For a young racer, what better role model could one have other than his own dad? Kenneth Heyer is set to race a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 at this month’s 24 hours of Spa and decided to follow in the footsteps of his father, Hans Heyer, who once piloted the historic Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.8 AMG racer -- and at Spa, no less.
The elder Heyer drove that car at the 1971 24-hour race in Spa-Francorchamps. It was the first race for an AMG car and expectations were low for the big, red, muscle-bound sedan. The AMG racer didn’t experience any mechanical failures, but Heyer and driving partner Clemen Schickentanz pitted frequently to refuel the thirsty 6.8-liter, 250-hp engine. It was good enough for a second place overall finish, and helped put AMG on enthusiast maps worldwide.
Not surprisingly, Mercedes-Benz and its performance arm AMG hold the 300 SEL 6.8 AMG in high regard. Before last year’s 24-hour Spa race, the automaker paid tribute to the race car by duplicating an impeccable carbon copy of its paint and sticker treatment on a 2011 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG.
This year, exactly 40 years after his father’s historic race, Kenneth Heyer and his team from Black Falcon have done the same thing to their Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3. "It's a great honour,” said Heyer. “Together with my team colleagues, I will be trying to achieve at least second place.”
Aside from the trademark gullwing doors, Heyer’s racer shares little in common with the street version of the SLS. The hand-built, 6.2-liter V8 engine normally puts out 563 hp, but has been detuned to meet GT3 regulations, while the seven-speed dual clutch transmission gives way to a single-clutch, six-speed gearbox. An extensive aero kit including a humongous spoiler helps keep the racer sleek and planted and the interior has been stripped to help shave 600 pounds off the 3500-pound street version.
The 300 SEL racer still had creature comforts such as wood trim and leather, but the SLS GT3 is all business with thin, carbon-fiber shelled seats, a full roll cage, and a fire extinguisher. Will it be enough to earn second place or better? We’ll find out when it blasts away from the starting line on July 30.