Ride with the dev

Paul Gover gets an ex­clu­sive drive of Mick Doohan’s Ul­ti­mate Speed Com­par­i­son SL63 AMG

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Cover Story -

MIGHTY Mick Doohan is dust­ing off his hel­met for a bit of flat-out fun at Al­bert Park on Sun­day.

But Cars­guide has beaten him to the prize— a sin­is­ter gun­metal grey Benz bel­ter. The SL63AMGis idling with in­tent as I ar­rive in the pit lane that will be the home of For­mula One this week­end, in­clud­ing the Ul­ti­mate Speed Com­par­i­son.

He is up against his rac­ing mates David Coulthard and Casey Stoner in a con­test that’s in­tended to high­light the dif­fer­ence be­tween a reg­u­lar road car, a V8 Su­per­car and a full-on F1 car. Stoner is wheel­ing the V8 this time and Coulthard, a grand prix win­ner in Aus­tralia with McLaren, is slid­ing into one of last year’s Red Bull rock­ets.

‘‘ It’s a bit of fun,’’ Doohan says. ‘‘ You’re never go­ing to beat a For­mula One car, even in an AMG.’’

I know what he means. I had two years as the road-car rab­bit at Al­bert Park, run­ning BMWM cars against the grand prix grey­hounds. I will never for­get the first time that Chris­tian Klien blasted hisBMWF1 car past me down the front straight, run­ning more than 100km/h quicker in an ex­plo­sion of noise and vi­o­lence. I had al­ways though that anM­car was fast, but as I ap­plied the brakes for Turn One at about 210km/h he calmly shifted into top gear and zipped in ahead of me trail­ing a huge wash of trackside dirt and de­bris.

It took me a while to get my breath af­ter that one.

When we get in the AMG, the fi­nal touches are be­ing ap­plied to the course but Doohan’s SL has al­ready been prepped and preened for an early pre­view of the ac­tion. It is strong and ea­ger as I ease onto the main straight and— very, very briefly— un­cork its tur­bocharged V8 power.

Doohan will have fun on Sun­day but what’s he like as a driver? He won his five world ti­tles on two wheels but he loves fast cars and has been anAMG am­bas­sador for more than 10 years. He’s fast for sure, as I have seen from the pas­sen­ger seat, but he’s never go­ing to score max­i­mum style points.

‘‘ It’s not too se­ri­ous but it is still a race,’’ Doohan says. ‘‘ I know Mercedes-Benz wants to win, and so does Red Bull Rac­ing, and Casey. The idea is to have all three cars cross the fin­ish line at ex­actly the same time. But you don’t want to put the car in the wall.’’

This car is spe­cially built for Doohan’s drive, and weighs in with a $409,575 pric­etag. When you catch your breath, that means a base price of $381,500 boosted by me­tal­lic grey paint that looks like it was peeled off a jet fighter, AMG per­for­mance package that un­leashes ex­tra turbo torque, panoramic sun­roof and mat­tblack al­loys that are 19 inch­ers on the nose and 20s on the tail.

But the most strik­ing dif­fer­ence is Doohan’s name on the side win­dows. And that’s what has peo­ple star­ing as Cars­guide noses out into or­di­nary Mel­bourne traf­fic in the racer.

I have driven the SL63 be­fore. I ab­so­lutely loved an early-morn­ing blast last year in south­ern Spain but it’s a rev­e­la­tion on the pock­marked bi­tu­men. It is ob­vi­ously fast and firm but also sur­pris­ingly cos­set­ing and en­joy­able. And even the seven-speed auto can slur for min­i­mal in­tru­sion.

For me, it’s a bet­ter ev­ery­day car than the Benz SLS be­cause it rides smoother and you can also drop the top. It has more than enough per­for­mance— out­puts are 395kW and 800Nm— even though the gull­wing SLS is more bru­tal again with 420kW and is priced from at least $468,320.

As we head around Al­bert Park and

putt course, Do me.

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