Australian world motorcycle champion Mick Doohan is no stranger to feral racing machines.
"It was pretty bloody ordinary," Doohan says of his first foray on the infamous 500cc Grand Prix machines of the 1980s and 1990s – on which he would later win five consecutive world titles. "You thought you knew how to ride a motorcycle until you jumped on one of those things," he adds.
Doohan etched his name into motorcycle history with his ability to tame and harness the energy of high horsepower machines. So today's exercise should merely serve as an entrée to the still-unassuming 50-year-old.
We're at Bathurst's iconic Mt Panorama and Doohan has just been given the green light to cut loose in the new Mercedes-AMG GT S supercar. Packing 375kW of power and 650Nm of torque, the front-engined two-door features the latest in performance technology, including an electronic charge which thickens the fluid running through the engine mounts for a more stable ride at speed, dry sump lubrication and even a trans-axle drivetrain layout (gearbox at the rear) for optimal 47:53 weight balance.
With an immediately clear track before him, it is evident that Doohan has hardly lost his racing edge – even on four wheels instead of two. If anything he wears his racing pedigree like a badge of honour, later turning several AMG customers ghost-white with his ability to hastily scale up and down the mountain's treacherously blind corners.
"It's a wonderful track, Bathurst," Doohan casually observes as both of us are lulled forward under the GT S's powerful ceramic brakes. "Places like Skyline, everything is blind, so it's just about positioning the car and keeping less load on it."
We head out of the pits up over Skyline, down through The Esses and power out of Forrest's Elbow with ferocious pace. There is no underestimating Doohan's ability behind the wheel (he went onto some elite four-wheeled racing once his motorcycle career finished), but even he admits modern cars like the GT are capable of flattering drivers with electronic functions such as stability control.
"If you're a little bit late on entry, then there are consequences. We've got more turned off than everyone else on track but the systems are so good nowadays you want to have something turned on," he says.
"In race mode in the GT, that's about as much as you want anyway. It shouldn't get you too untidy."
The racing spirit is well and truly alive in Doohan, who flashes his lights insistently at cars who don't move over, and even lets go the odd expletive at one errant driver: "what the f*** is this guy doing?".
Blistering lap time
With skilled hands at the wheel, the GT belies its production car status this week. There are even murmurs circulating that Mercedes-AMG is even plying for the production car lap record, which sits at about 2 mins 22 seconds. With Doohan behind the wheel, the GT comfortably comes in under 2 mins and 30 seconds which, while well over the current V8 Supercars record of 2mins 07 seconds, is still a blistering post for a production car.
"As a street car goes this thing is pretty damn good," Doohan says.
"You can feel how flat this thing's sitting. We're not pushing all that hard but this thing's not even bucking or weaving. We're going reasonably hard.
"Two minutes and 22 seconds is the production car lap record. Maybe someone who knows what they're doing may be able to achieve such a number.
"Even something like this 30 years ago, having this spread of torque and this sort of suspension, you'd be challenging race cars with something like this."
Doohan winds the GT S back to its most mellow Comfort setting on the cool down lap. Its ferocious V8 bark is set back to more appropriate levels and the engine and transmission become more relaxed in their sequencing.
Doohan says the beauty of modern production machines is their versatility: in the GT S' case, its ability to hit 100km/h from a standstill 3.8 seconds and yet still pamper its occupants in a meticulously crafted cabin.
"1988 was the last time I raced here on a bike," Doohan says, rejoicing in the fact he is now surrounded by a highly secure cage and the latest acronyms in safety technology.
"Would you race Bathurst on a bike if you had your time again?" I ask.
"No way, f*** that."
Mercedes-Benz AMG GT S pricing and specifications
On sale: July
Price: from $295,000 (plus on-road and dealer costs)
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 petrol
Power: 375kW at 6250rpm
Torque: 650Nm at 1750rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch automatic; RWD
Consumption: 9.4L/100km combined
Performance: 0-100km/h in 3.8 seconds, top speed 310km/h
This article first appeared on www.drive.com.au