Sometimes being in the right place at the right time can set you up for an amazing experience, and this was one of those times. To set the back story... I was at Kyalami Racetrack for the Festival of Motoring Media day where I was finally going lay eyes on the all-new Suzuki Jimny, a 4x4 that everyone who's ever spoken to me knows I have an unnatural obsession with. Not long after arrival, I not only saw the Jimny, but I touched it, sat in it, poked and prodded it and imagined owing it, so to say my day was going great is an understatement. Miles away from the pit lane there was another Suzuki display at Kyalami's 4x4 section, and so I cycled up (as one does at events) there to take a look for a bit, and when I had enough (caught my breath) I headed back, but the security decided it was time for a power trip and said I couldn't use the walkway tunnel under the track with my bike and I had to take the long way around. Cue some choice swear words before taking the scenic route. The thing is, as annoyed as it was this unplanned extension on my trip lead me around the outside of the track, and in a few spots I found that I had access to the raised platforms usually reserved for the TV cameras at the big race events. Just like a cat can't ignore catnip, a photographer can't ignore a good vantage point.
At the first platform I managed to snap some pics of the many different cars doing hot laps of the track, from little Korean econoboxes to Chinese SUVs, RS model Renaults to M-Division BMWS and more. As I was about to move along I heard something that sounded very different from the rest, sort of like the end of the world, but angrier. The car was so loud, so fast and had so much presence that I didn't even raise my camera on it's first pass. After snapping out of it, I readied myself for a few shots of the beast, which turned out to be a Mercedes-AMG GT4 in full race spec with legendary Mercedes-Benz ambassador and four-time German Touring Cars (DTM) championship winner Bernd Schneider at the wheel. I moved along to the other platforms for a few more pics and then made my way home. After a bit of a siesta followed by some editing, I posted some of the shots to my Chris Wall Media Facebook page because I thought they were good enough to show off. It seems I wasn't the only one who thought so, Kevin Rohrscheidt came across them and made contact to get permission to use the images on his social media pages. Seeing as Kevin was one of the top chaps on the AMG GT4's crew, I agreed and sent them across. These guys see pics of their racecar all year round, so that was a pretty cool request. Kevin said I should pop past the pits on the Saturday to say hi in person, but I wasn't going to be going. As (good) luck would have it, Chad Wentzel from Sportech Cars asked if I could get to Kyalami on the Saturday to get some shots of his newly completed Hamann-kitted Mercedes-Benz GLE 63s.
As you can see from the pics above, I did make my way back to Kyalami, and after getting some shots of the Sportech car, made my way to the AMG pits to take Kevin up on his offer of seeing the car up close. I met Kevin who thanked me for my photos and immediately introduced me to Bernd Schneider as"this is the man who took those photos yesterday". When a man like Bernd shakes your hand and thanks you for your "great photos" it does put you on a high of sorts, I won't lie. While I was letting that sink in, Kevin chatted to a few important looking people and turned to me with a "so when Bernd takes the car out again, you go with". When I thought it couldn't get any better, everyone cleared out from around the car for roughly 20 minutes to give me access to shoot the the amazing AMG GT4 with no one messing up my shots. Usually shooting in such a small space isn't ideal, but I soon found that it was actually hard to get a bad shot of the car and I certainly made the most of it.
This Mercedes-AMG GT4 is a beast, put together with the best of the best parts available making it super fast, safe and reliable. Usually the word reliable isn't used to describe a racecar, but this one needed reliability because even though it's rather expensive at roughly €200 000.00, it can be part of your garage. The car conforms to GT4 rules and regulations making it a great option for wealthy gentleman racers or even those wanting a shot at a championship title. There's a Customer Racing Program available that offers comprehensive vehicle support that includes technical training, on-site services, as well as an online order system for spare parts. Country dependant, there's also an internal championship, test days, and a driver pool that completes the Customer Racing program features. The standard specs of an AMG-GT4 are mighty impressive with the twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 producing up to 375kW and 600Nm, and mated to a sequential AMG 6-speed racing transmission the car can hit 100km/h in less than 4-seconds. Top speed will see the GT4 racer surpass the 250km/h mark too, which is more than fast enough for just about every racetrack on the planet. It's not the power and the speed that makes the car special, it's the suspension and brakes, well at the hands of Bernd Schneider anyway. The suspension is made up of aluminum front and rear double wishbone axles with shock absorbers that have adjustable rebound and compression allowing precise set up for the track on hand. Massive 390mm discs up front and 355mm discs in the rear combined with calipers the size of my office desk means that the AMG-GT4 can stop on the proverbial dime. When you add a Bernd into the system, jumping on the clamps produces almost enough force to relieve your eyes from their sockets.
After taking a ridiculous amount of photos and waiting for the next driving session to come up, it was soon time for me to suit up for my hot laps in the passenger seat. You should know by now that Mercedes-AMG don't play around, and so instead of jumping in the car and having the driver tell you to buckle up, you first have to put on a full fireproof race suit, a pair of proper race shoes, a helmet complete with comms to the driver and lastly a HANS device to make sure your neck stays happy in the case of the unimaginable. With the suit and helmet on, and the Schroth harnesses tightened so much that you can barely take a full breath, things feel very claustrophobic and I won't lie, I was about 35 seconds away from a panic attack freak out situation, but as soon as the helmet comms were connected and I could chat to Bernd I calmed right down again. The boosted V8 fired up and we slowly moved to the front of the pit lane to head out. When the green light was given, the AMG-GT4 warped forwards and all of a sudden I wanted more. As mentioned, the handling and brakes in the AMG-GT4 are properly mad, but when you're heading down the mineshaft at silly speeds and you see the 200m braking board fly past, followed by the 150m, and the 100m before even thinking about touching brakes, you start to understand just what you're sitting in. The G-forces generated make you understand why you're strapped in so tight too, it's mind boggling as to how the Michelin slicks maintain the levels of grip that they do. My favourite part about the shotgun ride, apart from getting an extra lap in, was when Bernd pointed out a car ahead of us that was already accelerating out of the corner; "You see that GTR? They say it's 800hp. Watch this." We passed that Nissan like it just seized the motor, which caused an involuntary "Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck yeah!" to escape my mouth. Best passenger track experience to date, hands down!
As you can tell, this was one for the books. Taking a few photos of an amazing car lead to an unforgettable Mercedes-AMG experience that not many people get to do. It's one thing going in one of these cars, it's another doing it with a legendary driver at the wheel. I'm humbled at the opportunities I've been given just by wielding a camera at events, and this Mercedes-Benz-filled day ranks among the best days I've had at a racetrack. A huge thanks goes to Kevin, Bernd and the rest of the AMG team that was here in SA for the Festival of Motoring. When I win that European lotto, I'll have one of these bad boys in my garage, that's a promise.
Oh, and I'll add in a full album of pics on the Chris Wall Media Facebook page in the coming days.