The AMG Driving Academy: Driving it like you’re stealing it!


Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher established a small tuning company in 1967 with the goal of developing high-performance racing engines for Mercedes-Benz automobiles. Working out of the Old Mill in Burgstall, AMG (Aufrecht, Melcher and Grossaspach, Aufrecht’s birthplace) shocked the racing world as they earned repeated victories with their tuned Mercedes-Benz vehicles. To fully appreciate the cutting edge technology, power and exclusivity of an AMG driving experience, one needs to go back to school. The AMG Driving Academy is now in session!

The AMG Driving Academy uses historic 2.54 mile Road Atlanta, in Braselton, Georgia, and 2.24 mile picturesque Laguna Seca near Pebble Beach, California for the experiences. Each track offers a wide variety of elevation changes, straights and dynamic turns to challenge every driver and their motoring skills. The AMG Driving Academy is broken up into 3 different skill levels. The 1 day Basic Course first introduces drivers to the AMG lineup and the world of driving dynamics. The 2 day Advanced Course builds upon the foundation learned in the Basic Course, then focuses on each driver’s car control capability. Once you have completed these courses, the pinnacle driving experience awaits. The PRO Course -- new in 2010 -- is an intense 3 days honing in on instruction and applied analytics to refine and perfect each student’s skills.

Colleague Kimatni Rawlins, publisher and CEO of Automotive Rhythms, and I had the fantastic opportunity to attend this Academy of horsepower and torque, by participating in the 2 day Advanced Course at Road Atlanta. The overall professionalism exuded from the staff and instructors at the Academy was absolutely top notch. They dedicate themselves to making your time on Planet AMG perfect. The instructor staff at this classroom of “controlled chaos” are not your old, lame professors you may have had before who drone on about 18th century literature. AMG Instructors are young, savvy, and professional racecar drivers. They educate the class about physics, inertia and potential energy in a whole new way at 100 mph and 5000 rpm! This band of new age “Albert Einsteins” are full of personality and comical innuendos with successful and diverse professional careers spanning over a decade each.

The Academy is designed for each group of drivers to rotate through four 60-minute skill enhancing sessions each morning and afternoon. Every 1-hour lesson demands course materials like nothing I had ever used before. At the AMG Driving Academy, books, paper, mechanical pencils and big pink erasers are traded in for the SLK55 AMG, C63 AMG, E63 AMG, CLK63 Black Series, SL63 AMG and the only car to be 100% designed by AMG themselves, the automotive icon of the 21st century -- the SLS AMG. A communication system set up through each of the vehicle’s sound systems lets the instructor simultaneously drive and talk to everyone in the group. As he demonstrated each exercise first, he explained in detail what he is thinking of, looking at and physically doing while driving.

Each of the 16 segments of training utilized a specific AMG. The lessons showcased aspects of the capabilities and several of the safety systems, while educating each driver how to better control a car from behind the wheel. Here are a few of my favorite exercises and why:

1. Drag Strip Racing
Against a member in your group you floor the pedal of the E63 AMG utilizing its launch capability, 518hp/465 lb-ft of torque and quick paddle shifting. With a 0-60 mph time of 4.3 seconds you get up to speed as fast as you can and hold on tight! Quickly reversing the process, you slam on the brakes or “threshold brake” at the right time to stop the car in a predetermined box. First one there and stopped within the boundaries wins.

2. Agility/ Slalom
Not a test of top speed, but more to feature the tight handling and responsive steering. Quickly and smartly weave between cones, and you feel the E63 AMG’s ESP (Electronic Stability Program) system engaging as it not only brakes wheels individually, but also reduces access engine power to help correct under and oversteer.

3. Competition Autocross 
If you get motion sickness or don’t like feeling as if you just stepped out of a washing machine, this may not be the best thing for you. It involves sharp turns, the need for quick bursts of speed without wheel slip and hard braking. The C63 AMG’s 108” wheel base was nimble and the 451hp/443 lb-ft of torque was great to get the car up on step for the straights. Likewise, the SLK55 AMG’s 95.7” wheelbase ripped right through turns and the 355hp/376 lb-ft of torque wanted to pass me on its own! Helping achieve a fast time was the ETS (Electronic Traction System), which monitored the wheel slip continually balancing torque between wheels. The ESP also helped keep the rear wheel drive vehicle in check so it was harder for me to make the car spin out.

4. ABS Braking and Lane Changing
Racing the car as fast as possible down a set length of track before slamming on the brakes to turn avoiding a collision gets the blood pumping! Luckily for us, it was just a perpendicular line of cones we were dodging. The C63 AMG, with 451 hp/ 443 lb-ft of torque, promptly got us up to a speed before threshold braking at the appointed location. The seat restraints tightened instantaneously across our chests and the cars ESP engaged immediately manipulating the drivetrain and wheels keeping us stable and level until were we at a complete stop. When it was all over, Kimatni and I looked at each other and started laughing. What a ride! Unfortunately for the cones, not all drivers in my group were so successful.

5. Wet and Dry Cornering 
Even though the SL63 AMG has 518 hp with 465 lb-ft of torque, you didn’t need to go more than 20-25 mph for this drill. Teaching us oversteer and understeer and how to correct both, we used throttle control and responsive steering to get the car to react the way we wanted. By the end of the session Kimatni and I were laughing like little kids as we were looking over the front right quarter panel of the car and going the direction we intended.

6. Cornering and Brake Techniques 
In the SLS AMG, top speed of 197 mph and 0-60 in 3.7 seconds, we had all we needed to get ourselves in trouble right away. Starting off slow and gradually increasing our speeds after each run, we learned how to approach turns, hit the apex, and then exit them properly. Racecar drivers earn their paychecks in the corners and as the speeds got higher and higher you realize why races are won and lost here.

7. Lead / Follow Track Drives 
Racing the E63 AMG, the CLK63 Black Series (top speed 186 mph, 0-60 in 4.1 secs.) and the SLS AMG, it was time to put all of our new skills together and see what we were made of! Following our AMG instructor around Road Atlanta, each driver tried to keep up to the car in front of them. I reached speeds on the back straight just under 130 mph while following just a car length behind the lead vehicle. As we entered turns, I threshold braked to 55 mph then got right back on the throttle and up over 100 mph again! By the courses end I fell in love with the feel and handling of the SLS AMG and the “AutoBoss” himself, Kimatni, only had eyes for the CLK63 Black Series.

The Academy does a magnificent job of keeping students moving and constantly learning. Not once were we standing around waiting or wondering what was going on. I was thoroughly impressed at how much actual seat time we had in each of the cars and how hard we were able to drive them! We each were all given the opportunity for a hot lap ride in a C63 AMG with one of the instructors. What an eye opener. Despite how great we all were doing and how far my group had come as a whole and individually, we were BARELY scratching the surface of the level of driving each instructor possessed.

The AMG lineup is known by the masses for being the performance division of Mercedes-Benz. But what’s not so known is what AMG really means and the capability of these cars. Thank you to the AMG Brand Experience Marketing Supervisor and team for this 2 day adrenaline rush at the AMG Driving Academy, Advanced Course. I won’t look at these cars the same. I highly recommend this amazing academy. It not only makes you a better driver, but will be an experience you won’t soon forget. My only advice... drive it like you stole it! The car will just begin to be stretching its legs.

 

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