We bid the iconic Audi R8 adieu with a proper track experience
Audi Driving Experience Center, Neuburg an der Donau, Germany - I would say that it has been a good ride for Audi’s iconic R8. The R8, like the Ur-Quattro did plenty to elevate the brand. The Quattro made waves in the eighties, with its AWD drivetrain and five-cylinder; and also duked it out in Group B, scoring more than twenty podium victories. The R8 did the same, from being Audi’s first supercar… and also the part where it goes on to participate in various races, including GT3.
Just a day before, I had the opportunity to visit the Böllinger Höfe Audi Sport factory, near Neckarsulm, where Audi produces their R8 supercar, alongside the e-tron GT and RS e-tron GT. Right there and then, I knew that my visit to witness the car in production here, would be one of a bittersweet farewell to Audi’s one and only ICE production supercar.
So, fast forward to today, I am at the Audi Driving Experience Center, located in Neuburg an der Donau, which is half-an-hour’s drive from Ingolstadt. On hand to whip us in “proper” track driving shape, was Frank Schmickler, who would be our instructor for the day. The word ‘whip’ would be the best way to describe what we had in-store for us, since Schmickler is an actual race car driver.
We receive a mandatory pre-drive briefing from Frank, who is probably one of the most relaxed and engagingly funny people we’ve met. He puts us through a few theory lessons, often quipping “it does not make sense”, right after demonstrating something that should not be done. Right after, the fun begins, as we are brought onto the track and re-acquainted with both the Audi RS e-tron GT and the R8 - our two “classrooms” for the day.
The Audi Driving Experience brings advanced driving education to the average you and I’s, with three modules available. You could pick the Dynamic Area, complete with sprinkler system; which teaches you how to bring a car into control in realistic (emergency) road conditions. The Offroad-Parcours, with its steep gradients, ditches and slopes, is designed to give you the best quattro experience possible. The one we got, which would be the most entertaining, is the Handling Course.
The first part of the module is split into two segments, with the first dedicated to driver training. Over here, we first (re)acquaint ourselves with acceleration, followed by an e-braking manoeuvre. The car chosen for this course is the Audi RS e-tron GT. The four-door electric coupe might weigh something to the tune of 2.3-tonnes, but it has 598hp and earth-churning 830Nm on-tap to more-than make up for its heft… On ‘boost’ mode, the electric coupe ups its power to 646hp.
We go on full send down the track, the moment Frank waves us off. At the other end, there is a ninety-degree crank which we have to brake and steer into (and not hit the cones). There is a little wager between fellow auto journalists, since all of us would like to see who reaches 100km/h the quickest. Officially, the RS e-tron GT clocks this in 3.6 seconds (3.3 seconds on boost). But we all know that the Germans tend to understate things right? By now, I am almost halfway to the end-point, but by then my peripherals begin to grey out, as the speedometer climbs past 80km/h. The electric coupe’s 830Nm is served to you like a thick wall of “Whomp” . Unfortunately my G threshold in the earlier hours of the morning is pretty rubbish, so I had to lift off the throttle, if not I’d black out. At the end of the course, we have to almost stand on the brakes, make a left, and straighten-up immediately.
Frank, who is waiting for me at the end of the first run, advised me to accelerate in two stages instead, so that my eyes can cope. After the three runs, oh… and primarily ensuring that we stop the car within the allotted zone. I managed to clock 100km/h in 3.2 seconds. Some of the other guys pulled 100km/h off in 3.1 seconds.
The Slalom course up next, is one of my favourite track "exercises", as you need to find the right balance between speed, absolute smoothness, and not eating a cone. Over here, you have to be well-acquainted with how your car behaves, and speed adjustments need to be gradual, so that you do not upset its balance. Even though I tend to be very good with these, Frank was quick to point out that I did nudge a cone during my second run.
Beyond nudging that one cone, I had to correct that bad habit of moving my body while steering the car… to which during our briefing, Frank described with his favourite phrase “It does not make sense”.
We now head back to the holding area beside the centre, as the second part of the course is about to begin. By now, there is a muted bubbling of excitement within the group. Among us, we had Ken, Audi’s appointed PR guy who tagged along for the trip. The the poor guy had a near-overflow of butterflies in his tummy, as this would be his very first track experience.
With helmets on, Frank leads us on a familirasion drive, allowing us to get acquainted to the layout of the course, and where the mild crests and dips are located. Over the radio, a voice crackles, reminding us to keep our lines tight, and with every few turns, he eggs us on to build speed.
Three laps later, we are on full-whack, as the R8 is finally allowed to breathe. There were a few times where I forget that I’m driving LHD, and catch myself stepping out of a left-hander, and then putting the right-side of the car way too deep into the opposite rumble strip. The mid-engine setup makes for an accurate drive, with a front-end which is light and easy to point the other way. The quicker we go, the more we build confidence in how much we can milk from the suspension and the Audi Space Frame. Soon, I am in my groove, keeping up turn, after turn, with the car in-front of me. With every few laps, we are made to switch places, so that Frank, who is in the lead car can have a closer look at how we are driving, and advise any corrections.
Out of a left bend and then over the track’s longest straight (approximately 400m), where I floor the throttle, the R8’s V10 engine obliges, as the four-ringed supercar builds speed. That throaty growl transitions into a rabid howl the closer the needle gets to 8,000rpm; where somewhere around here, I swap to the next cog. I squeeze past 200km/h, only just, before standing on the brakes, execute two left flappy pedal lugs, and then trail brake as I make an eighty-degree left.
By this point, I realise that I don’t just like the Audi R8 a lot. I now have an even greater respect for what it truly brings to the table.
It’s not long before Frank radios instructions to do a cooling lap, which that signifies not just the end of our driving experience, but for me, this would poignantly be the end of an era.
But all is not over just yet. If you still what to snag your track day with the Audi R8, you still can, since the Audi Driving Experience is open to the public… but of-course that is if you happen to be in the area.
TEXT Clifford Chow
PHOTOS Audi Singapore & Clifford Chow