Text by Cheryl Tay
Photos courtesy of PETRONAS Syntium Team
The aim was to win the Millennium Endurance Race (MMER) but their existing BMW Z4M cars were not fast enough to beat the other GT3 contenders such as the Audi R8s. Hence in 2010, Dato’ David Wong, the team founder and principal of PETRONAS Syntium Team made the decision to upgrade to a higher performance car so that they could rival the GT3 category of the MMER. Incidentally, the GT3-spec racing version of the SLS AMG was unveiled at the 2010 New York Auto Show and was to be the hottest GT3 car of 2011.
Dato’ Wong was considering other GT3 cars from Audi, Porsche, Ferrari and McLaren, but in respect of PETRONAS’ involvement with the Mercedes AMG PETRONAS team, it was the iconic gull wing SLS AMG GT3 that was chosen. Establishing contact with AMG in April 2010, two cars were ordered and confirmed by September 2010. Delivery of the car was then made from Germany to Japan (where the crew of the PETRONAS Syntium Team is based as it races in the Super Taikyu Series) in mid-2011.
While waiting for delivery of the cars, PETRONAS Syntium Team’s Japanese driver Masataka Yanagida went for testing in November 2010 at the Paul Ricard circuit with AMG to learn more about the SLS AMG GT3 car from AMG test drivers Bernd Schneider and Thomas Jager. The team’s technical engineer Niklas Thomassen also went for training in March 2011.
Impressed with the car, Yanagida gave good feedback about its downforce, braking, quick-shifting paddles, balance and handling capabilities. As the PETRONAS Syntium Team takes in rookie drivers from the PETRONAS Formula eXperience (PFX) programme every year, it is important that the young drivers are able to handle the car. To this point, Yanagida affirmed that the car will be relatively safe for the young drivers to race in.
Designed as a customer sport vehicle for AMG, this racing version of the SLS AMG is produced according to FIA GT3 regulations. Modified from the street version of the SLS AMG, new components to the body shell are mostly made of carbon fibre, as part of the lightweight construction for optmised performance.
Other changes include a new front skirt with enlarged air intakes, widened front and rear fenders for the large racing tyres, and a new rear skirt with two openings for air extraction from the rear wheel arches.
The gearbox is different too, with the SLS AMG GT3 housing a six-speed racing transmission with sequential shift via two paddle shifts on the steering wheel.
As defined in the FIA GT3 regulations, the AMG 6.3-litre V8 engine is similar to that of the series production SLS AMG. Acceleration figures are improved though, taking just 3.7 seconds to go from zero to 100km/h.
With its extended wheelbase, low centre of gravity and wide track, the SLS AMG vehicle was designed for the race track with sharp cornering abilities, dexterity and little inertia under abrupt direction change. Requiring only minimal modifications for higher race track performance, there is a range of adjustable options to suit the different race track characteristics and weather conditions. Besides the spring and damper setup, there is also the flexibility to adjust track and camber, vehicle height and the stabilisers on the front and rear axles.
The two PETRONAS Syntium Team SLS AMG GT3 cars created a huge hype in Malaysia last year, when it made its race debut at the MMER. Yanagida, Nobuteru Taniguchi and Malaysian rookie Dominic Ang helmed one, while the other one was driven by Tatsuya Kataoka, Fariqe Hairuman (the team’s longest-serving driver from Malaysia) and guest driver Schnieder. The three Japanese drivers are GT racing champions and have been driving for the team in the Super Taikyu Series.
After a gruelling drama-filled 12 hours, the trio of Yanagida, Taniguchi and Ang emerged champions of the MMER, with the sister car of Kataoka, Schnieder and Hairuman in third place. That was the SLS AMG GT3′s first ever victory in long-distance endurance racing worldwide and the team was rewarded for its achievement with the “Best Racing Performance” award at the AMG Customer Sports Season Finale 2011.
Since then, the team has retired their legendary BMW Z4M cars and is running two Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 entries in their sixth season of the Super Taikyu Series this year – a series that the PETRONAS Syntium Team has consecutively won the overall championship title four years in a row.
Over the last half decade, the team has been successfully grooming rookies from their driver development programme. There has been an increased focus on driver development this year, hence only one professional Japanese driver will drive for each car, allowing the other drivers to have more seat time.
Therefore, in the PETRONAS Syntium SLS AMG GT3 #1, it is Taniguchi, Ang and Hairuman, while the PETRONAS Syntium SLS AMG GT3 #28 has Kataoka with Melvin Moh of Malaysia (who last drove for the team in 2010 in the BMW Z4M) and rookie Jono Lester of New Zealand. Yanagida will rotate driving duties with Kataoka at each round, and rookie Ryan Ritchie from Malaysia will be the reserve.
Hoping to defend both their titles in the Super Taikyu Series and the MMER for 2012, the PETRONAS Syntium Team is on the right track, after securing victories in the first three rounds of the Super Taikyu Series. Their first victory of the season at the opening round of the Super Taikyu Series in mid-March was a history-making moment, as the first SLS AMG GT3 win in Japan.
For more photos, view here.
*This was first published in Hypertune.