Mercedes-AMG GT3 Race Car Review: Randy Pobst Drives AMG’s Latest on the Track

#hashtags: #AMG #Teutonic #AMG Customer Racing #FIA International GT #FIA

AMG street cars. The iron fist in the velvet glove. Raw, capable V-8 brawn delivered in luxury accoutrements. The Teutonic muscle car. With the GT3, AMG Customer Racing yanks the gloves and bares the knuckles.

Top-level sports car racing has transformed in the last few years with the emergence of FIA International GT racing. In the past, a sanctioning body created a set of rules, and teams, some with factory assistance, created the race cars within those guidelines. Now these production-based racers come to life on automotive manufacturers’ assembly lines and are sold directly to private teams.

Starting in the international theaters, these factory-built GT racers are now the modus operandi in North America, as well, in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Pirelli World Challenge GT series.

This new AMG GT3 is based on the GT S street car, whereas the last was developed from its forebear, the longer-nosed SLS. The FIA rules hold the builds close to the original body shapes and drivetrain configurations and work the infamous Balance of Performance adjustments using weight and engine intake restrictors, with the objective that the cars will all qualify with identical times and cross the finish line in unison. Approximately 15 brands have taken on the challenge, from Ferrari to Nissan to Corvette, and the competition is superb.

Another objective of the GT3 category is accessibility to the amateur customer racers who make up the market. The cars are allowed driver aids such as anti-lock brakes and traction control, calibrated and adjustable for competition, but do not go so far as stability control. This assistance brings the gentleman drivers closer to their pro co-drivers and adds consistency.

The road version of the AMG GT S is our reigning Best Driver’s Car, and that honor is well-deserved. Watch the YouTube hot lap video. I mean, I affectionately stroke the hood after stepping out. I fawn and praise like a starry-eyed, lovestruck schoolboy. I greatly admired the street GT S’ perfect, unflappable balance and incredible ability to turn torque into forward acceleration, not just drifty tire smoke. When this fabulous chance to try the new racing version surfaced, I leaped at the chance to see if the magic remained in translation.

Well, it rained. Chilling, party-crashing, late winter Italian wetness. Barely 50 degrees. Not at all what the travel brochures show. Such conditions mostly helped my driving career but do not seem to favor the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli. It felt as if the corners were paved with a different material than were the straights. Better suited to ice skates, if you ask me, and this feeling was exaggerated by the lack of downforce at those low speeds.

We “warmed up” in the GT S with guidance from factory AMG drivers Jan Seyffarth and Thomas Jäger and found sudden power oversteer rather easy to provoke. Moving to the GT3, it was more of the same and more sudden. In both cars, there was a distinct and great improvement in grip just as we left a corner, too immediate to explain away with downforce. The AMG drivers blamed it on the motorcycles that most often run here. Now that would be hairy in the wet.

At the other end of the straights, the braking was incredible, water or not … until we began to turn. Then came a surprising drop in g-force and an accompanying worry we might not even make it. Like, what happened there?

Turning the steering “yoke” (round wheels have definitely fallen out of favor, but not with this ol’ war horse) into the mostly very tight corners of Misano was rewarded with a strong understeer, partially to help prevent us “journalists” from a backward oops, no doubt. Easy to do in these conditions, friends. Moving to power put the traction control on overtime until we crossed some imaginary line and the Pirelli rains sheathed their claws. We could finally go as the guy who signed that AMG engine intended.

Blasting down the straights and initial braking were the clear Best Driver’s Parts of this exercise. The trademark AMG sound is magnified, a glorious rumbling basso profundo, entertaining without paining. The crushing grip of the downforce made the stops feel as if we were an attacking Doberman slamming against the end of his chain. I never found the late-brake limit. On the other hand, I never found the gravel traps, either.

Most of the GT3 machines make similar or less power than their road counterparts. They run air restrictors. It’s a strange new world, though weight is reduced by about 800 pounds. The great advantage is the engines last forever by racing standards. Same with the gearboxes on the AMG GT3. Pricey window sticker, (€377,000 or $424,080 in Sprint form with a catalyst; €388,000 or $442,320 outfitted for endurance duty), but low running costs … if you don’t wreck it. The new six-speed paddle shift rear transaxle easily lasts more than a season. An endurance racing season.

This new AMG uses the engine from the SLS version, no turbos, and (6.2) earth-twisting liters, and it places the engine low in a front-mid position. Jäger says it makes about 550 horsepower, and my behind says the torque number is similar, gushing forth a flat, flexible butt-dyno curve of urge. It certainly goes through those finger-flipping gears like a hyper teen at a carnival shooting range. The drivetrain layout adds a little more polar moment for stability and balance versus mid-engine, but it still has some weight bias aft for traction, an interesting concept seen also in the Corvette and Nissan GT-R and borrowed from the old Porsche 944/928.

I left frustrated by the rain, the wildly variable track grip, and the slow corners because aero is a hallmark of this GT3 category. Up front we found triple dive planes, an enormous splitter, and gaping vents through the hood and behind the wheels. Out back, a kilometer-wide wing and as large a diffuser as I’ve ever seen outside a cartoon.

An important advantage of the AMG GT3 is that it is constructed at a high level of refinement and, significantly, safety. Manufacturers have access to engineering far beyond that of most racing teams, especially in that department. Also, spare parts are new on shelf as opposed to shop-fabbed one-of-a-kinds.

This weapons-grade AMG GT3 sprawled wide and mean in flat black, striking an intimidating presence. My favorite feature? A prominent chrome grill that honors and recalls the magnificent Mercedes 300 SLR’s winning the Carrera Panamericana in the mid-’50s. Splendid. Oh, for a chance to try it again in better conditions, but let’s not look this gift horse in the mouth.

2016 Mercedes-AMG GT3 BASE PRICE $424,080-$442,320 VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door race car ENGINE 6.2L/550-hp (est) /550-lb-ft (est) DOHC 32-valve V-8 TRANSMISSION 6-speed auto-clutch manual CURB WEIGHT 2,850 lb (mfr) WHEELBASE 103.3 in LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 186.9 x 80.7 x 48.7 in 0-60 MPH 3.5 sec (MT est) EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON Not rated ON SALE IN U.S. Currently