Sporty and ultra performing tyres, tyres and competition - Testing the Mercedes SLS AMG GT3, winner of the 2013 Nürburgring 24 Hours

Testing the Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 - winner of the 2013 Nürburgring 24 Hours

Sport Published the 10/10/2013 by John

We have had the privilege of testing the Mercedes SLS AMG GT3, winner of one of the most difficult races in the world, where the performance of its Dunlop tyres was crucial for success.

Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 on the track Dunlop equipped the Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 to claim victory at Nürburgring 24 Hours - Copyright © : rezulteo

Gull wings and 600 hp

Developed by Mercedes to meet GT3 regulations, the SLS AMG GT3 competes against virtually all sports car manufacturers to fight epic battles on tracks all over the world. The goal is simple: Brands start with a sports car from the catalogue and transform it into a real racing car, in accordance with regulations that allow a certain number of changes.

At Mercedes, the SLS AMG was chosen as the base. A sports car with a long nose and gull wings, equipped with a V8 engine producing 571 hp. Once transformed for GT3 racing, the car is significantly lighter (just under 1350 kg instead of more than 1600 kg) and more powerful: Mercedes announce between 550 and 600 hp, but if the restrictions set out in GT3 regulations were lifted, it is capable of producing more. One thing is sure: With its look, unique in the world and doors that open to the sky, this car is a big hit with race spectators. 

Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 roMercedes SLS AMG GT3 redugeCopyright © : rezulteo

The new car to be beaten?

At present, things are going rather well for the SLS AMG GT3. Since it was presented in 2011, its race performances have continued to improve. In 2013, it seems set to dominate all of the most important GT3 races throughout the world. First, it won the Dubai 24 Hour race at the beginning of the year. It then continued with the Barcelona 24 Hours and even the legendary Spa Francorchamps 24 Hours was also unable to resist Mercedes. But the star brand and Dunlop, its partner for the occasion, are most proud of the victory claimed at the 2013 Nürburgring 24 Hours. This is a first for Mercedes who successfully held of AudiPorsche and other race specialists during an absolutely thrilling edition marked by bad weather.


Green hell

If you ask any driver what his favourite race is, there is a pretty good chance he will answer the Nürburgring 24 hours. Today, it is undoubtedly the most challenging race in the world. A 24 hour race, where drivers battle through hundreds of corners (many of which are blind) on an extremely difficult track, and where barriers are extremely close to the tarmac. 24 Hours often held in the rain, amidst hundreds of participating cars ranging from ultra high performance GT3’s to small amateur cars. This small world shares the track and whenever possible, tries to avoid accidents or spinning off the track, which often happens throughout the race. Whether AudiBMW, PorscheAston Martin or McLaren, each team spends a huge amount of money every year to win the Nurburgring 24 Hours, a race like no other.

In 2013, it was even more difficult: The race saw apocalyptic levels of rain, to the extent that it had to be interrupted for several hours due to extremely dangerous conditions. But at the end of the twice round the clock, the SLS AMG GT3 claimed victory. Thanks to a top crew, astute race management and great tyres, it finished ahead of Porsche and BMW. 

Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 on track 2Copyright © : rezulteo


Behind the wheel of the beast

Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 garageCopyright © : rezulteo
In the time to complete eight laps of the Lausitzring track in Germany, we were able to gauge the outstanding performance of this type of racing car. Something new, the car is now designed to be driven by less talented drivers. It is not unusual to see rich (but nonetheless informed) amateur drivers take part in a race behind the wheel of these machines, since the GT3 championship mixes professional and amateur drivers.

If you are not in the habit of driving a racing car, then getting ready to drive the SLS GT3 is decidedly impressive. You first need to don the flame retardant racing suit (including underwear and socks), then attach the Hans system to the helmet and harness yourself into the seat. Once there, your eyes barely see over the dashboard and you press a button to switch on the ignition.

With the clutch engaged, you shift into first gear and after some heavy jerking where you try hard not to stall, you shift up to second. Then, the sequential gearbox takes over with the paddles shifters as you leave the stands.


The parallel world of racing cars

Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 on the trackCopyright © : rezulteo
There is no need to say, that for an amateur driver, with no experience of driving this type of racing machine, driving sensations are simply phenomenal. Acceleration is even more impressive than with a high performance sports car. The gearbox offers incredibly fast gear changes and remains docile when changing gear. But the two most impressive parameters are braking and cornering grip: Here, you are clearly in another world compared to sports cars approved for the road. For this, race tyres certainly play a major role: The special compounds used for slick tyres can achieve performances which are unimaginable for a tyre approved for the road. If braking performance is staggering, then cornering grip is even more so. In case of rain, only intermediate tyres were provided for our test drive (which finally never came despite some very dark clouds). With slick tyres on a dry track, the difference with the road tyre world (even ultra high performance tyres) is even more pronounced.


Connections between two worlds

Dunlop tyre on the trackCopyright © : rezulteo
The world between racing and road cars is a galaxy apart.  

Tyre manufacturers are making every effort to recover as much motorsport development work as possible to build new technologies for road tyres.

At Dunlop, there is no hesitation in mentioning the various components derived from competition tyres, and featured in their high performance road tyres, such as the SP Sport Maxx GT and the Sport Maxx Race designed for extreme driving. Although it will never be possible to reach a pure performance level as high as that of a racing slick, the ongoing work of experts, such as those at Dunlop, means that high performance tyres will never stop improving. The competition also serves this purpose: Races as demanding as the Nürburgring 24 Hours or the Le Mans 24 Hours push tyres to new limits whether in terms of durability or pure performance.

Today, it is not unusual to see cars race for four hours or more with the same set of tyres. In rain, the pace is increasingly faster even when track conditions are extremely poor. Thanks to the giant laboratory of motor racing where the physical limits of tyres are constantly tested, road tyres continue to benefit from race proven technologies. Even on less radical products where certain compounds may be suitable.


For more information 

>> The Nürburgring website