sev­eral times at Mount Panorama.

So it was wins all round, even with­out a check­ered flag or a V8 Su­per­car in sight.

Fast and fu­ri­ous: head­ing into the main straight.

Fast-tracked: in this dig­i­tal im­age, a Mercedes-Benz AMG leads a pack of Su­per­cars down the moun­tain at

Mount Panorama.

De­cep­tive Benz: the Mercedes range makes for an im­pres­sive line-up at Bathurst.

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