You know what I always say – don’t track your own car. Instead, you can track, like, twenty of someone else’s, all in one day. Mercedes fan or not, this is a fun day out.
BMW, Audi, Jaguar all do really fun track days, in various forms and for various reasons. So, obviously, Mercedes does too. The Mercedes-Benz Driving Events days are a new thing to me, but I know plenty of the people involved. You’ll know some of them by name given their presence on Australian race tracks in all manner of things.
Track days used to be slightly dry affairs, with (understandably) nervous instructors keeping things very tight and, sadly, quite boring. Then it seems the folks who ran these things went to Europe and discovered that, actually, you can have fun without anyone getting into grief. Which suddenly made these days a lot more attractive.
Mercedes was very keen for everyone to know that the driving events are back after a very long seventeen months on the sidelines. The year 2020 saw no customer track activity and I can tell you right now that the last time the team turned a wheel was at the 2020 Bathurst 12 Hour and I was there. They were keen to get cracking.
What do you get to do?
As boring as it sounds, the safety demonstration stuff is really good fun. There’s a wet skid-pan with an E-Class idling in wait and an A Class pointing at a gantry with various lights and cones and things scattered around. The idea was to accelerate full throttle at the gantry and you’d get a signal to go left or right to avoid the three cones directly in front of you. While standing on the brakes. It’s an exercise to show you how ABS works and you can still steer even with maximum brake pressure. For some reason I find this hilarious fun.
The second skid pan activity is rather ingenious. Being a big rear-wheel drive sedan, the E300 is perfect for this dance around the cones. The rear wheels are wrapped in a polyurethane cover that turns most of the tread into, well, a McDonald’s tray.
You start with the traction and stability controls off and enjoy the ride as the big Merc swings around in the low-grip conditions at barely walking pace. Your instructor chats away about what’s going on and then flicks the switch and a different kind of calm is restored. The E300 switches from ballet to quick step, cheerfully following your instructions or, more to the point, ignoring your heavy right foot and doing what it should, tracking where you point the front not the rears.
Autonomous braking demo
Like all car brands, Mercedes struggles to communicate the various cleverness on offer in their cars. Autonomous emergency braking isn’t just about stopping you from ploughing into a car in front but as things get more and advanced, it does other things. Your instructor cheerfully drives you straight at a dummy set up in the middle of the road. While its horrifying face probably deserves a grille in the face, the Merc brakes itself to a halt, leaving it without a scratch.
Even more amusingly, the vinyl car I spied on my way into the circuit in the morning is attached to a set of wires and a cable. As you drive towards it, the red car (curiously, a Mercedes – I’d be putting a different brand on there)(then again, I’m an idiot) drives across your bows. The car spots it coming and jams on the brakes.
While I know that’s what these cars do and you know that’s what these cars do, Aunty Gwen doesn’t, so it’s nice to actually experience it safely and get a feel for how it works.
Try before you buy (another one)
As you can see from the photos, there are plenty of models for you to choose from. At one point your group will roll into pitlane and your instructor will give you a choice of a choice of two cars and you get three goes at choosing. These are from the ever-expanding range of Mercs, including a surprisingly sprightly A250 plug-in hybrid which acquitted itself well on the track, much to my own surprise. There was an E Cabriolet as well and can I tell you, even with the roof down, shooting the breeze with Cameron Crick was easy with all the wings and nets and whatever else the aero engineers dreamt up. It’s exceedingly clever.
Then you’ll pop over to the modest off-roader course where the giant GLS will shrug off tall hills in either direction, a decent puddle and all the usual stuff owners of these cars won’t go near. It’s still impressive given it’s on road tyres but also bristling with all the tech to make off-roading super easy, barely an inconvenience. The trek around also demonstrates that the centre diff is smart enough to wind itself off a bit when you’re turning hard and it doesn’t try and crab. And I didn’t even notice that until the instructor pointed it out. He also pointed out that this behemoth was cheaper than what people were paying for a certain V8-powered Japanese competitor that’s about a hundred years old and on the way out the door at insane prices.
And you can also lap the track in the all-electric EQC, the first of the Merc’s electric onslaught. It’s weird doing 150km/h down the main straight of a racetrack in almost total silence.
You really wanna go fast, though, right?
Mercedes doesn’t muck around with the speed part. A fleet of C63Ses, a hugely talented (and even braver) set of instructors take you around the track and apply a bit of spit and polish to your lines, braking and steering. You’re limited to 150km/h on the main straight in this particular version of the day, but that’s fine. You can hear your instructor and you don’t need a helmet, which for my duff hearing is just fine. I’ll also remind you that going flat out down the straight of a racetrack, particularly Sydney Motorsport Park (SMP) or Philip Island. So don’t stress about that.
Where it’s fun is in the corners. Remember how I told you track days used to be boring? They’re not anymore.
In the old days, it was all, “Now, now, this isn’t a race.”
Now you’ve got talented people sharing their talent with you and helping you discover yours. The C63S is an absolute weapon and in race mode you’ll have a blast. SMP is a brilliant track to drive, don’t let anyone tell you any different. The braking and acceleration of the C63 more than keep you awake (I didn’t feel much slower than the day I drove a 992 911 around here). My instructor in the C, Sam Brabham (yes, that Brabham) was tremendously patient and had me up to speed in no time with some little details like when to short shift and when to do counter-intuitive things with apexes because there are so many weird double-apex corners at this track.
You also get great insight from people who know what they’re doing, comparing the different lines different drivers and even the way drivers modify their lines in different categories. What I wouldn’t do to have even a tenth of their innate talent.
Then I got to step into the AMG GT R with Chelsea Angelo. Chelsea is just the kind of weapon you want showing you what this thing can do and my goodness it’s fast. The best thing about it is Chelsea knowing exactly what she is doing and getting a very quick gauge on what you can do and making sure you’re punching this thing out of a corner and feeling the thing squirm.
It’s so much fun, it’s only a pity it was over so quickly.
How much is it and where is it?
For half a day’s intense activity, you pay $550, which lines up pretty well with Jag’s day but you drive a lot more stuff and pack a lot more in. And you won’t be bored, hungry or thirsty because you’ll be phenomenally well looked-after by the team.
In 2021, you’ll have a choice of:
Sydney Motorsport Park
Mount Cotton Hillclimb (Queensland)
Sandown International Motor Raceway (Victoria)
Mallala Motorsport Park (South Australia)
Barbagallo Raceway, Wanneroo (Western Australia)
Bookings through your dealer or, if you’re not that way inclined (or don’t have a Merc, it doesn’t matter) on the website. And you need to have a licence. But that’s it.
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.