Benz burns back

Fast laps will sig­nal a re­turn to F1 fun at Al­bert Park, writes PAUL GOVER

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Prestige -

THE home of the Aus­tralian Grand Prix will be­come a pri­vate play­ground for big-buck Benz buy­ers in March. Al­bert Park will be turned into an AMGMercedes theme park for a day.

Own­ers and prospec­tive buy­ers can cut loose on the F1 track a day be­fore it is opened for of­fi­cial prac­tice for the 2009 Aus­tralian Grand Prix.

They can top 200km/h in V8 AMGMercedes hot rods, in­clud­ing the $350,000 SL AMG Black Se­ries coupe and the C63 AMG.

The track day will be part of a $2 mil­lion-plus spend by MercedesBenz Aus­tralia on F1.

It will in­clude a hos­pi­tal­ity unit at the first race of the new sea­son — but not the cars for the celebrity race.

The event fol­lows a three-day speed­fest at Bathurst this year when Mercedes took over Mount Panorama for its first lo­cal track day with AMG own­ers, prospects and me­dia.

‘‘Our re­turn to Al­bert Park will be a dy­namic AMG driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,’’ Mercedes-Benz Aus­tralia manag­ing di­rec­tor Horst von San­den says. ‘‘Our goal is sim­ple; we want Mercedes-Benz to be the first choice for lux­ury and sports car buy­ers in Aus­tralia.

‘‘The feed­back from our cus­tomers and guests who at­tended this year’s Mount Panorama event was sim­ply over­whelm­ing.’’

Mercedes has avoided the GP for two years, de­spite the suc­cess of the McLaren-Mercedes team led by worldti­tle favourite Lewis Hamil­ton. In­stead it has had a $1 mil­lion in­vi­ta­tion-only party called the Star Bar at the top of the Rialto Tower. The Star Bar is be­ing moved to Al­bert Park.

‘‘The de­ci­sion to re­turn to the Aus­tralian For­mula One Grand Prix, and of­fer our cus­tomers and guests an exclusive and mem­o­rable mo­tor-racing ex­pe­ri­ence, was an easy one,’’ von San­den says.

The track day will prob­a­bly be held on the Thurs­day of race week. Racing driv­ers will sit be­side guests to en­sure safety.

Benz’s vet­eran Euro­pean tour­ing car star, Bernd Sch­nei­der, will prob­a­bly re­turn as guest star, de­spite an­nounc­ing his re­tire­ment from racing last week. He drove hot laps at Bathurst in the C63.

‘‘I def­i­nitely want to come again. Be­ing at Al­bert Park should be very spe­cial,’’ Sch­nei­der says.

Apart from Sch­nei­der, Benz guests at the GP will get up close to Hamil­ton and his Fin­nish team­mate, Heikki Ko­valainen, at the gi­ant hos­pi­tal­ity cen­tre along­side turn 11 at Al­bert Park.

Top­ping 200km/h: Mercedes will of­fer drives in some of its AMG mod­els be­fore the Grand Prix next year.

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