Ride with the dev
Paul Gover gets an exclusive drive of Mick Doohan’s Ultimate Speed Comparison SL63 AMG
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.
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