At what point does a supercar become a race car? It’s certainly no longer a comparison of power, as even entry-level supercars have outrageous amounts of kilowatts these days that need professional racing drivers for maximum extraction.
To better answer that question, we need to look no further than Mercedes-AMG’s extensive range of GT cars, where you’ll see the depth and breadth of the entire spectrum of what is possible.
It starts with the super cruiser that is the AMG GT, which we no longer get in Australia. Moving up, we recently reviewed the AMG GT S, GT C and GT R, and there is even a GT R PRO that sits yet another level above the GT R, which we don’t get because there is more than likely going to be a GT R Black Series coming out in the next 12 months that is really a race car for the road.
But what if you actually want a race car for the racetrack? A one-stop solution that comes out of the factory ready to race, with the full safety kit and features, and doesn’t have to comply to road restrictions?
Mercedes-AMG makes a few of those depending on the size of your wallet and ba... aw… Skill level. The main ones being the AMG GT3, which is a serious bit of kit and will cost you €373,000 ($598,470), and the AMG GT4 that is a slightly less hardcore version of the GT3 and sits somewhere between a GTR PRO and GT3. Some would call it a GT3.5, but it meets all the regulations for the GT4 racing category that is now expanding at a relatively rapid rate globally.
You can buy this directly from Germany for a cool €199,000 ($319,290), which when converted isn’t really that different to the $350,770 GT R and likely significantly cheaper than the upcoming Black Series.
In many ways, what AMG did with its first-ever bespoke car, the SLS, back in the day and the GT which followed (same underpinnings), was to build a full suite of offerings from cruisers to sports cars and outright supercars – all the way to actual race cars you can buy. It’s something Porsche has been doing with the 911 for years.
We came to arguably the best racetrack in Australia, The Bend in Adelaide, to test out the AMG GT4. Before we get into the nitty-gritty of it all, though, let us be honest for a second. Even though yours truly spends a great deal of time on many racetracks around the world and in Australia, the sight of this GT4 gave me a bit of a scare. From the outside, the thought of suiting up and jumping into this can be anxiety-inducing. It looks, sounds and feels like a proper race car, because it is.
To really understand the purpose of this car is to grasp the concept of GT4, which is a global FIA-certified category of racing that is perhaps meant to bridge the gap between single-seaters to GT3. It’s great for those starting out their racing career or gentlemen racers that don’t need the hassle of a hardcore and somewhat unforgiving GT3 at nearly double the cost.
The main difference between the GT4 and GT R is the near 300kg weight reduction (who needs a stereo anyway?) thanks to extensive carbon-fibre use and a strict diet. Add in a rollcage and the GT3’s sequential gearbox, which is perhaps the most intimidating aspect of the car, and you have yourself a race car.
The engine is the well-known 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 from the GT S with ‘up to 375kW and 600Nm’ (not as powerful as the GT R), in order to fit the GT4 category. However, it will still easily do 0–100km/h in under four seconds.
Now, if you’re wondering why you would buy this over the GT R that you can drive to the track yourself, consider the rollcage alone, which would make the GT R unroadworthy, but take it further and the running costs for this are actually very affordable. Mercedes says that apart from tyres and brakes, this will do 20,000 race kilometres before it needs major servicing. Twenty-thousand race kilometres is extraordinary (try that on your GT R’s gearbox). You’d have to be a full-time race driver to come anywhere near that in a reasonable time. But it’s so much more than just that.
Suiting up and jumping inside initially for a passenger lap with Mercedes-AMG GT3 driver, Dom Storey, was a good learning experience to understand just how much speed the car can carry into corners and feeling the aerodynamics and downforce at play. Frankly, there is just so much grip that if he had done any more laps than he did, I would’ve redecorated the inside of the poor car with my breakfast.
If you’re not familiar with the cabin of a race car, it’s pretty daunting at first. You sit so bloody low and are tied down so tight that it takes a few minutes to readjust how you move your head (held down with the HANS device) and work out your vision. After a few minutes of my stomach settling and a driver swap, it was my turn to go out.
Originally, I was given the opportunity to do five laps, one to warm the car up and one to cool it down with three flying laps, but luck – and Storey’s confidence that I wasn’t going to kill him – led to a few more laps than that. Which only made the experience more thrilling.
Turning the GT4 on is pretty simple, and despite being a sequential race gearbox with a clutch, the only time you will need to use the left pedal is to get it going in first gear, and yes, I did stall it the first time. But once you get the hang of the clutch pressure, it’s pretty straightforward. From there, you just pull the paddles at full throttle and get a joyous jolt as the gears hammer into place.
The car is definitely set up for left-foot braking, which is not something this writer plays with all that often, but thankfully there is just enough room to do right-foot braking if you must. That is what I ended up doing because it was daunting enough to drive a race car, without the added pressure of left-foot braking.
The first warm-up lap was actually the hardest trying to get my vision right and look into corners, while understanding the car's aerodynamically assisted grip level and its unbelievable braking force took a fair bit of concentration. However, as the laps got underway, it became pretty evident that this was actually the fastest I had ever driven an AMG GT of any kind around a racetrack. Best of all, it felt totally at home. My heart rate was not even getting over 110bpm and I was going flat out by lap four.
The AMG GT4 inspires so much confidence in the driver that you really want to push harder every lap. There is just so much grip and traction, and yet it feels so raw, so downright crazy that a race car can be this deafening and yet so straightforward to drive fast. In many ways, I would go so far as to say it’s actually easier to drive on a racetrack than a GT R, but that might be a controversial statement. Even if it’s true.
Once the intimidation factor of driving the GT4 had worn off, the car was filled with mad raging laughter from the driver’s seat as it went flat into a few corners at The Bend without a hint of anything out of the ordinary. This is not just a fast-as-hell race car, it’s a sharp instrument that even for an amateur racing driver feels completely under control flat out.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting that level of composure and compliance. I wanted to come away from the experience and tell you how terrifying it was and how I rose above the mere mortals and braved my life to go out there and drive the GT4 for this story. But really, it was actually rather simple, straightforward and without drama.
Now, imagine rocking up to your local track with a GT4. It would turn so many heads you’d need an on-site chiro. While it may sound a little out there, at its pricepoint it’s actually a very reasonable proposition if you love racing and want a dedicated machine.
This is the car you buy if you have numerous supercars but don’t fancy destroying one of them on a track day. Or if you actually want to compete in GT4 races. It’s a serious bit of kit that demands respect at all times, but conversely, you can trailer it to a track, change a few settings and have an absolute blast knowing you’re completely protected with a great safety cell while being in an actual race car.
Besides, you can add another AMG, Ferrari, Lamborghini et cetera to your collection, but how much more respect is there to own an actual race car?