Friday, November 20, 2009

AMG Driving Academy SLS Stage I - Laguna Seca 11/17/09

This post isn't about makeup, and I probably won't have anything concerning it in this post. I will however, comment that throughout the course of this event, three or four zits magically appeared on my face. Perhaps, in jealousy that if there's one thing I love more than makeup and skincare, more than a good book, and rivals my lust for good food is my absolute fascination with motoring. (Those who know me will contest that yes, I don't drive. I'm a horrid driver.) But there is, on this vast earth, no physical feeling more incredible than being pressed upright against the soft leather in a snug bucket seat, while hurtling down a straight and listening to a glorious roar somewhere far, far behind you.

My boyfriend grew up admiring the 300sl Gullwing. It was a truly iconic car, and of course--to this day he will imitate the raise of the doors with his arms, grin plastered across his face whenever the word "gullwing" is mentioned. When news came out of a modern gullwing, he was ecstatic. Having seen only camouflaged shots of the car, he signed up for the AMG Driving Academy course featuring the SLS, and brought it up at every gathering and every dinner he attended with his friends. When the first non camo shot of the front came out, his excitement was spurred tenfold. Then, shots of the rear surfaced, and from what we could tell, it looked like the artist drew inspiration from an old Acura CL. His toothy grin quickly shrank backwards, tail tucked between its legs, and he never mentioned the car, or the event again. We also learned that the car would weigh a whopping 3600 lbs, a far cry from the light-weight sports car we were expecting, and his enthusiasm for the car really died down. He and I went into Monterey on Monday with the expectation of falling in love with the SLS completely out the window of a 63 story building.

After a day of shopping and eating (I highly recommend the meatloaf and slow cooked pork sandwiches at Carmel Belle.) in Carmel-by-the-Sea, we arrived at the Intercontinental in Monterey to check in. There was a red SLS outside, and after checking in his beater with the valet, we hurriedly rushed over to the car, circling it, and slowly moving in to look at all the details. The long front was surprisingly balanced, the rear didn't look as terrible in person, and the interior looked plush and rather luxe. Tired, we checked into the event, and headed up to the hotel room. Oddly enough, we couldn't help but to make 10 minute detours to stare at the SLS every time we were heading into or out of the hotel. There was a dinner and presentation that night, and after a long, hot bath in the tub, we curled up in the sheets and nodded off.

The shuttle to Laguna Seca left at 7:30 and as we slowly thudded off the steps of the bus, our eyes were met by an entire fleet of AMG cars, including 16 pre-production SLS models scattered throughout the area. Groggy, we made our way through a wonderful presentation of the aluminum chassis and the inner workings of the car to the hospitality tent (which was more of a building than an actual tent). Driving skills were explained, Tommy Kendall failed to garner sympathy on having to pay full retail for his IWC, drivers and the AMG Driving Academy team were introduced and then the participants were quickly sent on their way to begin an entire days worth of tracking, autocrossing and drag racing the cars.

I wasn't actually a participant, so I walked around different stations to watch the cars being abused and listened to the deep, thundering bellows emitted from the 6.3 liter V8's. Mario Spitzner, the head of marketing, branding and sales for AMG was constantly asking me if I needed anything--coffee, water, pointed me to where the sun was hitting so I could stay warm, and the entire team answered my endless questions on the car and put up with me all day with grace and incredible hospitality. I watched as the photographers painstakingly arranged cars, rearranged them, set up lighting, moved lighting and really gained an appreciation for the photographs featured in ads and presentations.

Lunch time came, and my SO staggered out of the cars and into the nearest seat. He was already exhausted, and ate some steak and chicken that were prepared on a grill, on site, and quickly left for his next activity. Mario Spitzner told me about AMG, and his 20 year history with them, and soon, along with Bernd Maylander, the safety car driver in F1 races, sat with me for lunch and many laughs. Both individuals were incredibly down to earth and humorous, and Bernd soon took off to give hot laps around the track, along with Tommy Kendall.

Soon, the high point of the day came for me. I was enjoying myself immensely the entire day, but as I got my own ride in the ring taxi (which was the same as the models everyone was driving, except that the euro spec models come with these wonderful bucket seats, and the stateside models come with "safer" seats that don't obstruct the side airbags), I really, really, and I'm not exaggerating, truly fell in love the the SLS. It was something that was out of the question for me before I arrived in Monterey, but when I sat down in the black leather buckets, and a team member closed the gullwing door down and Bernd took off, it was quite inevitable.

My figure was plastered to said seat from the merciless g-forces, and as I was beginning to realize that the high displacement v8's sole purpose was to pump out endless amounts of torque, I was hurled forwards as the carbon ceramic brakes reduced our speed drastically, and we turned into the first corner. Somewhere around there, Bernd asked how it was and gave me a thumbs up. All I could do was choke out a squeal that started out with the intentions to be the word "fantastic", and raise a shaky thumbs up in return, as I was slammed back again as we sped towards the Andretti Hairpin. Turn after turn, Bernd pushed the car, and the SLS masterfully delivered grip through the Pirelli tires as my contorted figure was flung one way or another. I couldn't move my neck from the lateral g's and I must report that from those two laps, my neck was sore for a number of days afterwards--and that was in a street car. What the hell are F1 drivers' necks made of?! As we made our way up the incline of the Rahal Straight and into turn 7, I wondered how racecar drivers do this, day in and day out. Trying to keep my eyes from popping out and into my lap was a hard enough task. Driving a car at its limit in this condition didn't even register in my jumbled brain. Suddenly, the course slipped out from beneath us, and as I felt the uncomfortable tingling in my abdomen, I braced myself. The SLS slipped through the infamous corkscrew with fluid dexterity, and a giddy feeling overwhelmed me. I didn't want the ride to end, but after a couple more turns and another lap of the track, I had to stumble out, and another passenger took my place.

I was already expecting a certain torqueyness from the SLS. It was an AMG car; torque was bred into it. The amount of torque it delivered, however, I was not expecting.  That first acceleration shot through my sight of the chic interior and punched through where I was a mere second ago, leaving my pounding heart somewhere in the tire-marked pit lane in front of the garages, hanging in the cool air, suspended by a thin bungee thread. I think it found its way home to me eventually, but brought along with it, a true appreciation of the SLS. Never mind the long front, or the scale-breaking weight. The SLS is incredibly agile, well balanced, and is a pure beast on the track, furious howls and all. On the inside, it's still  luxurious and comfortable. Small, but relaxing. It really fits that niche of a car that you take to the track, but also drive to the track in--and arrive in some serious style. Mario asked me if I had a chance to hear the Bang & Olufsen sound system in the car. I hadn't, and I gave him a quizzical look and thought to myself--who would want to hear anything else, when the car makes its own v8 symphony? Mario got my look and said, "I guess if you were stuck in traffic."

So, if you, dear reader, were to ever be in a position of considering attending an AMG Driving Academy course, I highly recommend you put your name down as soon as possible. Not only are the cars amazing, but how accommodating and warm the staff are really makes one feel a part of the AMG family. Mario Spitzner and his team really went out of their ways to make sure the attendees were happy, and I can't express my gratitude enough.


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