The Formula One 2018 season is kicking off this weekend, and the warm-up lap is going to be led by the most powerful Safety Car the sport has ever seen. This season, the Mercedes AMG GT R will be the safety car of choice – and as you probably already know, it’s a savage bit of kit.
Producing 577bhp from its 4.0-litre V8 bi-turbo engine, the mid-engined AMG GT R also has a top speed of 197mph – making it the fastest course car ever. While no match for the F1 cars behind, the AMG GT R does have its own racing DNA, and borrows many parts from the even more hardcore AMG GT GT3 racer. What’s more, active-aerodynamics, rear-wheel steering and nine-way adjustable traction control give it an edge on the road.
The Safety Car version of the GT R gets F1 signage and a light bar on the roof, and Mercedes says the positioning of the latter is a result of extensive wind tunnel tests. Inside, things are much the same, but two iPads give the co-driver all the essential race info such as the position of cars on track, lap times and the international TV broadcast.
Mercedes AMG GT R: everything you need to know
Honed and tested at the Nurburgring, the newly unveiled Mercedes-Benz AMG GT R even has a colour named after the famous circuit – AMG Green Hell Magno. The world debut may have taken place at Brooklands Mercedes-Benz world in England's leafy Surrey, but there’s no doubt as to where this car’s spiritual home is.
The third member of the rapidly expanding AMG GT family, the R is Merc’s most powerful production car since the SLS AMG Black Series, although Mercedes maintains the GT is a very different car.
The GT R has a Nurburgring lap time likely to dip under 7min 20sec, according to Tobias Moers, the head of Merc's AMG division. By way of contrast, the GT S laps the Nordschleife in 7min 30sec. And that name? 'Nissan have no problem with the name - we haven't heard from them,' he told CAR magazine. Which, to some extent is quite humours!
The AMG GT R has some rather big boots to fill then – what’s the engine like?
In essence, it’s very similar to the 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 fitted to the regular 503bhp AMG GT S. Delve into the AMG engine witchcraft however, and a whole can of worms is opened.
Let’s start with the turbos. Out go the old ones, in come the new. Just like on the standard car, they’re fitted inside the V configuration, in a system, Mercedes refers to as ‘hot inside V’. Benefits include a more compact engine design and faster responses from the turbos. They've been updated to give greater boost pressure and liberate more power – 577bhp to be precise; 74bhp more than the AMG GTS and a full 84bhp more than the Porsche 911 GT3 RS.
Mercedes also promises re-optimised exhaust ports and a modified compression ratio, the entire combustion process retuned for track use (though this is a road car). The dual-mass flywheel remains – Mercedes choosing not to go down the Porsche 911 R route of offering a single-mass unit – though it’s 0.7kg lighter than that in the AMG GT S. A worthwhile diet, as less weight equals freer revving. And more noise.
Handy then that the AMG GT R has three exhausts – a large one in the centre and two smaller ones located on either side of the rear diffuser. Their tips sheathed in carbon fibre, each pipe benefits from two infinitely variable exhaust flaps delivering sounds from V8 burble to hell-raising howl, according to AMG bods.
All of this means a 0-62mph time of 3.6 seconds, while top speed is damn near the double century mark at 197mph. It may well have been more were it not for the unique transmission configuration in the AMG GT R. Situated in a transaxle layout over the rear axle, the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission has been extensively revised for track use – meaning a longer first gear and a shorter seventh. Expect your upper torso to be violently pinned to your seat right up until the 197mph v-max, then...
Sounds very AMG-ish, but this is a product of the Nurburgring. How will it handle?
Like a GT3 race car, if Mercedes AMG’s level of fettling is anything to go by. First off, at 1555kg, it's light. Not so much as to trouble the featherweight 911 GT3 RS, but slight enough to give a greater power-to-weight ratio – 371bhp-per-tonne to the Porsche’s 347. Mercedes has achieved this in part thanks to the extensive use of carbon fibre – its super-rigid nature stiffening the AMG GT R even further. Add a rear-biased weight distribution of 47:53 into the mix, plus a standard-fit electronically controlled limited-slip differential and the front-engined, rear-drive Merc promises the obligatory tail-happy action.
Speaking of steering from the rear-end, active rear-wheel steering makes its way onto an AMG road car for the first time, the system promising greater agility at lower speeds and improved stability at higher velocities. Optional ceramic brakes are available should things go pear-shaped, also boasting a 17kg weight saving.
Proper track cars have aero. Where’s the Merc’s?
Let’s start at the front. Underneath the AMG Panamericana radiator grille (inspired by the Mercedes 300 SL racing car that won the legendary Panamericana road race in 1952), there’s a wide front splitter designed to reduce lift, while additional air curtains optimise airflow towards the wheel arches.
Active aero also plays a big part in the AMG GT R’s handling prowess. Special louvres around the front end open and close in order to optimise airflow around the car, while a carbon component plays a similar trick on the underside. Accelerate beyond 50mph and the component moves downwards by 40mm, sucking the car onto the road and reducing front axle lift at 155mph by 40 kilos.
Move around the back, however, and things are a bit more old school, a double diffuser and giant rear wing being standard fit. That said, the blade running through the centre of the rear wing is manually adjustable depending on the prevailing conditions of your B-road blast. Think DRS rear wing, but done by hand. All in, the multitude of aero adds an extra 155 kilogrammes of ‘weight’ when running at top speed. Should be pretty sticky.
Tempted? Us too. If you’re lucky enough to be able to buy one, the AMG GT R will go on sale in November 2018. There is no production limit on numbers and we expect the R to cost around R2,800,000.
Look out for this car over the next couple of weeks as we enter the 2018 Grand Prix, lots of excitement to come! So tune into the tele, get some mates over, tan a chop, and enjoy!