By: Jason Woosey
It's not often that this job involves squeezing yourself into full protective gear, but when it does you know that something rather special is about to happen.
In this case that something special was more than just a car. The Mercedes-AMG team got their SA Festival of Motoring effort off with a blast by inviting ex-F1 driver and multiple race winner David Coulthard as their guest of honour and tasked him with chauffeuring certain of its guests and lucky media members around the recently refurbished Kyalami race track in the new GT3 race car.
After changing into a Stig-impersonating full race suit, yours truly was shaking hands with the accomplished Scottish driver and businessman while awkwardly squeezing into the relatively tight opening between the bars of the high-tensile steel roll cage. "It's just like getting into a family hatchback," he chirped, before firing up that wickedly guttural 6.3-litre V8.
This race car, which was purpose-developed to race in the world's most competitive customer race series - actually uses the old SLS AMG racer's engine, rather than the 4-litre twin-turbo fitted to the AMG GT road car. Teams clearly felt more comfortable sticking to the tried-and-trusted high-revving normally aspirated V8, so why fix what ain't broke?
The engine's furious growl gives you goose bumps, but the GT3's accelerating, cornering and braking abilities will challenge your understanding of the laws of physics. The two Kyalami hot laps that followed were nothing short of a blur, the kind that dreams are made of, yet the car and driver pairing just made it all look so easy, almost too serene considering the extreme g-forces that were clearly at play.
It goes without saying that engineers found every conceivable way of saving weight. The standard GT road car is already quite a featherweight, thanks to its aluminium spaceframe, but the race car takes weight-shedding a step further with numerous carbon-fibre body panels. The aluminium double wishbone suspension system also aids that cause while also facilitating that sublime aforementioned corner-gobbling talent.
The laps were over all too quickly, but what a privilege it was to experience some of the thrills that only high-level race drivers get to experience. It also made me appreciate the novelty that the new show format offers. While conventional motor shows simply offer a tyre-kicking experience, the SA Festival of Motoring also allows many guests to experience the cars in all their glory.
That said, the tyre-kicking opportunities are all there too and in Merc's case, most of the range is on display along with newcomers such as the GLC Coupé and C350e plug-in hybrid.
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