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Premium Member 2008 SLK55 AMG "Mabel"
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After Mabel misbehaving on ice, and roundabouts, last winter, I decided, before the winter kicked in this year, to get a few tips on how to tame her. Having checked what was available, I chose the 1/2 day AMG Experience at Mercedes World. Three hours (they have shorter days!) with an instructor on the Dynamic straight, handling tracks, and skid pan.

I arrived early, which was fortuitous, as there was a charity fun run taking place, and the car park was full. (Santas everywhere you looked, really surreal!) I say fortuitous because that meant that I had to use their overflow car park. Turns out that that is on a section of the old Brooklands track! I managed to take a couple of photos of Mabel up on the infamous banking. BONUS!

Was met by Carlos, who after taking my details, explained how the time could be split into track time and off roading (there is an eleven acre off road facility there). I declined the off roading and requested all track time.

Time to meet my instructor. 21 years old, 5'2" tall, owned a SLK 250 (and, yes, I did invite them to join SLK World), and, it transpired, had been racing for eight years. The last three in a lotus. This last year, in the Lotus FIA Cup, never off the podium in 13 races, and finishing 3rd in the championship (47 entries)(would have done better, but was learning the tracks). I'm impressed!! Especially as they were very attractive, blonde, and called Charlotte. After a brief chat on what I was wanting to take away from the day, she suggested 75 mins in a CLK 63, 10 min coffee break, 45 mins in a SLK 55 (if she could get it), and finish with 45 mins in a SL 65 (550 horses .... Yahoo!!). Sold! It's my lucky day!!

This is my instructor ....

http://www.hertfordshiremercury.co.uk/Sport/Hertford-Ware/Charlotte-so-close-to-first-Lotus-victory-20130527092147.htm

The CLK 63 is a real wolf in sheep's clothing, but a joy to drive. A little time spent on the Dynamic straight and I'd discovered how awesome the brakes were, in the dry. On the ice I was amazed by the fact that I was able to stop the car more quickly by gently feeling the brake on, rather than with the heavy, full abs working, stop. Also amazed by how far the car slid, before stopping, from 40 mph on ice. Scary ! Track time revealed a couple of faults. My normal hand position is 10 to 2, and I tend to hold the wheel very gently. Not on the track. Quarter to three, and firm grip is the way on track. I was braking slightly later than I should, and coming off the brake to quickly. Lesson learned. The skid pan was last, and all I can say is that the car had an evil streak. Just when you thought you'd mastered the drift, it would break away, and perform graceful pirouettes. Apparently my natural tendency to look in the direction the car is sliding is the problem. I need to focus more on where I want to end up on the track. Anyway, a bit practice, and I'd managed to do just over half a lap sideways. Time for coffee.

Charlotte made good on her promise, and we returned to the track in the SLK 55. Revisiting the same lessons we had done in the CLK. When we took to the skid pan all the knowledge I’d gained was … gone! Back to pirouetting again! Charlotte suggested that it was because I was thinking too much. I thought it was because I was too heavy on the throttle!!

Then it was time to unleash 550 horses! The SL 65 seems a lot bigger car than the SLK when you first get behind the wheel. Huge in fact! Especially on a 7 mtr track! With a bit of time in it, and I started to like the difference in temperament and composure. Despite the extra horses, it was easier to handle on the skid pan (a slightly longer wheel base helps), and was a joy on the track. By the end of the session I had the tyres squealing, and elicited the comment from Charlotte that I’d certainly managed to get them up to temperature. Mission accomplished!!

A quick debrief and it was over. Just in time to watch the Silver Arrows Display Team put on a mini display on the skid pan. Wow! Those guys were good. Made it look so easy. Awesome car control. I can still taste the burning rubber! That finished and my usb recording (sound and vision) was ready for collection. For a small extra fee, it is possible to get your time in the car filmed. I put this in as a warning …. One camera faces forward over the bonnet, and there is another facing you. This camera records every ear scratch, movement, and expression you make. I mean every!! The mic picks up every curse, inane comment, and chat up line! Be warned!

Overall impressions? Great value for money. If you just want to play, that’s ok, but with instructors of Charlottes calibre, you can’t fail to learn from the experience. All the Mercedes World staff were courteous, helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys driving.

As for what I got out of the day ….. On the negative side, my faults revealed. I need to focus on where I want the car to go, and to brake earlier to help prevent over steer when cornering. Still, I suppose that's actually a positive thing, knowing what they are, and being able to work on them.
On the positive side (he says smugly!), apparently I am fast, exceptionally smooth, take good lines when cornering, have good track positioning skills, and intuitive reactions to how the car is behaving.

I bet she says that to all the guys!
 

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Dave,

It was a pleasure to meet you on Saturday and I'm glad your track experience exceeded expectations. You might recall from our conversations that I was underwhelmed by my 1/2 day at Brands Hatch. Sounds like you lucked-out with your instructor too. I'm always pleased to get a female driver when I hail a black cab...
Thanks for the very informative write-up. It's something I will certainly consider in the New Year, pocket money willing!

 

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Nice one Davie and thanks for really helpful write up.

With regards Charlotte the instructor, from the photo above posted by Deafy, I'm sure this girl was driving one of the cars taking people round the tack when we were all there there on Saturday.
 
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