Photo: AMG Driving academy


It all started last year...

when I emailed my parents, who just recently bought a 2017 C63 AMG droptop, about a “Fun Mercedes event you could do” after finding this post on Opposite Lock no less.

Screenshot: David Macdonald (Self)

Turns out, whenever you purchase or lease a new AMG car (even the C43 “baby AMG”), you get a $1,895 credit (the cost of the event) to a “Performance” level AMG driving academy class, held at these fine tracks across the USA (Weathertech raceway Laguna Seca, Circuit of the Americas, Road Atlanta, and Lime Rock). If you live outside the US, they also offer the classes abroad (China, Germany, UK, etc).

They also offer four other, more expensive experience levels after you take the Performance class: Advanced (2 days), Pro (2 days), Pro+ (3 days), and a drift class (1 day).

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But wait?

Didn’t you say your parents bought an AMG?

Yes.. How did I do the class? Well, my parent’s didn’t want to do the class. They were too busy with work, and thought their “gearhead” son would like to do it! “Sweet!” I thought! Let me just read the terms and conditions of the AMG driving academy to make sure it’s all groovy... It states the following:

Screenshot: AMG driving academy

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If that’s too small of text, basically it says only the purchaser can do the class.

“Well now no one from my family will be going..” I thought, but I figured why not contact them and see if it can be transferred, sometimes these terms are “flexible”. Turns out, it can! Between family that is. So after sending the relevant info in, I was booked for Nov 4 2018.

Image: Stephen Hillenburg (Spongebob Squarepants)

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With 1 week to go...

my girlfriend and I book an AirBNB in Monterey, CA and plan our drive up the 101 from LA. We put in our vacation time for Nov 4, a Monday and our drive down Pacific Coast Highway home, and I bug my friends about being excited about the class.

Graphic: David Macdonald (self)

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The day has come...

My girlfriend and I have spent a nice weekend in Monterey and now it’s Sunday. She’s going to the Monterey Bay aquarium and walk around the city, and I’m getting up at 6am to get to Laguna Seca, a track that I’ve dreamed about driving on and have only done so digitally, in Forza. I’m so excited to get out of the Golf R and into many AMGs! At least for a day.

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First part of the day:

In the morning you will park your car, or AMG if you actually own one, in the paddock, register, and pick out a helmet for the rest of the day.

Photo: AMG Driving Academy

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Then you enjoy a nice breakfast, and sit with your group that you’re assigned to. I was in the orange group. After 30 minutes or so of eating, chatting about our AMGs (except me...), and car talk in general, the first classroom session begins.

You learn about basic track etiquette, what’s an apex, benefits of driving an AMG, and info about the modules you’ll be doing throughout the day.

Photo: AMG Driving Academy

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Then you meet the many instructors that will be floating around the modules and 2 of which, will be assigned to your group; our group had Pippa Man (British racing driver who competes in Indy car) and Ryan Hall (MX-5 Cup racer). Orange group was in good hands.

Photo: AMG Driving Academy

After this, we go outside and form a big blob.. So we can do light calisthenics.

Photo: AMG Driving Academy

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After an invigorating increase in heart-rate, we meet up in our groups of about 12 people, talk about any previous track experience we have, and about the 1st session; driving SL63 AMGs on the track in a Lead/Follow format with 3 groups/cars made of 2 people each.

Lead/Follow goes like this; the instructor leads in their SL63 the entire time, 3 student cars (with a driver and passenger from the same group) follow them in order with no passing, until after the final corner, the instructor signals with their turn-signal, and the student in front pulls to the side and slows, allowing driver 2 and 3 to now become driver 1 and 2, the former 1 car now becomes last. This allows everyone to get instructed by the instructor and to get good sight lines. After 3 laps, we pull into the pits, talk about what we did good and bad on, then the people who were passengers become the drivers.

We head out in our SLs with team mates in the passenger seat.

This part was kinda scary, since you only know your driving skill, not the other person’s. My partner was ok, he did go deep onto the rumble strips on the corkscrew a few times (despite being told not to), but overall their driving was pretty good.

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Photo: AMG Driving Academy
Photo: AMG Driving Academy

Impressions on the SL63 AMG. You feel the weight of this car for sure, it’s a luxury car after all, especially on turn in. The power though is very nice in sport+ mode and the brakes are quick to slow you down.

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Next we drove the SLC 43 AMG! Same format, lead/follow. These feel like go-karts compared to the SL63s. You do notice the lack of power, but the turn in was much better to me, and it felt easier to drive fast on track.

Photo: AMG Driving Academy

And the last of the common-man’s AMGs was the C43 AMG 4-matic. I felt like this car was the one I’d drive as a daily. Great interior, great sports seats, and nice power. Feels understeery due to 4-matic, and the power comes really high in the powerband. Overall a nice smooth ride all the way to the finish line.

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Photo: AMG Driving Academy

GTS and GTR time!

After we’re familiar enough with Laguna Seca and its turn in points and braking points, we move onto the AMG GT-R, AMG’s track weapon. Lead/follow again, but this time no passenger, nice! Also, this is the point where it feels way more serious, as there’s more on the line if you mess up. The power get’s put down so much better, there’s more power, and the brakes and turn in is insane. Also the AMG techs mention not to touch the little yellow knob seen below. I knew what this was because the Grand Tour taught me.

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Photo: Mercedes AMG (Mercedes AMG)

Here’s my video of my laps! At one point we slow down a ton before the corkscrew because the instructor and I were so far ahead of drivers 2 and 3. This video also shows how the lead/follow works.

Credit: AMG Driving Academy

Photo: AMG Driving Academy

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Once again, this is a serious piece of machinery. You can tell it’s made for the track and AMG really made a great car. Lots of active aero, 4 wheel steering, and loud ass exhaust.

After the GTR, we go back to driver and passenger in the GTS. More luxury rather than track oriented, feels heavier, and doesn’t have the turn in of the GTR (due to lack of rear wheel steering). One thing you notice on the GT cars is how long the front end is, it’s kinda like driving a corvette, it feels like it extends so far ahead of you. Still fun as hell though!

Photo: AMG Driving Academy

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After all of this we get to do taxi rides with the instructors driving. These guys are so fast and really show you what the GTR can do. You can feel the difference in throttle, brake, and turning application as soon you’re heading out on the hot pit lane. It feels almost violent in the car as they stab the brakes and take corners way faster than we did.

Time for lunch and a much needed break...

since you really don’t notice how much energy you’ve been exerting. Be sure to drink water and have snacks throughout the day, which are provided in the paddock or pit lane. This goes for any track day.

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Now it’s onto the paddock for the rest of the day for modules such as ABS lane change; go 35, 45, and 60 mph down a straight and look for the lane change light on the arm to point you in your given direction and see what ABS can do for you! This part honestly felt pretty important, you really feel how violent ABS emergency braking is. I murdered some poor cones because I went too fast down the straight, my instructor made fun of me for the rest of the module. lol.

Photo: AMG Driving Academy

After this we moved onto the time trial/autocross in the CLA43 AMG!

Now this part I found the most fun because it’s actually timed! Which means you’re competing against the 60 something people from the entire day! You do 3 driver/pass. laps to get a sense of the track with the instructor telling you what to do over handheld radio. This part is timed, and there’s an electronic timer board showing you what you got.

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But then they switch off the board,

and you do 2 solo fast laps. Not knowing what time you got weighs heavily on my mind for the rest of the night.

Source: David Macdonald (self)

After this we went to a tech demo. This is the most salesy part of the whole day; they talk about the heritage and important things AMG is doing, show what cars are coming out, and do a walk around fo the GTR to show you the aero, carbon fiber, engine, etc. This was a nice break though, and I even learned what AMG stands for!

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Something I did notice was how the instructors had to hit “Selling Points” during the track and module sessions. When we were on track in the SL63 for instance, they said stuff like “you can really feel the power of this 577-hp 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8 that gets the car from 0-60 in 4 seconds”. I’m sure this is to increase brand affinity and teach AMG owners about the other AMG offerings, but it feels so forced into the classes and conversation.

Photo: AMG Driving Academy

Now it’s time for the

Active Parking Assist demo?

Yeah, another module, which is optional by the way, that lets you experience hands-free parallel parking... You could do this, or... you could also do the launch control experience in a E63 AMG. Just a blast to do, even sitting in the back seat, you really feel how quick this heavy sedan can accelerate.

Credit: David Macdonald (Self)

Finally at the end of the day, after tons of track driving and modules, it’s time for the one with the most hooning. Skid pad time in the C63 AMG. I found this to be really difficult and have a new found respect for the likes of Ken Block or really anyone who can skid a car in a controlled manner around a cone track. I kept spinning out for the most part, but got some good slides in. Have to work on my throttle application and turning. And no, my parents did not want me to give them a skid pad demo in their car, rats.

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What a great day! me on the right
Photo: AMG Driving Academy

End of day talks...

We park the C63 AMGs, and walk into the paddock building (that AMG actually constructs at every event they host) and sit down for dinner and the final wrap up.

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We talk about the whole day with our group and then find out about something special. Remember how we all did a time-trail? Well the 2 solo laps we did we’re logged and the 3 fastest drivers get prizes!!! 3rd place got a car detailing kit (which I would really have wanted, I’ll show later); 2nd place got a nice AMG branded dufflebag; and 1st place got an AMG branded racing helmet with your name on it!


Btw, I got 1st! I credit reading Jalopnik/Opposite lock, the one time I drove on the Nurburgring in a Suzuki Swift, go-karting, and riding a motorcycle.

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Photo: David Macdonald (self)
So happy! Does winning always feel like this?
Photo: AMG Driving Academy
Photo: AMG Driving Academy

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Summary.

This “basic” class is so much fun! It really just dabbles in different track oriented teachings, because everyone has little to no track experience, but they do it in a friendly, easy to learn way. And where else can you drive AMGs as aggressively as you want; you’d be hard pressed to find somewhere else.

Is it worth the $1,895 it costs if you didn’t have an AMG? I’m not sure about that, that’s a lot of money; but I’m sure that’s what Porsche and others charge for on track classes like this.

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Also, I realllllyyyyy wanted that detailing kit, because when I came back to my Golf R at night after the academy, some birds made “bird dirt” all over my car....

My poor Golf R
Photo: David Macdonald (self)

Thanks for reading!