The AMG Driving Academy at the Nürburgring is a trifecta of automotive scholarly brilliance: there are cars and then there are AMGs; there are tracks and then there's the Nürburgring, and there are schools, and then there's the AMG Driving Academy. But I'm not yet aware of this as my shuttle picks me up from the Frankfurt airport. As we get closer to the famed 'Ring, Porsche after tuned Porsche drives by in the other direction, a gaggle of Nissan Skylines buzz past us, wastegates whistling. An old bi-plane flies by, doing loop-de-loops in the sky above us into the sunset. I smile as I realize that I'm at Ground Zero in the promised land of engine-powered mayhem.
The next day, I become suddenly aware that my room at the Dorint Hotel is located right on the front straight of the Nürburgring grand prix circuit. There is no alarm clock better than the 100-decibel wail of V-12-powered cars screaming past my bed. Good morning, indeed.
Our first day of instruction starts with a very quick classroom session going over the basics of seating position and skid control, and then we're given keys to our cars. Mercedes has rented me an SL63 AMG for the school - a 4300-lb, 518-hp monster of a roadster. We drive across the street to the Auto Motor + Sport safety center for a few quick refreshers on skid control and braking.
One of the coolest exercises involves driving down a hill onto wet concrete painted with a special coating that simulates ice. As you roll onto the wet stuff, a hydraulic device shoves your rear wheels to the side, pitching the car into a slide. The direction of the slide is random, but your reactions must be swift and decisive to avoid spinning over one of the ten-foot high fountains of water. Très cool.
Also très cool is the SL's performance on a tight autocross course. No 4300-lb cruiser should be able to change direction as swiftly as the SL does. Thanks to Active Body Control, there's no roll at all - the SL makes its way through slaloms and transitions with zero drama. Pushing really hard in the slaloms, it's possible to run out of power steering assist, but let's face it, when was the last time you saw an SL at an autocross?