What a ride: a road trip to Monaco with the Mercedes-AMG GT.
“Europe’s most famous corner”.
I enjoy the day’s first cup of coffee at the counter of a small Belgian snack bar, then I roll in anticipation to Europe’s arguably most famous corner: the name of this superfast bend, this G-force hell, is “Eau Rouge”. You’ll find it on the race track of Spa-Francorchamps.
Here, too, modern safety requirements have domesticated a once feared classic race track – but the Eau Rouge has remained the eye of the needle through which big hearts go to racing driver heaven and where timid souls are destined to fail miserably.
Good timing is everything.
Acceleration discharge past the modern pit lane, hard braking, crisply through an epically wide corner. As you dive down along the old pit lane, it seems as if you can almost hear the uninhibited, bloodthirsty screeching of the crowd – and then the track kinks to the left, a veritable wall towers in front of you. And then there is this spot, no wider than a hand, that you have to hit in order to take the Eau Rouge flat out. I’m not sure if I have hit it now. Up is down and left is right, and the car is quasi unsteerable between entry and exit point. But this time I got it right.
Trans-European ride in the AMG GT.
One day later, I cross the border from Italy into France in the Mercedes-AMG GT. I am tired, exhausted, but saturated with the impressions from the trans-European ride that lies behind me: after leaving Belgium, I hit the German autobahn and am totally amazed by how serenely and superbly the GT masters even long stages of the journey for hours on end. I crossed over into Switzerland near Basel and fell into bed near Andermatt with the last ray of sunlight. Over the Gotthard Pass to Airolo at dawn. Cold and tranquillity, high up below the sky. Down to Airolo, winding bend after winding bend in the surefooted GT over the centuries-old cobblestones of the old pass road.
With elegance through the hairpin turns.
Lugano, Milano, the endless boring motorway stretches through northern Italy’s Po Valley under a bleak sky obscured by low stratus clouds. Then along the ocean, tunnels and bridges next to grey waters. By the time I’m close to Monte Carlo, I am tired of autobahns, autostradas, and autoroutes. Near Menton I turn north and follow the D2566 road into the interior. The GT climbs higher and higher, working its way into the valleys of the Maritime Alps with effortless elegance. The car moves like a beast of prey, resolutely, simply magnificently. Behind Sospel, I finally see road signs pointing to the Col de Turini, the pass of desire of the Monte Carlo Rally.
On the trails of old rally heroes.
Black and white or faded 1960s Kodachrome images flicker through my mind: turtleneck sweaters, bell-bottom trousers, sunglasses, full-throttle jet set, uninhibited pedal-to-the-metal rally heroes. In the early 1960s, Mercedes-Benz triumphed here in a 220 SE, and shortly afterwards the Monte became a catalyst for desire that still inspires entire rally generations to this very day, even though the hot years seem to be a thing of the past. The GT casually snarls through the winding bends below the top of the pass.
But by the time I reach the sign telling me that I made it to the top, I am deeply disappointed: the Col de Turini is drab and boring, an insignificant junction in the hinterland. Well then, down to the glitz of Monte Carlo after all. The end of the long road from up north to the Mediterranean is approaching quickly.
Towards Monaco through the back entrance.
On arriving in Menton, I choose the back entrance to Monaco: I join the D22 road to Sainte-Agnés. The small mountain village picturesquely clings to the rocks and is another regular landing spot for the rally. I would love to stop in one of the nice little cafés up in the town, but the GT keeps moving on. I continue on the D22 to the Col de la Madone, the road narrows, lavender and gorse are growing over its edges. The mountain throws rocks at us, below the pinnacles the GT scurries grimly past, hisses through dark tunnels and cuts along the racing line with the precision of a scalpel. Then the road spits us out again. Below Peille, the GT explodes back onto the D53; from here on out we drop down to the sea.
At full throttle through Monaco.
I catch the first glimpse of Monte Carlo near La Turbie: an army of apartment blocks that crowd into the narrow bay, stacked on top of each other and one after another, a quarry of structures, a giant’s box of building blocks. The legendary Formula One track cuts through the heart of the city jungle. If the Grand Prix didn’t exist, the real estate moguls of the city would certainly have come up with a plan to replace the streets of the city with buildings.
The Grand Prix puts its mark on Monaco. It gives stability to this over-the-top town between Prozac and champagne, anti-depressants and fashion, obsession and exuberance. And it gives it pride and class. Hard to imagine what it would be like if racing would no longer be possible here.
No longer to be stopped.
At some point, the GT and I end up at the Casino, but keep rolling on to Mirabeau: somewhere in the machine, a secret race track programme seems to start up; the GT can no longer be stopped. Greedily, it glides through the famous Grand Hotel hairpin turn, then the rumbling of the V8 reverberates through the tunnel down by the sea. Chicane, accelerate, fish vans, motor scooters, greengrocers chewing on cigar stumps, then the sweep from the swimming pool to Rascasse.
The race is over.
Only now do we awake from our state of hypnosis, the race is over. We are here. Sadly, I let the GT roll left to a stop at the marina, and actually find a place to park near the gigantic luxury yachts – engine off. I remain at the wheel as if stuck to the seat. The entire journey flickers through my synapses for a few delicious and highly intense moments. Then my battery is empty. I get out, take a deep breath. Up in the mountains a few patches of fog are seeping over the ridges, moving south, over the sea. Then they dissipate.