Scott Newman is prostrate in pit lane, elbow-deep in the rear end of the Mercedes-AMG GT-R Pro.
“Got it,” he mutters, a faint clicking confirming that he’d located the adjustment for the rear shocks.
Like a safecracker from an old Ealing caper movie, he clicks the dial all the way clockwise and then checks that both low and high-speed compression settings are eight clicks counter-clockwise in the factory recommended ‘Nurburgring’ settings. The rebound dial is easier to access and needs six clicks counter. We haven’t bothered with preload settings yet. Or the adjustable anti-roll bars or the nine-stage traction control system.
It feels as if we’ve entered a whole new realm of seriousness.
It takes less than one-and-a-half minutes to confirm that suspicion. That’s how long a lap of Winton detains Karl Reindler, demolishing everything else here, including the Porsche 992 Turbo S – the quickest production car that MOTOR has ever flung down the quarter.
Reindler’s job is to get out of the car and deliver his feedback into a waiting microphone but he’s wide eyed and a bit sweaty, and his words leapfrog and tumble over themselves through the laughter of what he’s just experienced. He shakes his head, grinning. “That’s... ridiculous.”
Mercedes-AMG is importing only 15 GT R Pros into Australia. Compared to, say, a Porsche 911 GT3 RS, they’re vanishingly rare and, at $453,200 a pop before on-roads, are going to make one heck of a statement at a track.
Adorned with jutting spoilers, aero flics and racing stripes, Michelin rubber nestling snugly into the shrink-wrapped vented guards, the Pro throws down a formidable visual gauntlet.
That asking price is still relatively small beer compared to the $796,900 that AMG charges for the Black Series, due here in May. But while the 537kW Black, with its flat-plane crank and titanium roll cage, shaves a massive 21 seconds from the GT R Pro’s time round the Green Hell, the latter is no slouch.
Sport Auto’s Christian Gebhart recorded a 7:04.6 in the Pro, a couple of seconds quicker than his time in a McLaren 720S and about a second off his mark in a Porsche 991.2 GT3 RS, all $400K-and-change cars. So it’s pretty much pick your poison in this division.
I know what you’re thinking. We’ve reviewed virtually every version of these AMG GT coupes before and, more often than not, we’ve come away a little frustrated that the ride and handling calibrations were close, but not quite there. It’s taken the gurus at AMG a while to dial the dynamics in, but the GT R Pro uses four key parts for a revelatory cumulative effect.
The first are those trick coilovers, supplied by KW but then fettled by AMG, which use the shock’s piston velocity to channel oil through discrete ports creating separate flow circuits so that you can tune for primary and secondary ride.
The short take from this? As well as delivering benefits on track, it also means that the GT R Pro is the best-riding of all the GT series of cars on road.There’s a trio of features which together help the suspension work more effectively. The uniball spherical bearing mounts on both the upper and lower rear wishbones erase camber and toe changes throughout the wheel travel.
The carbon-fibre shear panel in the underbody of the rear end also contributes to the high handling precision. It’s actually the third such item in the car (the GT R already has two), and increases torsional rigidity by 7.5 per cent with little weight penalty. There’s also a pair of electronically controlled mounts on both engine and transaxle to dynamically isolate these masses.
On road there’s an expensive polish to the way it negotiates scarred bitumen, only partially marred by the baritone acoustics of the sound symposer and the inevitable noise pathways generated by the bolt-in half cage.
The dynamically adjustable rack and active all-wheel steer creates a front end that’s eager to dive for the apex with little more than a roll of the wrists, yet there’s never a particular nerviness to it.
Exhibiting decent compliance in compression, the GT R Pro also has a reasonably low roll moment; each axle’s centre of gravity rotating minimally around its respective roll centre.
Lessons learned from the SLS project saw AMG engineer the AMG GT family of cars with lower roll centres. This partly explains the steering philosophy, Affalterbach creating such artifices to counter the stodgier front response of a typical low front roll centre vehicle.
That impression would then typically be amplified by the seating position in the car, well behind the pitch axis, but the Pro’s suspension geometry prevents excess dive and squat, the angle of the control arms channelling a greater percentage of forces through these arms and the uniball bearings before relying on the springs.
With a higher anti-dive percentage, AMG have been able to realise a relatively consistent ride height. That has allowed them to work the aero and also sit the vehicle low on its tyres for aesthetics. As a consequence, the Pro looks as if it has no suspension travel yet rides surprisingly well with low-heave body control for a big 1575kg coupe.
The steering takes a little getting used to, but there’s deftness to AMG’s engineering in not creating so much anti-dive that bump steer becomes unmanageable.
Our judges found the steering was something they tuned in to after only a few minutes at the wheel. No, it’ll never feel as natural as the hydraulic rack of a McLaren 600LT for example but, the roll moment characteristic of this chassis means there are solid engineering reasons for it to exist and it’s undeniably effective.
AMG’s seven-speed DCT ‘box is a slick unit but can display a certain recalcitrance at low engine speeds. The rearward positioning of the shifter is still an annoyance. First gear is taller and sixth and seventh shorter than in the GT R; ratios better suited for circuit use.
The 4.0-litre twin-turbo powerplant doesn’t develop any more power than the standard GT R, but then with 430kW arriving at 6250rpm, not to mention 700Nm anywhere from 2100 to 5500rpm, it probably doesn’t need to.
Bettering the Porsche 992 Turbo S in terms of vmax on circuit demonstrates that the AMG’s not found wanting for traction, grunt, active/passive aero efficiency nor confidence in its carbon ceramic brakes.
On track, the Pro is in another league to everything else here. There’s none of the elastokinematic porpoising of the 992 Turbo S on full-commitment corner exits, nor the histrionics of the Herrod SM17. Switch the AMG Dynamics into Master mode, disable the ESC and gradually loosen the belt of the traction control system and the Pro will readily get up on its toes.
You’ll need to be on yours, too.
The combination of the variable rate steering and the prodigious turbo torque of the M178 lump can make balancing the car at large yaw angles an activity that rewards a little practice. Switch the ESC back in on Master mode and you can still enjoy a heroic-feeling degree of oversteer before the guardians intervene.
Best of all, the GT R Pro feels as fresh after fifty laps as it does after five. The brakes don’t wilt, the temperatures sit rock steady and the shoulders of the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres stand up to the task. Nothing here is as charismatic or as capable as the Mercedes-AMG GT R Pro. It gets voted into first place by every judge bar one, who places it second. It finally feels as if the company that has dominated F1 for the past seven years has applied some of that demented focus and depth of engineering to its flagship performance car.
Of course, the Pro will cede that position to the AMG GT Black Series when customer deliveries begin later this year, but the winner of PCOTY 2021 will always be rarer, arguably sound better and, in marking Mercedes’ first ever victory at this event, will wield an indelible kudos.
The appeal of the GT R Pro is explicit in its big numbers and outrageous presence but look beyond those and there’s an intoxicating melange of old and new.
The long bonnet, cross-plane vibes and a driving experience that’s drenched in the analogue acoustics of something resolutely mechanical is fused with contemporary aero, fiendishly clever chassis tuning and deeply nuanced driver assist electronics.
The Pro’s personality is not an easy one to key into immediately, but it’s one that richly rewards a certain perseverance. Some years PCOTY is a close run thing. Not this time. And it’s worth reiterating that Mercedes-AMG’s history isn’t one of measured evolution, rather a staggered line of lulls and leaps.
In beating the best that Porsche could present, AMG might have just made its most significant step forward yet. Weissach will be back next year with the all-new 911 GT3, Affalterbach will have the GT Black Series and we’re already counting down the days. – AE
IN PRAISE OF PROGRESS
The last time we rocked up at Winton with a Mercedes-AMG GT model was PCOTY ‘16, with the 375kW AMG GT S. It logged a laptime of 1m32.5s, a 400m time of 11.8s and a 0-100km/h time of 4.00s, helping it to a bronze medal position. The incremental improvements along the way have been almost 911-like.
0-100km/h: 3.76 sec
0-400km/h: 11.48 sec @ 207.82km/h
Lap Time: 1:29.3
The trackday car in my ultimate garage. It has a bottomless bag of tricks.
If the Mercedes-AMG GT range was a film series, the Pro is its Oscar nomination.
The pace, the theatre, the sheer bloody mojo: it has it all. A race car for the road at its most thrilling and accessible. Brilliant.
Quicker on a lap, more entertaining, more charismatic and more communicative than the 911 Turbo. The AMG GT line finally realises its potential.
The GT comes of age. Exciting on road and perfection on track.