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