Fun fact when purchasing or leasing an AMG model: it comes with $1,895 toward an AMG Driving Academy class. This is enough to get the “Basic” course for free. While the C43 AMG isn’t a ‘real’ AMG, it still qualifies for the free class. Despite what the dealer may tell you.
The AMG Driving school is available at four tracks across the United States: Laguna Seca, Road Atlanta, Circuit of the Americas, and Lime Rock Park. They also offer five different experience levels: Basic, Advanced, Pro, Pro Plus, and a drift course (to satisfy the Fast and Furious crowd).
I don’t spend much time on a track and I don’t like spending money. So, I decided to sign up for the Basic course at Laguna Seca. The Basic course covers a half day of driver skills and a half day of track driving. I was skeptical on whether the class could justify shelling out $1,895 for the potential of a very basic class. After taking the course, I’m a believer. The AMG Driving Academy Basic course was one of the best times I’ve had on a track.
You’re required to be registered and checked in before 8am on the course, so pick a hotel close by. Breakfast is served in the morning during the welcoming and introduction from the staff and instructors. After introductions, the lead instructor spends 20 minutes preaching on the excitement and engagement of AMG vehicles - likely forced on them by Marketing.
When the speeches wrap up, the group heads outside to separate into smaller teams. Half start on the track for the day, and the other half hop in C63 AMG and SLC43 AMG cars and head toward the skid pad.
After a brief instruction on what to do, we pick partners and hop in the C63 AMGs. The skid pad is soaked in water, and we take turns experiencing the differences in handling with traction control on, in race mode, and turned off. We’re told to “kick” the throttle to lose grip and we spend most of the time in tire destroying, screeching blazes of drift around a circle. Radios are provided in the car to allow for quick feedback from the instructors on how we’re doing. Most of us were encouraged to go harder. We switch into the SLC43 AMGs to do the same skid pad to distinguish handling differences.
We move to the ABS brake course in E63 AMGs and CLS63 AMGs, with adrenaline still rushing through us. The ABS course is most relevant to the real world and the least exciting. We accelerate to various speeds, reach certain cones, slam on the brakes and come to a complete stop. Once everyone gets the feel and timing, we switch to making lane changes while activating the ABS at various speeds. It’s fun to feel a 4,000lb+ car come to a stop so quickly, but it doesn’t quite get the adrenaline flowing as much as drifting.
We hit the timed slalom which is the last part of the driver skills course. Instructors walk us through the relatively small course, which consists of many turns around cones through a parking lot. Afterward, we hop into AMG CLA45 sedans to begin driving through it and get 10 runs through the course. Feedback on our performance and timing is given after each lap. There is a contest at the end of the class, and the winner who gets the lowest time in the course gets a sweet prize.
After a catered lunch, we head to the race track start line. The instructors review basic track etiquette with us as AMG GT cars pull up. We take turns in the cars and do several laps to understand the car handling, the course turns, and the differences in Sport, Sport+, and Race modes. The AMG GT cars are quite quick and fun, but we never really get past 100 mph or anywhere near their performance limits.
Things get more exciting when we switch into the AMG GTS cars. Everyone now has familiarity with the course, too. Instructors let us use the throttle liberally and there are a few occasions where we exceed 110mph on the longest straight away and take turns a bit more aggressively. We switch vehicles to SL63 and C43s and do several more laps. By the end of the day, we all felt confident and comfortable on the track and most were trying to justify the costs of coming back for a track day in our own cars.
The timed slalom is the last part of the course. Each person gets three runs to get their best time. There are quite a few people all on the course at once, and this is the only time the class feels crowded. A driver in front has trouble navigating the course and comes to a stop before completion, ruining one of my times. Times are also not given out at the end due to the crowds. All I can do is cross our fingers that my times were good enough to compete.
We head inside to the award ceremony after everyone gets their three runs. Participants talk about their experiences and exchange contact info over nachos and beer. Timed slalom winners are announced, with first place getting a custom, signed AMG driving helmet. All participants get a certificate of completion, a driving jacket badge, and a AMG Driving Academy hat. Everyone says their goodbyes, and the day is complete around 5:30.
Put aside any skepticism that the Basic course may be too basic for the car or track enthusiast. The basic AMG Driving Academy class is an excellent introduction to track driving. Participants get to experience nearly all of the AMG vehicles, their different settings, and how they handle in a real track setting. The instructors are quite attentive and seem like they enjoy coaching beginners through driving. Though there are 60 or so participants, it rarely feels crowded or overwhelming. If you’re split between purchasing an AMG and non-AMG vehicle, the AMG Driving Academy credit will guarantee you a fun, adrenaline filled day which will have you desperate to hit the track again.
All pictures are courtesy of AMG Driving Academy