One of the hottest tickets in Melbourne in the lead-up to the Australian Grand Prix is a Mercedes-Benz track session. Wheels was there.
I’VE never driven the Australian Grand Prix circuit in anger. That said, I have wasted many hours behind the steering wheel of a homemade racing buck as I’ve become a virtual Mark Webber, Daniel Ricciardo and, ugh, even a Sebastian Vettel.
An invitation, then, to drive the real-life circuit in Mercedes-Benz’s everyman performance-car hero, the C63 AMG Edition 507, isn’t one to pass up lightly.
Benz’s annual festival of speed for selected customers and invited guests is one of the hottest tickets on the calendar. About 40 AMG-badged cars spend the best part of a week having the rings driven off them by a procession of talented, and somewhat less talented, drivers.
This is the 507’s swan-song. On the other side of the track wall, its replacement sits, waiting for a June launch alongside the Mercedes-AMG GT at Australia’s traditional home of horsepower, Bathurst.
The Mercedes-AMG C63 S – the official name of the 507’s replacement – also marks a turning point for the German luxury carmaker’s go-fast division, which will switch from the 507’s 373kW/610Nm 6.2-litre normally aspirated V8 to a 375kW/700Nm 4.0-litre twin-turbo version.
Mercedes-Benz has limited time on the track, so after a driver briefing that can best be summed up as “please don’t lunch our car, because it will hurt”, it’s into a helmet and behind the wheel, instructor Matt jumping into the passenger seat beside me.
We’re starting up the back of the track on the short straight between turns 11 and 12, a stretch where the Formula One karts would ordinarily be clipping along at somewhere around 220km/h.
It’s a chance to roll on the throttle of the 507, accelerating swiftly as turn 13 approaches.
Mercedes-Benz has made my job easier, setting up double cones to mark the braking and turn-in points, and singles on the apex of each turn. All I need to do is stomp on the brakes, turn in as I sight the right-angled corner’s exit, clip the apex and power back on.
Under everyday braking conditions, the tyres normally warm up to about 35-40 degrees Celsius. Hammered on the track, they’re expected to jump to about 75 degrees.
Likewise, if I’m pushing hard, the front brakes will be hitting 400 degrees, well up on their usual operating temperature of 160 degrees, and the rears to 180-200 degrees, well up on their usual 80-100.
Turn 14 is a lazy right, and I button off early and hit the brakes, rolling the last little bit to the corner as I’ve washed off too much speed. Once again, it’s a case of stay wide, turn in, clip the apex and roll on the throttle to push the C63 out to the ripple strips.
Turn 15 is a doozy. Wearing a helmet and with Matt in the passenger seat, sighting through the acutely-angled left-hander is difficult. Speed isn’t really a factor here as you’re quite slow, relatively speaking, out of the lower-speed corner before it.
I turn in a fraction too late, and miss the apex by a few metres. Immediately, though, Matt is telling me to get on the throttle, setting up for entry into the right-hander of turn 16 onto the main straight.
It’s an easy one, reducing to half throttle as you round it and squeezing on to drift the C63, breathing deeply now as the revs build, wide to the ripple strip.
It’s not really time for a mental break, as the Benz’s nose is still elevated, the quad exhaust pipes bawling like a bull and the seven-speed auto punching through the gears as the speed slowly builds past 200, the steering still needing ever-so-small inputs as you keep to the left side of the track.
A pair of cones on the side of the track look way too early to act as a braking marker for the sharp turn one, but they’re not.
Matt is suddenly politely encouraging me to brake harder, and the C63’s rear end starts to wriggle and squirm around the front wheels, the nose pitching even more to the tarmac as I press harder. We pull up with a little margin to spare and we roll around, drifting out to turn two with the throttle confidently buried into the firewall.
It’s a long run to turn three, but no time to relax as you set the car up for the entry into the sharp right-hander. I’m braking later this time to save on lifting off before the turn-in point, and it works, the C63 punches through the apex confidently. But instead of using the tyres’ grip to carry the momentum through, I’m too early on the throttle, the back end wriggling and pitching as the traction control struggles to lay the engine’s power onto the track and the unloaded inside wheel tries to spin.
Turns six and seven come up quickly. Swing to the right of the track, stab the brakes, pick the turn-in point of turn six, wrestle the wheel, throttle on as the C63 tracks to the left side of the circuit, another stab of the brakes, turn in, throttle on, and that’s turn seven away. I’ve sewn the two corners together like a seamstress, and I’m grinning like an idiot underneath my helmet.
Turn eight is long and lazy by comparison, and you can use the throttle to steer the heft of the C63 out of the corner. I’m up to speed on braking, so to speak, waiting until I’m almost level with the braking marker before stomping the pedal for the sharp right-hander that’s turn nine. Once again, you can punch on the throttle just past the apex and let the C63 drift out to the right side of the track.
That’s it, the end of the lap. Approaching turn nine, we button off as we pass through the speed gate set up by Mercedes-Benz to safely swap drivers in and out of the cars.
I get two more laps in the C63, each time improving with later braking and smoother acceleration out of the corners, but stringing together turns three and four confidently continued to elude me.
I have no idea of my lap times, cornering speeds and so on, and I really only glanced at the speedo once, down the main straight – it was about 215km/h – as the big, free-breathing 6.2-litre V8 punched the 507 through the air.
It’s a fitting swansong for the outgoing C63 Edition 507. Its on-track confidence – and the sound it makes – were enough to eventually kill off the boggo C63 as customers walked past it for the louder, brawnier version.
We also have it to thank for the fact that when its replacement arrives in a few months, we will get the up-specced ‘S’ version exclusively.