As the chequered flag flew for the 2019 Hankook 24H PORTIMAO, Mercedes-AMG Team Driving Academy was celebrating not only a win in the guest ‘SP4’ class – not difficult, given that the HWA-operated outfit was the category’s only entry – but a successful beta test for the new Mercedes-AMG GT3, which will have its maiden season in the hands of customer racing teams in 2020.
Honing – sorry, ‘optimising’ – the now four-year old Mercedes-AMG GT3 for 2020 is a given, but rather than upping the outright pace of the former Hankook 24H DUBAI winner, Affalterbach’s best and brightest has instead focused on reducing the running costs and increasing the service- and user-friendliness for its customer teams.
The subtly revised bodywork for instance features restyled front and rear aprons, front splitter and flics for the purposes of reducing drag and improving downforce. More so than that though, the restyled front section offers greater protection for radiator, the 6.3-litre V8 mounted just behind it, and the front axle, significantly reducing both money and time spent during repairs in the aftermath of “minor accidents and collisions.” In a world first for race cars, the new Mercedes-AMG GT3 features a system that automatically records and analyses the running time of vehicle components in order to minimise unnecessary parts changes. There’s even a new ‘Drop Start’ system – we’ll come back to that – that’s been rigorously tested during an earlier, uninterrupted 30-hour track test of the “next evolution” conducted at race speeds.
Power, power and more power then has been far from Affalterbach’s focus during development, as CREVENTIC found out first-hand from the Head of Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing, Stefan Wendl, during this year’s Hankook 24H PORTIMAO.
Stefan, to get us warmed up, could you give us a quick overview of the new Mercedes-AMG GT3 and the changes that have been made for 2020?
“Essentially it’s an evolution of the very successful Mercedes-AMG GT3. We’ve collected feedback from our teams over the past two years in terms of what we could improve and we prioritised that feedback. So we have done some fine-tuning of the aerodynamics, and also the car’s durability.”
“We’ve also tried to improve the consistency of performance over 24 hours. We recognised that the AMG GT3 lost performance during 24-hour races, so we could not achieve the same performance at the end of a race as we could at the beginning, ‘thanks’ to dirt in air filter systems or overheating in the radiators, things like that. From a new set of tyres and maximum fuel to a used set of tyres with low fuel, this is something we’ve tried to equalize.”
We’ve read that the front has been reworked so that “minor accidents and collisions in particular lead to less costs for the teams in the future.” Was this a change prompted by customer feedback or a decision made by Mercedes-AMG itself?
“This was the earliest feedback we got from customers when we released the car! ‘Why did you use so many screws in the front end?’ It was costing team mechanics so long to change things. So we looked at this in detail and figured out a way we could have faster fixation points to make the job easier.”
The 6.3-litre V8 is once again at the heart of the Mercedes-AMG GT3. What updates have been made to the engine?
“None, because the engine is the best possible!” [Laughs] “We really believe the V8 is one of the strongest parts of our car. It delivers enough power, enough torque, it’s reliable, there are low running costs compared with other engines, and our teams know how to extract the best out of it. We tried to extend the life for the engine by changing small things around for the cooling system, but other than that, why would we need to change it?”
One feature that interests us is the ‘Drop Start’ function. Could you run us through what’s involved with this and why it has been developed for the 2020 car?
“Drop Start’ is a system that’s been in development for a while now, but we had to change a few things that would have affected homologation. So we decided to wait and instead implement this into the new package. And I think it’s very important because it’s something that’s been requested by drivers all over the world. The jacks are released and the engine starts automatically, meaning drivers now only have to focus on leaving the pitbox as quickly and safely as they can. We’re very proud of this.”
The new Mercedes-AMG GT3 entered its first unofficial race at the recent Hankook 24H PORTIMAO as part of its testing program. How important are races like that in terms of product development?
“Very. Portimão is always a hot race, and the existing cooling system is something our teams have struggled with in the past. Now, we could have just rented the circuit and sent the car out for 24 or 30 hours, but we would have missed the competition. And that’s important too. We would have missed areas like [tyre] pick-up, slipstreaming, dirt in the air filters or the cooling system, things you can’t avoid during a 24-hour race. We also had the existing AMG GT3 running alongside us, so we could compare temperatures and pressures in real time and adjust accordingly. Real world testing like the [Hankook] 24H PORTIMAO is so important.”
So what’s the next stage in the development cycle?
“There’s a second car, which is already being processed for FIA homologation, and the Portimão car has been disassembled to be analysed in detail. But we still have tests for the last adaptions to the ABS software, so there’s still a lot to do.The good thing is that we already have a lot of interest from our existing customers and, potentially, a lot of new customers too. That’s a good feeling!”
When can we expect to see the new Mercedes-AMG GT3 have its first race?
“We expect homologation for this car will be compete by 1st January, so that means we hopefully will do our first official race at next year’s [Hankook] 24H DUBAI. This is our expectation and then, maybe, the second race will be at the Daytona 24 Hours.”
*Stefan Wendl was speaking with Jolijn Jongenelen and James Gent
Engine: AMG 6.3-Liter V8 naturally aspirated engine (6,208 cm3)
Transmission: Sequential AMG six-speed competition gearbox
Suspension: Double wishbone, front and rear
Brakes: 390mm (front), 355mm (rear)
Wheels: AMG alloys 18in, forged
Tyres: 325/680-18 (front), 325/705-18 (rear)
Weight: < 1,285 kg*
Price: €399,000 [o2] without tax (Sprint spec)
*FIA homologation, depending on BoP