Anniversaries of any nature are always special so given that 2016 is the 10th anniversary of GTspirit, we decided to do what all petrolheads love; an epic road trip! But not just any road trip. This year, we brought together our most valued partners and a select number of friends and GTspirit fans to put on the perfect trip combining handpicked roads, an incredible selection of high-performance cars, luxury hotels and carefully selected restaurants to exemplify what GTspirit is all about.
Mercedes-Benz and AMG have been generous enough to lend us seven of their finest models, consisting of five beautiful AMG dream car models as well as two of its most luxurious and versatile SUVs, the GLS500 and the GLE350. As for the AMGs, well they are of course the real highlights thanks to their killer combination of poise, power and passion. We had the pleasure of enjoying the new SL63, the brutal AMG GT S, a matte grey S63 Cabriolet, the red SLC43 and for the final two days, a brand new C63 S Cabriolet, delivered by Mercedes-Benz straight from its press launch in Italy.
Alongside these cars, some fans of the website, GTspirit Owners Club members and friends are joining us and as is the GTspirit way, these participants are also driving some incredible cars, including a stealthy matte grey Lamborghini Aventador SV fitting of a starring role in the next Batman film as well as a Ferrari 458 Italia, two nearly identical Porsche Cayman GT4s and a handful of other sports cars perfect for some of Europe’s finest roads. In total a maximum of 25 teams were invited to join the GTspirit Tour 2016 – the Dream Cars Edition.
While speaking of roads, some of Europe’s finest were selected for the tour in a number of breathtaking locations in Central and Eastern Europe. For all participants, each city and country on the cards will remain a secret until the start of each day.
#GTspiritTour Day 1
Things kicked off in Munich on Thursday with a quick registration at the plush five-star Westin Grand hotel followed by what is the perfect way to begin any road trip, a fancy dinner at one of the city’s most exclusive destinations. Heart House is the first private members club in Munich and hosted us in utter opulence with some lovely courses including beef tartar and fresh fish from a nearby lake. After dinner, we partied the night away at the property’s pumping nightclub well aware that the longest day of driving was ahead of us…
#GTspiritTour Day 2
At the crack of dawn, the weary-eyed crew members and participants prepared for what was to come. We received the first route card in the lobby of the Westin Grand hotel which didn’t contain more than the address of our official start location. The start was located at the Verkehrszentrum that belongs to the German Museum in Munich. As all cars gathered at the square fans and locals came out to see what was going on. It didn’t take long until the police showed up to check our permit but everything was well sorted and with the group photo out of the way and a few instructions from the GTspirit Tour organizer we received the next route card – around 250 kilometers to go to the lunch checkpoint!
We left Munich behind us and via an incredibly crowded autobahn headed to Austria. Once across the border the traffic went away and we continued via the Obertauern ski resort towards a very special toll road. Once our toll was paid we ascended the Nockalmstrasse pass road and had lunch at the top of the mountain overlooking sweeping valleys and heavenly strips of tarmac perfectly organised like the noodles at a Michelin star restaurant. Using a system of waypoints and checkpoints some participants missed the waypoints and arrived at the checkpoint from the wrong way, the roads were great either way so everybody got out of the car with a big smile.
Descending this incredible road was equally as fun as the ascent as the views could be enjoyed even more. Not so easy on the brakes, but our AMG brakes didn’t give in. The following hours we went from ski resort to ski resort and mountain to mountain as we made our way East towards Graz. Here we returned to the highway and blasted through Slovenia on to Croatia.
Our final destination was Zagreb, a fascinating city that welcomed us like family. The hotel of choice was the classic luxurious Esplanade Zagreb. A big bus shuttled all of us – well almost all of us – to one of the best, if not the best, restaurants in Zagreb: Mano. Here we enjoyed a delicious three course dinner while reflecting on the day’s events. After dinner we walked a few minutes to Khala Club. This was the night of the GTspirit 10th Anniversary so champagne was served and vodka was drank. We had been on the road for only one day so far but the chemistry in the group was already off the charts.
#GTspiritTour Day 3
On the third day the GTspirit Tour would return to Slovenia and the participants had a choice; take the short route more or less directly to the next hotel or take a detour and enjoy some of Slovenia’s finest roads.
With the route cards handed out to participants and crew members had to decide to go long or short. Most participants that partied hard the night before decided to go straight to the next hotel in Portoroz on the shores of the Adriatic Sea. But we decided to explore Slovenia to its fullest. We headed off in the ultimate performance car convoy through the city streets of Zagreb towards Slovenia, towards a beautiful route.
But before the driving would really begin we had the pleasure of visiting the R&D facility of our tour sponsor; Akrapovic. To petrolheads around the world, these exhaust specialists are known as one of the very best, offering exhausts for all manner of road-legal cars and motorbikes as well as providing exhaust for numerous race cars and bikes, including most of the MotoGP field.
Our tour showed us through the development and construction of its class-leading systems which utilise a special form of titanium not found anywhere else in the industry. It’s little wonder that numerous automakers offer Akrapovic systems as optional extras. Tour finished and with nothing but the smell of petrol in the air, we thought there was nothing that could dampen our spirits for the rest of the day.
After a very interesting tour and some rather uneventful highway driving we stopped for lunch at Ljubjlana Castle, an amazing spot overlooking the country’s capital. From here we continued towards Slovenia’s far North-Western part where the county’s highest mountains are.
Around 1 pm, the rain hit and it hit hard. Crippled by torrential rain our average speed dropped significantly and the opportunities to stop for photos were minimized.
With the huge convoy gone, just four AMGs remained, driving despite the horrific conditions through some amazing Slovenian roads, combining an array of different paved surfaces, tight switchbacks and flowing corners. The rain became so heavy that we were often forced to drive at half the speed limit, crippled by poor visibility and the fog which accompanied the rain. It became so intense that at times, the roads morphed into rivers while the rock faces changed to waterfalls. While the conditions were far from ideal, the cars – our S63, SL63, SLC43 and a participant’s C63 Estate performed faultlessly.
Our small group of determined drivers decided to head through the Italian border on our way to the coast and what a good decision it was. As soon as we entered Italy, the rain cleared and the roads dried and we were welcomed with stunning seaside vistas and sunshine, glorious sunshine. We made our way through the city of Trieste and then went back into Slovenia and surprise, surprise, the rain resumed almost immediately and with unrelenting force.
While everyone was prepared to eat, our small band of AMG brothers arrived at the sensational Kempinski Palace Portoroz hotel, concluding an incredible day on the roads. Our rooftop dinner had to be cancelled but the majestic ballroom of the hotel did just fine as an alternative. Since we had a big party the night before and a big day of driving ahead tomorrow almost everybody went to bed around midnight.
#GTspiritTour Day 4
GTspirit founder and tour organizer Des already hinted that day 4 would be a good one driving wise. And the morning’s route card certainly looked promising with a checkpoint deep inside the Italian Dolomites mountains.
As the sound of well over 10,000 hp rumbled, we headed out of the Kempinski carpark and briefly drove along the stunning boulevard adjacent to the sea before stopping for a small photoshoot with our range of AMG models. From there we returned to the highway and drove into Italy. One of the cars in our convoy insisted to stop for a coffee and a petrol station, I didn’t know but in Italy you get some of the best espressos at the side of the road. Here a crowd gathered around the cars only seconds after we arrived. In Italian they discussed at full volume about the cars, the engines and presumably the drivers too. The AMG GT S and the C63 AMG Convertible seemed to be the crowd’s favorites.
With the cars and drivers restocked on Super Plus and caffeine we continued down the highway. Here our resident photographer Zaid Hamid took some car-to-car photos from the AMG GT. Not your every day camera car but the talented Mr Z did not seem constrained by it.
We drove on the Italian motorway towards the mountains for about 90 minutes, then the twisting roads began and motoring nivarna ensued. For this section of the drive I was behind the wheel of the 2016 Mercedes-AMG S63 Cabriolet. On paper, this massive cruiser would seem out of place on narrow mountain roads when accompanied by the likes of the Porsche Cayman GT4 and Mercedes-AMG GT S. However, with a quick switch into Sport mode, the S63 becomes an easily controllable sports car that can carry as much speed through the corners as many lighter cars. And then on the short straights, it embarrassed many others thanks to its brutal 577 hp twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 engine.
The roads were handpicked and you could tell how much effort was put into selecting the right roads for the GTspirit Tour 2016. On this particular stretch from Tolmezzo to Bad Moos there was virtually no traffic and the combination of corners mixed with beautiful vistas seemed endless. After some unforgettable driving moments, we enjoyed lunch at Sport & Kurhotel Bad Moos in Sexten. This mountain retreat lies on the foot of some of the most impressive rock formations in the Alps.
From lunch it was a short drive back into Austria. And as if the day couldn’t get any better, dreams came true and jaws plummeted through the ground as we turned onto the Grossglockner pass in Austria, certainly one of the finest driving roads in the world. Completely deserted unlike many other more well known alpine roads, Grossglockner is just about as good as it gets. Despite the temperature dropping to nearly zero degrees on the way up, there was no rain or snow on the roads. With that being said, snow did line the roads and surrounding mountaintops, giving us a breathtaking vista for our thrilling drive.
After the drive, we headed back down the other side, welcomed by a thick covering of fog and unfortunately, some patches of rain. But there was nothing that could spoil our day anymore after over 5 hours of pure driving fun.
Following our descent, we made our way to beautiful Kitzbuhel, one of the most exclusive ski towns in all of Europe jam-packed with five-star hotels and private houses worth well over €10 million. For our stay, we lived the high-life at the Grand Tirolia hotel, a glamorous ski and golf retreat nestled away from the town, providing us with the perfect place for some rest and relaxation. Despite the long drive all times arrived in Kitzbuhel with time to spare to enjoy the hotel’s Spa and swimming pool.
Another night and another dinner, this time at Rosi’s restaurant, high-up in the mountain-side and offering up heavenly panoramic views of the valley. The food was not only perfect for our weary heads and keen palettes, but the vibe and atmosphere was unbeatable. Oh and the schnapps, don’t get me started on the schnapps.
#GTspiritTour Day 5
Today marks the last day of the GTspirit Tour 2016 and we’ll be going out with a bang, enjoying some amazing roads in Austria and through the border with Germany. The slight sleep in was certainly enjoyed by everyone, particularly those who enjoyed a very late night out. From Kitzbuhel it is not far to the German border, here we soon left the main road and enjoyed an stunning empty mountain road towards Berchtesgaden.
The staff at the Kempinski Berchtesgaden in Germany hotel welcomed us for a quick lunch, offering excellent local food and drinks which we could enjoy on the terrace with beautiful vistas across the valley. This gave us enough energy to stumble out of the relaxing couches and back into our cars, before then enjoying one final mountain pass on the way to Munich.
There’s nothing quite like ending an amazing road trip than with a quick blast up a small mountain, this time the Rossfeld Panoramastrasse, a relatively short road with smooth corners and tight switchbacks and most importantly, absent of any other cars. Given its technical nature, the small 367 hp Mercedes-AMG SLC 43 proved to be the perfect companion, offering up just the right amount of power on the straights, enough grip manoeuvring through the corners and just a little bit of slip from the rear on exit. On such a road, no additional grunt is needed. In fact, anymore is just a waste, given that it’s impossible to fully exploit.
A few more twists in the books and a quick blast along the autobahn, the end of the GTspirit Tour was within sight in Munich, Our final stop consisted of a relaxed afternoon at the BNM Restaurant in the Bavarian National Museum with some tasty drinks as well as the official GTspirit Tour award ceremony which saw a number of participants and crew members acknowledged for their involvement in the tour. The ‘Spirit of the Tour’ award was happily received by the guys from Team Skjerven Racing and drove a Ferrari 458 Italia on our tour. They embraced what the GTspirit Tour is all about. Not only were they driving one of the nicest cars but were amazingly friendly and certainly knew how to party once the sun set each night. One important runner-up for the award was Team Private Motor Club, who showed true passion and dedication with their 1970’s Porsche 911 Race Car. They did not win the Spirit of the Tour award but did not go home empty handed as they took home the prize for best photo of the tour.
That marked the end of the GTspirit 10th Anniversary Tour. And what an adventure it has been! Countless new friendships developed, thousands of stories to tell, new roads and countries discovered and the desire it would not end.
On behalf of the entire GTspirit Tour crew I would like to thank our main sponsors: Mercedes-Benz and AMG! Our partners: Akrapovic, Pagani Automobili, Pass AG and Salgrom. We also like to thank all other partners and locations in making this such a memorable event including all hotels, restaurants, clubs and checkpoint locations. Special thanks to our participants that joined us on this very special edition of the GTspirit Tour!