I thought GT4 race cars were essentially production cars with roll cages in them. I was wrong.
Just how wrong becomes apparent when the Mercedes-AMG GT4 exits the pits at Sandown Raceway in a cacophony of diff chatter, transmission whine and V8 growl. Not even the GT R road car sounds half as angry as this.
It’s the first day of the 2019 F1 season and Mercedes Australia is throwing a little pre-practice party at Sandown, offering a chance to drive the updated Mercedes-AMG C63 S, sample its fancy new Track Pace app and, as the icing on the cake, go for a spin in the AMG GT4.
As GT3 machinery has become more and more expensive, room as been created underneath for a category that’s more attainable and affordable. Relatively speaking, of course, but for a race version to cost roughly the same as the car on which it’s based is unusual.
It could’ve been cheaper, according to Stefan Wendl, head of Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing, but the decision was made to offer the best possible product rather than attempt to match the price point of some of its competitors.
As such the driver’s safety cell is identical to that in the GT3 car: “It makes no sense to offer a car that is less safe than GT3,” says Wendl. Also carried over from the GT3 is the six-speed paddle-shifted gearbox and the electronics.
Many of the front panels, such as the bumper and bonnet, are unique to the GT4 due to the extra cooling requirements, but a remarkable number of parts are common to the road car. Smash a door or bend a suspension arm? Simply ring up your local Mercedes dealer and order a replacement.
The true beauty of the GT4 is its maintenance schedule. The majority of the parts are lifed at 18,000km, or 18 consecutive Bathurst 1000s, though the gearbox and propshafts are checked at 12,000km.
An exception is the engine, which according to Wendl lasts, well, forever: “We tried to destroy an engine on the dyno and we stopped at 50,000km.” Key to this longevity is the fact the race car makes way less power than the road car.
The GT4 rockets out of Sandown’s tight turn four but acceleration down the straight that follows feels less potent than you might expect, the speedo creeping steadily past 200, 205, 210, 215km/h.
In a number of series around the globe the GT4 runs at just 295kW, a whopping 135kW less than the road car. Thanks to its turbo configuration, balance of performance is achieved by adjustable boost maps, with nine to choose from up to around 380kW/600Nm.
Sadly, we can’t tell you what it’s like to drive, but from the passenger seat it’s a very cool piece of kit. It might be closely related to its road-going sibling but the massive slick tyres alone have a transformative effect on the car’s circuit chops.
Add in race-spec dampers that have a freakish ability to provide unbelievable body control yet soak up bumps and kerbs and clever electronics – not to mention a handy driver in the shape of Nathan Morcom – and it’s addictive before you even add 25 other cars fighting for the same piece of tarmac.
If you want to dip your toe into the waters of serious racing, or were just considering a GT R to use for track days, you might want to call AMG and sample a GT4 instead.
2019 MERCEDES-AMG GT4 SPECS
Engine: 3992cc V8, DIOHC, 32v, twin-turbo
Power: 295-380kW (depending on boost)
Torque: up to 600Nm
0-100km/h: 3.5sec (estimated)
Price: $350,000 (approx.)