We set a Drift National Record in a Mercedes-AMG A 45 S
“If it were easy it wouldn’t be much of a record, would it,” shrugs Aatish, as he watches the Mercedes-AMG A 45 S spin in a rather dramatic fashion. As the editor bangs the steering in frustration, Karan, for whom this is a first, asks, “Didn’t Sirish say this little AMG is impossible to spin?”
Truth be told, this is a first for all of us. While the rest of the team aren’t drift-virgins as Karan is, what we are attempting today is unprecedented. In one of his far-too-frequent moments of ridiculousness the editor thought it’d be cool to follow up our ‘How to Drift’ tutorial (evo India, June 2022) with a record for the longest continuous drift ever done in India. Sideways for 60 seconds was the plan (and Gone in 60 Seconds the headline), and calls were duly made to the India Book of Records to adjudicate and officially certify the record. Except, a record such as this has never been attempted in India and with no guidelines in place the IBR office had to consult with their global affiliates on the guidelines to certify such a record. Eventually they reverted with exhaustive rules, the headline of which was a minimum of 5 minutes continuously sideways. That’s far more than we’d bargained for. By this time though the editor had made far too many calls to roll back on the idea. The first was obviously to our friends at Mercedes-Benz India who were only too happy to make available the pocket-rocket that is the A 45 S. Why not the E 63 S AMG with the dedicated rear-wheel-drive drift mode? Familiarity had an outsized role to play here after the editor hollered those famous words, “it’s impossible to spin”, while shredding the tyres of the A 45 S AMG at the Raymond drift track.”
The one problem that we did face in our earlier drift story were tyres, which we ran out of. Determined not to repeat past mistakes, we roped in Vredestein Tyres who not only fixed us up with three sets of Ultrac Vorti high-performance tyres but also gave us access to their permanent workshop at the NATRAX in Pithampur. And that’s the third part of the puzzle, where to set the record. In the absence of a frozen lake, records such as these are only possible on a wet skidpad and the best one is located at the NATRAX, best known for its 11.3km high speed oval where we’d already maxed out the A 45 S AMG on its national press launch.
Now the only question was whether the editor, notorious for attention deficit disorder, could sustain his concentration to hold a drift for five whole minutes. “That’s why we need to practise,” admits Sirish as he goes through the long and complicated sequence of activating drift mode.
First we select race on the drive mode controller, the big difference between the 45 and its lesser 35 sibling. The AMG telemetry even lets you map different race tracks and immediately the NATRAX’s High Speed Oval shows up — this car was obviously used during that press launch event late last year and clocked an average speed well over 250kmph on the 11.3km lap. No such records are going to be smashed in this story, we’re confining ourselves to the much smaller skid pad.
Obvious next step is turning off ESP but before that we need to engage manual on the 8-speed DCT gearbox. Finally pull both the paddles, a prompt flashes up asking if you’re absolutely sure about what you’re asking of the little firecracker, pull the right paddle to confirm your dishonourable intentions towards the tyres, and off you go.
Except, unlike the E 63 S or C 63 S, the A 45 S still has 4-Matic engaged. Running on the primarily front-driven MFA2 platform of the A-Class, drift mode of the A 45 S relies upon the Torque Control rear axle diff with two electronically controlled multi-disc clutches to torque vector the rear axle. And as for power, gosh, this is over-endowed!
With 415bhp on tap, the 2-litre turbo-petrol had, until recently, the distinction of being the highest specific output engine to be shoe-horned into a production car. That record has only recently been bettered by the C 63, which gets hybrid assistance for some insane performance figures from a four-cylinder motor, and also necessitating 4MATIC to reign all that in. Stick the MercedesAMG A 45 S into drift mode and when you get aggressive with the throttle, particularly when the steering wheel is turned into the corner, more torque is sent to the rear axle, the outside rear wheel is torque vectored to create the yaw moment, and you get beautiful, glorious, epic power oversteer.
And all this happens at some serious speeds.
That’s the difference between drifting a RWD and AWD car. In the former power kicks out the rear axle and you slide, feathering the throttle to control the slide. In the latter as you give power to push the rear axle out some of it also goes to the front axle which pulls the nose straight so you give more power to keep the drift going, which increases speed, increases drama, pushes the car wide and you run out of road.
And there lies the rub.
The wet skid pad at natrax is split into two surfaces. On the inner 25-metre diameter is the slippery basalt surface which is 5 metres wide while the outer 10-metre wide loop is the more grippy asphalt. Both the tracks are continuously watered so there’s a film of water, but the grip difference between the two tracks is rather significant and that’s what is catching the editor out.
One lap, two laps, three laps, Sirish is holding the drift but as he feeds in more power to maintain the drift the A 45 S picks up speed and that pushes the car wide of the inside loop. The second the car hits the yellow line separating the two surfaces, the outside tyres find grip and that immediately straightens out the car. Sirish’s problem is the inside loop is just five metres wide and that leaves no margin to play around. He tries sticking the nose to the absolute inside of the corner but the minutest error catches the front tyre on the water drain and spins it around. After Sirish finishes banging the steering wheel for the umpteenth time Aatish strolls over. “From the outside it looks like you’re running out of patience. If you just hold back on the throttle you should be able to hold the drift for longer.” Except when Sirish tries that it looks like the AMG is driving round and round in circles.
“To hell with patience,” says Sirish and goes full send, relying on the evergreen ‘When in doubt, flat out’ theory. Instead of picking up speed gently he slides out aggressively to the outside loop, flat on the throttle to ensure the outside rear wheel keeps spinning and thus maintaining the drift. From the outside it looks incredibly dramatic, scary even, the sports exhaust on the A 45 S howling away, and now there’s no run-off to rely on in case something goes wrong.
“But it’s here that this little monster shines,” says Sirish. “I’m on the limiter in second, super-aggressive with the throttle, giving the car everything, working all 415 horses, and she’s pulling absolutely incredible four wheel drifts with the tyres howling vocally.” And that brings us to the rubber.
On our last drift story Sirish was over the moon to receive written permission to destroy six tyres. “I’m living the dream,” he’d squealed in delight. Now he turned into the proverbial kid in a candy store when he clapped eyes on the pile of 15 tyres waiting for him in the Vredestein pits. “I’m living my best life, bro,” he high-fived everybody before rushing off to kit up.
Setting the record will take only five minutes but behind the scenes, it takes hours and hours of work in planning, testing, practising and formulating strategy. While the final set of rubber goes on the A 45 S AMG for the record attempt, we sit down to strategise in the Vredestein Tyres pits.
Sticking to the inside loop seems like the best option insists Aatish while advising Sirish to curb his ‘When in doubt…’ instincts. “Let’s get the record in the bag and then you can have fun on the outside loop,” says Aatish while also pointing out that the India Book of Records adjudicator will only permit three attempts at the record. There’s also the problem of heat. We are attempting the record at noon and the scorching temperatures plus the tyres channeling away the water is forming dry patches leading to varying grip levels through the lap.
The inside line it is then, concurs Sirish and at 12 noon the flag drops, the A45 S AMG accelerates into the wet skid pad, and the clock starts as he crosses the adjudicator fully sideways. “Too fast, too fast,” says Aatish over the phone (we are relying on CarPlay, Sirish’s hands are too busy on the ’wheel to operate a walkie).
Aatish is right and Sirish responds by coming around a little slower, a little less dramatic, wheels now pointing straight and the A 45 S AMG settled in a neat four-wheel drift. Armfulls of opposite lock are admittedly more dramatic but this is automotive ballet. A dance on the edge of traction, with traction being the crucial word. While we want the car to be sliding we also want the tyres to grip, otherwise the car will just slide out of the skidpad. The tyres need to grip so that the power can be put down on the track to maintain the drift, and the tyres also have to deliver feedback so that Sirish knows what’s going on underneath him.
“There’s just so many things to get right,” explains Aatish to the adjudicator. “After having slept over it Sirish seems to have figured the technique out, but keeping it up for five minutes isn’t easy. He needs to focus. The slightest distraction could end it. The car needs to feel right.” And then over the phone he tells Sirish, “Take it one round at a time. The salami technique. Split this big, massive task into thin slices, and approach them one at a time.”
Now Aatish gets the full Kimi Raikkonen, ‘Leave me alone, I know what I’m doing’ treatment. Sirish adds, “Tell the photographers not to move, I’m getting distracted.”
“One minute,” says Dr Antim Kumar Jain, the India Book of Records adjudicator. “One minute,” relays Aatish. Things are looking good though the keen observers among us notice Sirish is making constant steering corrections and the brake lights also flash quite regularly. A little over two minutes later Sirish has a big moment as he strays across the drain on the inside and hits the dirt. We can see he’s fully sideways, the wheels are turned all the way to the lock stops, and to counter spinning out he gets full on the gas, lessons learnt from the last story. There’s a shower of mud, water, plenty of drama but he catches it and maintains the slide.
“Didn’t I say this AMG is impossible to spin?” screams Sirish, breathless from all the effort. We are also filming this record attempt and Sirish now remembers there’s a Go Pro pointing at his face hungry for some content. “I’ve figured it out,” he says. “The grip levels aren’t consistent so I can’t just send it into a slide and hold one constant steering angle. The far end is drying out and I have to give the throttle a couple of stabs to keep the back end sliding. But that’s also increasing the speed pushing it out of the basalt surface so I have to left foot brake to slow the car down. There’s a lot going on and the most difficult part is to resist smashing the throttle into the firewall, and relying on instinct to control the drift.”
“Concentrate,” says Aatish, sensing the impatience in Sirish’s voice. “Only one minute to go, can you hold it?” “I’ve never had to concentrate so hard,” chimes in Sirish. “Even though this AMG is small it’s so hard to keep it within the confines of the basalt surface. I’m no Ken Block, precision is not my strongest suit.” And it’s looking more ragged from the outside, there’s more sawing away at the steering, Aatish is biting his nails and he never bites his nails.
Ten seconds to go. Everybody in the pits gives a countdown, and almost on cue the outside rear tyre hits the yellow line separating the two tracks and nearly straightens out the AMG. “Power, power, power,” screams Sirish at the Go Pro as the red mist descends and he goes full send to keep it drifting. He’s now on the grippier surface and here’s where that mad power from the turbo-four motor comes into play, as does the chassis brilliance. The A45 S has a whole gamut of performance enhancements such as new struts, wider tracks, strengthened subframe and that clever differential to make it a dynamic master class. “You want to keep going,” asks Aatish?
“Let’s make it harder for somebody to break our record,” says Sirish. Aatish asks the adjudicator to keep the clock running. For the rest of the crew, on the outside, this is where the full impact of high-speed drifting is on display as 415 horses are called upon to torque vector the outside rear tyre and keep the slide going. In fact the speeds are so high and the tyres are doing such a good job of clearing out the water that a dry line has formed and there are even wisps of smoke from the heavily worked tyres. It’s the most dramatic series of donuts the crew have witnessed and the photo and video teams scramble to get into position to bag the action.
“How are the tyres holding up?” ask the Vredestein engineers. “You were not kidding when you said these tyres have been optimised for wet weather grip,” says Sirish. “I’m surprised by how much grip it’s generating and that means I really have to keep the engine screaming to keep the tyres spinning. How’s it looking from the outside?”
“Full power,” hollers Aatish. “Keep going. The photographers are getting some mad shots. This is what drifting is all about.”
“Yeah baby, this is more like it,” screams Sirish in agreement. “This is what the A 45 S has been engineered for. Low-speed, precise drifts are one thing, but to sustain high speed donuts, that’s where the chassis excellence, steering precision and that seat of the pants feel comes through. This is why I absolutely adore this car. And this is a proper torture test, both of the car and me. The g-forces are now killing me. My neck, my arms, my body, oh god this is hard work.”
He is now using the extreme edge of the skid pad and with Sirish tiring, Aatish decides to flag him in. The adjudicator stops the clock. 10 minutes 23 seconds. It was far from easy but the A 45 S AMG has set the Indian record for the longest continuous drift, and it’s going to take some doing to beat that.