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We Drive the New Mercedes-AMG GT3, One of the Wildest Cars Mercedes Makes

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 11/8/2019 Motor Trend Staff
a car parked on the side of a road: 2020-Mercedes-AMG-GT3-rear-view-motion.jpg

It's one of the wildest cars Mercedes makes. But forget about ever being able to drive it on the road. All brutalist aero and thundering V-8, maximum attack wrought in lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber, the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT3 is your factory-built ticket to racetrack glory.

GT3 has become one of the world's most popular racing categories for drivers and fans alike, and it's not hard to see why. Rather than anonymous high-tech spaceships shaped in a wind tunnel, GT3 racers look like the road-going supercars we enthusiasts lust after—Porsches, Ferraris, Corvettes, Aston Martins, Nissan GT-Rs, et al.—and they race on some of the world's most iconic tracks, including Le Mans, Daytona, Spa, Bathurst, and even the epic Nürburgring Nordschleife. And because it's a category based on road cars, GT3 enjoys a high degree of support from automakers anxious to tout their performance credentials and polish their brand halos.

Some automakers have their GT3 racers created by third-party race engineering shops. But the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT3, the race version of the Mercedes-AMG GT coupe, has been engineered and developed entirely in-house at Mercedes-AMG headquarters in Affalterbach, Germany.

GT3 racing relies on a formula devised by the world motorsport sanctioning body, the FIA, to ensure cars of different shapes, sizes, and weights, powered by a variety of engines from turbocharged flat-sixes to naturally aspirated V-10s, can race closely. Called balance of performance, it uses a combination of weight adjustments, intake airflow restrictions, and, on forced induction powerplants, boost pressure limits to keep all the cars within a similar performance window.

a car driving on a race track: 2020 Mercedes AMG GT3 on track in motion 1© Motor Trend Staff 2020 Mercedes AMG GT3 on track in motion 1

With a homologated base weight of 2,833 pounds, the Mercedes-AMG GT3 is at the heavier end of the category—the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 is homologated at 2,712 pounds, and the Porsche 991 GT3 R at 2,723 pounds—but it counterpunches with a mighty engine, a race version of AMG's iconic 6.2-liter naturally aspirated V-8. In baseline tune, the engine develops about 550 hp, says Thomas Jäger, one of two Mercedes-AMG factory drivers on hand for our test session on the 2.1-mile short course at EuroSpeedway Laustiz, south of Berlin. It drives the rear wheels through a six-speed sequential-shift transmission built by AMG using Hewland components.

The extensively modified chassis includes a complex rollcage that helps tie the entire aluminum space frame structure of the car together as well as to protect the driver in the event of a crash, and full multilink race suspension (only the top front suspension links are shared with the production GT coupe) with fully adjustable shocks and anti-roll bars. Brakes are steel, 15.4-inch rotors up front and 14.0 inches at the rear, and the car rolls on forged 18-inch center-lock wheels. It's cool but dry today, so we're running Michelin slicks, 325/680 on the front rims and 325/705 on the rears.

More on Mercedes racing: Mercedes-Benz in Motorsports at 125 Years: Blitzen Benzes

The 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT3 is an upgrade of a car that first competed in 2016. Changes include a new front splitter and a bigger, more dramatic-looking grille that not only offers more protection to the front radiators but also previews a coming face-lift for the road-going Mercedes-AMG GT lineup. There's also a new rear fascia, a new rear wing, and a stronger subframe for the engine. Dozens of other detail upgrades include new Bosch engine management and antilock brake control systems, quick-adjust front splitter and rear wing, and an ingenious engine drop-start system that automatically fires up the V-8 once it detects the air-jack hose has been removed so the car is ready to roll out of pit lane the moment the tires hit the concrete.

a car driving on a race track© Motor Trend Staff

The changes are not just in the pursuit of performance. A lot of time and effort has gone into improving durability and reducing the cost of operation. Huh? That sounds like the stuff of engineering road cars, not glory-hunting, on-the-limit track warriors. But, as Jäger points out, GT3 is a customer racing category. "The customer is the brand ambassador," Jäger says, "and therefore our focus is on supporting the customer."

The sprint spec version of the Mercedes-AMG GT3 costs about $441,000 plus tax, and the endurance spec model, which gets things like extra headlights, a drink system, quick oil fill system, and other hardware needed for long distance races, about $470,000 plus tax. Order one, and you'll be invited to a Mercedes-AMG racing tech center in Affalterbach, North Carolina, or Australia for a full tech briefing on the car. Mercedes-AMG will also send one of its race engineers to your first test session to help you learn how to set up the car, giving baseline, track-specific recommendations for things like tire pressures, ride height, wing and splitter settings, and spring and damper rates. Track specific? "We've been racing this car for four years, all over the world," Jäger laughs. "We have setup recommendations for more than 100 tracks."

Mercedes-AMG also sends trucks with parts and engineers to major races so the teams running their cars don't have to buy and transport lots of costly spares they may never need. Not that the Mercedes should need a ton of parts, unless you crash it. According to the manual—yes, it comes with one—the 6.2-liter V-8 will only need a rebuild every 15,500 racing miles, and the transmission every 6,200 miles. A new feature on the 2020 GT3 is a system that uses RFID technology to track the life of various components such as suspension parts. Forget a grizzled race mechanic with a lifetime of experience; the car tells you when a part needs replacing. Moreover, should you need to replace a component because of crash damage, the system will automatically note the change so you're not spending money later replacing a part that still has useful life in it.

"The Mercedes may not have always been the fastest car, but it was the best engineered and would never break," Stirling Moss once told me. Moss, of course, drove for the Mercedes-Benz F1 team in 1954 and 1955, and his victory in the 1955 Mille Miglia at the wheel of the Mercedes SLR roadster remains one of the greatest achievements in racing. That old-school Mercedes DNA, bulletproof engineering honed by decades of experience, is evident the moment you open the door of the GT3 and wriggle over the rollcage and in behind the button-festooned butterfly steering wheel.

The lightly padded carbon-fiber racing seat is fixed, but a lever adjacent to the carbon-fiber center console controls a spring-loaded pedal box. Put your foot on the brake pedal, pull the lever, and push the pedals away from you. When they're at the right distance, let go of the lever, and they're locked into place. Simple and effective. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, and the switchgear on the center console is clearly laid out, and the switches themselves large and fluorescently highlighted so they can be easily found and operated, even at night, with racing gloves on.

a car engine© Motor Trend Staff

"The engineers originally wanted to put all the switches down on the floor to lower the center of gravity like they do in our DTM cars," Jäger explains, "but we said this car will be driven by a lot of pay drivers, not professionals, so we have to make it simple to use." The same logic was behind the pedal box, the weight and complexity of which the engineers also questioned. "If you have short and tall drivers in the team, it makes pit stops a lot easier," Jäger says.

After my stint in the edgy Huracan GT3 Evo a couple weeks earlier, and a session in the junior-league Mercedes-AMG GT4 racer that included a neck-snapping spin on the second corner when warm slicks and a cold track failed to make a connection, I feel a little apprehensive as the Mercedes-AMG GT3 rumbles down the pit lane. I have the traction control on 1, the most aggressive setting, and the ABS intervention on 3. But by the end of the first lap, I'm already channeling my inner Senna and reaching to dial back the nannies. It's thunderously loud, the cabin awash with an unfiltered metallic feedback loop of engine noise and transmission whine, and ninja-quick in its responses, exactly what you'd expect of a front-line factory race car. But it doesn't feel like it's going to bite your head off.

With at least 120 hp more under hood than the GT4, the GT3 is effortlessly faster. Everywhere. But it's not just power. Hand-of-god downforce—the GT3 has three times as much at 125 mph than its junior-league sibling—keeps it supremely planted through the fast, third-gear left-hander off the front straight and as I straight-line the right kink just beyond. The 48/52 front-to-rear weight distribution (the GT4's is 50/50) helps the front end bite as I brake hard for the sharp left immediately after the kink, hooking the tire over the curb to help on the change of direction.

I grab second and feed in the power. Both the traction control and ABS interventions are much more subtle than in the GT4, and the suspension rides the curbs with much more composure. The feedback through the steering is rich and detailed. And the big V-8, its NASCAR party-mode soundtrack spitting from a pair of side pipes, is simply magical, delivering ballistic thrust with nuanced throttle response.

I had expected to be intimidated by the Mercedes-AMG GT3. Instead, I'm utterly exhilarated by it. This is a sublimely confidence-inspiring racing car, its performance envelope a broad runway you feel empowered to explore rather than, as in the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo, a razor's edge you struggle to find. By the end of my second five-lap stint, I'm already beginning to think about where I can find more time—where I can be more aggressive with the throttle and brakes, and where I should be more patient—and that I should dial back the traction control even more to get the rotation I want in the tighter turns.

At the end of my session, as I cruise the Mercedes-AMG GT3 down the pit lane and back to the garage, I've already decided that, should I win the lottery and get the opportunity to live the dream, this predictable, bulletproof Mercedes would be my GT3 race car of choice. Mercedes-AMG team driver Maro Engel, who helped develop the car, is pleased to hear this. "The feedback from our gentleman drivers is they can get closer to the pros in our GT3 than in other cars."

And that, right there, is the genius of this car. It's tough to build a race car that works for gentleman drivers yet still has the pace, precision, and poise a pro driver craves. But that's exactly what the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT3 delivers.

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