Encounters with the snowbanks are a common occurrence. Once participants exceed their abilities to control their car, all of the participants in their group are notified via two-way radios to slow down and look for the incident. Thankfully, during my two days behind the wheel, I never experienced that. I came close on many occasions but never actually came into contact with anything. Others in our group certainly did. If you ended up in a snowbank and didn’t require a tow out by the big black intimidating Mercedes G-Wagon (A.K.A., “The Vulture”), then off you went to continue your exercise. If you required a tow by The Vulture, then a hole was punched in your card. Once your card resembled Swiss cheese (or as early as 3 punched holes), you got to speak to the head driving instructor to tell him how your day was going. Only one of our participants had the opportunity to do that. He did not have his driving privileges revoked and carried on, albeit in a slightly tamer manner.
I think the ideal candidate for a driving course like this is a driver who is fairly skilled, competent, confident and aggressive. During our time behind the wheel, I think each of us had an “ah ha” moment when everything we had been told by our driving instructors, and turned to practice, clicked. Driving the rear wheel drive C 63 S is the most intuitive. You enter a corner, step on the gas, all of the power goes to just the two rear wheels and the back end swings out. With the right combination of throttle input and counter steer, you can maintain a drift for an extended period of time. It’s not the same in the 4MATIC all-wheel drive cars, especially the CLA which has a front wheel drive bias but can send up to 50% of the power to the rear wheels when the front wheels slip. But with the proper tutelage and practice, and less counter steering, you can make this car drift too, it just takes a while to figure out. Once you get the balance right, this car is a gem to slide. The E 63 S 4MATIC with its all-wheel drive with a rear wheel drive bias, which can send 50% of the power to the front wheels, falls somewhere in-between in terms of its intuitive drift nature. It is one of the nicest cars to drive out on the lake.
The Race of Champions is the final exercise for all of the participants whether you’re participating in the two or three day course and it was great fun! It takes place on a peanut-shaped course, with two participants on the track at the same time, each starting on opposite sides of the track. At the conclusion of two laps, the first person across her respective start/finish line wins and moves on to the next round. I was fast enough to finish first in my group (the 15 participants are divided into three groups on day one), and I progressed to the final shoot out, finishing on the podium in third place. You get to put into practice everything you have learned and experienced and try to beat your competitor, and not beat yourself. My heart was definitely beating faster during each race than it had over the past few days.
Regarding any concern you might have that you and 18 expensive cars (and a few dozen people) might fall through the ice, one needn’t worry. 15 cm of ice can hold up one car, 150 cm of ice can hold up a 747. Due to the extremely cold winter that northern Manitoba has been experiencing, the lake had frozen to a depth of more than 160 cm, or more than five feet. Considering we were in a Bay that is only 6 to 8 feet deep, we had absolutely nothing to worry about.
The small town of Gimli has really taken a shining to the AMG team and its driving academy participants. Gimli is a summer town and, other than a few ice fisherman in the winter, not much is going on. The difference now is that for one month in the dead of winter, the hotel, gas station, local grocery store and lake is busy with dozens of participants having the times of their life learning how to drift on a frozen lake. If participating in a school like this isn’t on your bucket list, it should be. Dress warm and prepare to amaze yourself.
For more information you can visit Mercedes-Benz Canada’s Driving Academy site.
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