The Mercedes AMC Driving Academy Winter Sporting takes place in only two tracks in the world – one in Arjeplog, northern Sweden and one in Gimli Manitoba, just a short 45 minute drive from my home in Winnipeg. The multi day program hosted on frozen Lake Winnipeg lets participants drift and speed through the most challenging winter terrain.
After hearing this world class event was being held so close to home, I reached out to Mercedes Canada and was offered the opportunity to go on track and test drive a fully loaded E63 AMG. I jumped at the chance to get behind the wheel of this 603 hp AWD luxury sedan and enjoyed this truly great winter driving experience.
The track is full of over 8km of adrenalin-charged curves carved into the frozen lake on a truly one of a kind race track. The team at AMG calls the long track the ‘White Hell’, referencing the Green Hell (aka the Nürburgring Nordschleife) in AMG’s home country, Germany.
Danny Kok was the professional driving instructor that was running the event with his team and showing me the ropes. Danny is also an experienced racer and currently races an AMG GT4 and LMP3 prototype in IMSA racing. After a few pointers, I was lucky enough to head right out onto the track and get behind the wheel.
The E63 AMG has a 603 hp engine with a 0-100km acceleration of only 3.4 seconds, and this car did not lack in power. It was outfitted with custom studded winter tires, made specifically for this Winter Driving Academy event. The tires were hand made with every stud placed individually by hand. Talk about attention to detail!
My seat time was focused on the dynamic area of the track, basically an oval with several pylon chicanes. Since my seat time was limited it was the perfect environment to get up to speed quickly and push the E63 AMG hard immediately knowing I have some room if I make a mistake.
This car was completely different from my ice racer for many reasons. The AMG is all wheel drive with a rear bias to the system, that meant that power on oversteer was always an option. In my ice racer I’m constantly left braking to help control the attitude of the car, but that technique wasn’t necessary in the E63 as the throttle provided all the control I needed.
With 603 horsepower it has 5 times the power of my ice racer and I thought it might be a bit much on the ice. The bespoke tires had plenty of grip and the Mercedes all-wheel drive system made the most of it. One thing that I couldn’t believe was how smooth and effective the transmission was. The big Merc was swapping cogs mid drift and never upset the car. In fact, the shifts were so seamless I could only tell they were happening by the RPM or the sound. You never felt a single shift. My ice racers 5 speed manual just can’t do what the AMG box makes so effortless.
Another big difference is the mass, my Honda Civic ice racer is 1700 pounds, compared with 4500 pounds for the AMG. I thought it would feel sluggish but it was always upon on its toes, and changed direction effortlessly.
Overall it was amazing to get to drive the AMG Winter Driving Academy, it is a true gem of an experience.
The final WSCC ice race of the year takes place in Gimli, and uses part of the same AMG Driving Academy track for the races. Every year we look forward to driving on this amazing track and pushing ourselves to the limit. This year I feel like I have a bit of an advantage having already got some seat time on the Gimli track!