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Let’s preface this report with the following disclaimer. I do drive an AMG E55 so I guess I am biased toward the AMG brand – there I said it. But that being said, I am a professional photojournalist and the story below is a factual account of the two days in Miami.........

The announcement on MBWORLD AMG E55 forum gave me the heads-up to sign up for this event. I never really gave the price much thought - $1,195 for Day 1 and $1,500 for the Graduate Challenge Day 2 seemed reasonable enough – I would only later find out what a bargain it really was. 

I arrived early at Homestead Speedway, parked in amongst several other attendee’s cars, many of them AMG models.

Jeff Andretti

The event got off to fast start with a brief introduction from Chief Instructor Randy Tolsma, of NASCAR and open-wheel racing fame, an exciting AMG video and an introduction to our chief instructors that would handle us all day.  

The 80 attendees were divided into 4 groups of 20 – our group had the pleasure of having Jeff Andretti as our instructor. Jeff has the distinction of being the Indy 500 Rookie of the year in 1991 and raced there in 1992 and 1993. He has also raced the North American Touring Car Series and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. But most importantly Jeff is an all around cool guy, friendly, amazingly accessible, very helpful and incredibly modest.

Miami Homestead Speedway

Fast Lapping

Our group jumped into the deep end with fast lapping around the largest course that we would drive for the day. We were able to select the cars we wanted to drive, and while choosing between an E, CLS, or SL might initially have appeared to be the most important decision, I quickly figured that the right-seater (our individual instructors) was more important than the car itself. He would be the guy that would give you the most direction, and let you have your head of steam if he felt you were up to the task. 

I quickly latched onto Bob Van Epps in the burgundy CLS55 – a 50 something driver that races with his son Robert (who was also right-seating), and he helped me plenty – always encouraging me to speed up, and much of this encouragement was while sliding sideways out of the long right hander leading to one of the fastest straights on the circuit. I would get the CLS up to 112mph and just after the 300ft mark stomp as hard as possible on the anchors and that car would squat and squeal and scrub off speed to handle the 45 mph hairpin coming up.

On the 22 degree banked corners we would get the cars up to 100mph (or maybe a smidgeon more) before aggressively braking for the hairpin that would lead us into the in-field. The Homestead infield is plenty of fun and some of the tight corners take tremendous finesse to get the most exit speed out of the cars.  

All the hot laps were run with traction control on and knowing how the computer intrudes definitely helps you get better exit speed – at any time if the wheels are turned and the rears are slipping there is some form of retarding going on, so getting smooth clean lines definitely allows you to get on the gas harder and quicker and makes for way faster exit speeds.

Jeff Andretti at the wheel

of the New SLK55 -

and tossing it sideways

through the Autocross course below

Individual Autocross

From the fast lapping we moved over to the Individual Autocross track – which comprised another section of the banked oval and utilized some more infield, but this time with cones lining the corners and series of chicanes designed to keep you on your toes. We would drive either SL55’s or SLK55’s around this course and we were timed – but each cone knocked down added 2 seconds to your time. Jeff Andretti ran a first lap of 45secs and set the pace. We had a total of 3 laps – 1 reconnaissance lap and then 2 timed laps. Several drivers in our group started laying down some good times breaking into the 44’s, with the majority of drivers happily running in the 45’s – 50’s. 

I chose the SLK55 over the SL55 as I suspected the 120HP deficit would be less important than the 1,000 lbs weight reduction on this tight course.


My warm up lap was a swift 44.8 and then I threw in a 43.1 and a 42.86. Jeff went out again and tried to wipe the grin off my face and ended up with a 43.1. To say that I was floating on a cloud was to miss the mark by far. Now I can add to my signature – “faster than Mario Andretti’s son”

This time and some of my spirited driving during the day earned me the prestigious “Most Pedal to the Metal” trophy for the Yellow group. I also ended up with the fourth fastest overall time for the Autocross – one of the MBWORLD group members, Steve Chapman, was the only driver to break into 41 seconds and took home the highly coveted Fastest Driver of the Day award.



The skidpad exercise used AMG C55’s on a water-logged uneven parking lot, where fast circling around a very tight radius circle was the goal. This was hilarious to watch and just the slightest squirt of the loud pedal would bring that back out into that all familiar “no-way-I-am-going-to-save-this-one” situation. Finessing it around was a lot harder than it looked, but again your right seater made a huge difference – mine kept on shouting SLOW DOWN, SLOW DOWN, where all I wanted to do was drift it around the circle with the tail out.

The other instructor was way cooler and one of our group, Andy, made it look oh-so-easy and would do well in any drifting event. Andy walked off with the Smooth-Like-Butter Award at the prize giving later in the day.


A short slalom track with two slalom sections was set up in another parking lot. One section had increasing distance between cones allowing you to speed up as you progressed, and the other section had reducing distance between cones so you had to be on the brakes while steering.

This was lots of fun and I threw both the SL55 and the SLK55 through the cones with total abandon. I now know for a fact that horsepower isn’t everything; that 1,000 lbs weight difference makes a huge difference and the SL’s heavy butt got way more out of line than the SLK’s. I am a true convert and I really fell in love with the SLK and thoroughly enjoyed the way you can toss the SLK through the tight stuff with total confidence.


Emergency Avoidance & Recovery

This was one of the most fun exercises of the entire day, because our right seater was one of the group - no instructors on board. We were back in the C55’s on the skidpan course, this time with a wall of cones directly ahead, two entry cones marking the entry and two narrow  exit lanes on either side of the wall. 

We would accelerate at full speed towards the wall and as we hit the entry cones our right-seater would call out either LEFT or RIGHT at the last moment and we would have to take evasive action, missing the wall, turning into the escape lane and bringing the car to a halt – all simulating an emergency situation on a heavily trafficked multi-lane freeway. 

George, an MBWORLD member, and I teamed up together and for about 10 minutes we couldn’t get the grin off our faces. When I was at the wheel he would tell me which way to go only AFTER we went through the cones, leaving no time for evasion – thankfully they were only cones we were demolishing, and not stationary SUV’s or fallen granny’s. What a blast. The best part was sharing it with a really cool new friend!


High Speed Lapping.

 Soon we were back at the high speed section, hopefully incorporating everything that we had learned that day. Unfortunately we were never timed but I do know that as the day went on I was way smoother, and despite breaking later I was still carrying more exit speed, and getting faster and faster as the day progressed.

Much respect to Bob Van Epps, my instructor on the fast lapping for the whole day, as he really helped me improve my lines and he never flinched once.

I have nothing but respect for these instructors. They had no idea at any time who would be sitting next to them and what their skill level would be. To sit calmly in the passenger seat with no control whatsoever while someone has your life in their hands is pretty awesome. Much respect to all of you!

Hot Laps with the Pro Drivers

The finale was one flying hot lap with the pro drivers. We were two, three and even four up in the CLS55, E55, and SL55’s and there were even two 65’s on the track as well. The pros were behind the wheel and we got to experience just what makes these guys so smooth.

I lapped with one of the pros and we came off the high speed oval straightaway and dived for infield turn. There we were, three up, drifting sideways at well over 120mph sliding toward the grass and he was having a pleasant conversation with me, looking around to see if anyone was trying to duck under us and steal our line. Smooth and relaxed under pressure – this is something has done many times before. What a pleasure it was to see this in action sitting side by side.

Closing Presentation and Awards

The day ended with an awards ceremony for each group of drivers. Awards for “Best Course Redesign” were given to those drivers who had the most creative off course excursions. Smooth as Butter awards went to the drivers with most control on the Skid Pan, and best Pedal to the Metal awards went to the drivers who stayed on the gas and turned in the fastest Autocross times.

The most coveted awards went to the three fastest drivers on the Autocross. MBWORLD member Steve Chapman, with a superb 41.8, took home the grand prize – a neat radio controlled SL500. My 42.86 was only good enough for fourth (4/100ths slower than third)

Steve Chapman -

Fastest guy on the


MBWORLD forum folk

EagleEye, Siswati, Chappy,

Mooneypilot, Jeff Andretti

More MBWorld members



The Yellow Team - please email me with names / screen names so I can complete the wall of fame

Laura - absolute hottie

George - GREAT GUY

"Eagle Eye" MBWORLD

Sergio - FUN GUY!

"SergioMiami" MBWORLD

Andy - "Smooth As Butter" Skidpad killer

Claude “Sandy” Thomas

 “mooneypilot” MBWORLD



Laura - absolute hottie

even in a helmet

Event Summary – Day 1

All in all it was one of the highlights of my short time on this planet. What incredible value for money. One whole day spent with my foot pinned flat to the floorboards, in other people’s cars. Over 3 Million Dollars of high performance machinery on hand to be appreciated and at the same time thrashed mercilessly (and none complained), and over 300 tires destroyed in the process that day.

I walked away from the day a much better driver thanks to the patience and experience of the very helpful instructors. I had always considered myself a fast driver, and one short day confirmed that I do have some talent but what I really need is good instruction and lots of seat time. And I walked away with a tremendous respect for the AMG machinery. As I said we thrashed those cars mercilessly, and not one complained. A few drivers had off course excursions, and there was some minor damage, but for the amount of abuse suffered, man was I impressed.

Rob Allan

But the best part of all was to be able to do this in the company of like minded car enthusiasts who were all a blast to hang with. I made some great new friends – not only with the attendees but also with the great instructors who were some of the most down to earth people that you could ever mix with. And of course meeting guys like Rob Allan and Luke from AMG was an opportunity not to be missed

Danny Steyn

May 16th 2005



 >>Click here for Day 2 - 2005 AMG Graduate Challenge






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