Driving a luxury supercar on a closed racetrack almost seems illegal. At least, that's how it felt when I had a chance to cruise in the new Audi R8 at the Palm Beach International Raceway.
Audi USA, the makers of those supreme German automobiles with the cool LED headlights cruising around Ocean Boulevard, made the trek to muggy South Florida earlier this summer to give a handful of eager drivers a chance to test out the new V8 and V10s on something straight out of the commercials—a closed course supervised by professional drivers. Its not everyday we get to rev the engine up to 160 mph, take turns at 100 and look good while doing so—so when given the opportunity, we jumped.
An extension of Audi USA’s permanent Sportscar Experience in Sonoma, California, the Audi Driving Experience takes the luxury automaker on the road, traveling to select towns across the continent with a lineup of the fleet's latest cars, professional drivers and mini showroom in tow. When bringing along the R8s, Audi targets locales with racetracks, ideally road courses, to allow prospective buyers and automotive aficionados a chance to open them up on the course. In our case, PBIR was the perfect venue, with a kart track acting as the Autocross test and the 2.034-mile, 11-turn road course hosting the track lapping sessions. But first, some details on the cars in question.
Audi has a marketing slogan that defines the essence of the R8—"Truth in Engineering." Largely hand built, one at a time in Audi’s Neckarsulm, Germany production site, just 24 R8s are made a day. When compared to Audi’s automated production line in Ingolstadt, Germany, which produces roughly 2,400 cars daily, the exclusivity is seen right off the bat. An immense amount of thought, design, engineering and technology goes into each R8 that comes off the line. And in terms of testing, the R8 has been battle tested at Le Mans and Sebring, dominating Le Mans 24 Hours and the American Le Mans Series for nearly a decade.
Largely hand built, painstaking detail is put into each and every Audi R8 that comes off the line in Neckarsulm, Germany.
The car is über-light; built on the Audi Space Frame—high-strength, aluminum frame—which, when compared with one made of steel, is a whopping 40 percent lighter while maintaining the same rigidity. This makes for improved responsiveness and agility, making turns at speed oh so much fun. And the car is balanced with a 104-inch wheelbase and a mid-engine mount, giving the front and rear double wishbone aluminum suspension and Quattro all-wheel drive the perfect amount of traction and handling.
No. 1 and No. 2 Audi R8 LMP1 Prototypes from the ALMS and Le Man 24 Hours, seen here racing in the Grand Prix of Atlanta on April 17, 2005. Many of the technological breakthroughs used in the Audi R8 LMPs matriculated into the production model of the Audi R8.
On that mid-mounted engine, the 4.2-liter FSI V8 produces a throaty 430 hp and 316 pound-feet of torque, while the 5.2-liter V10—the same engine in the Lamborghini Gallardo—commands a domineering 525 hp and 391 pound-feet of torque (550 hp and 398 pound-feet are in the V10 Plus). All said, this thing, with its six-speed manual transmission (seven-speed S tronic transmission also available), can flat-out fly: The V8 has a top track speed of 188 and 4.4 seconds from 0-60 mph (186 mph and 4.2 seconds for the S tronic Coupe); the V10 tops out at 196 mph, with a 0-60 jump at 3.8 seconds (195 and 3.4 for the S tronic Coupe); and the V10 Plus pushes 198 mph on the track and a 0-60 time in a lightning-quick 3.7 seconds (197 mph and 3.3 with the S tronic). With that kind of power behind some of the flyest looks around, a day at the track was just what the doctor ordered.
The day started with a briefing of what we, as drivers, were about to get into, starting with an orientation and overview of the vehicles we were saddling up in. We had a crack at the V8 and V10 Coupes. Fresh off its Iron Man III debut, the compact supercars gleamed a special sparkle that morning—not because of the wash they received minutes before we stepped on the track. After orientation, we headed over to mini go-kart racing track, where a special autocross course was set up. Normally, these are set up in parking lots, but because PBIR’s kart track was large enough to accommodate, we got a special run.
The 2014 Audi R8 V10 Plus racing in Sonoma.
The Autocross segment of the race experience is essentially a skills course designed to get drivers acclimated to the R8’s handling, braking and speed, not to mention prepare your stomach. Each driver jack-rabbited into the tightly wound course, weaving to and fro with bat-out-of-hell speed, cutting corners, then slamming on the brakes to stop in a spot no bigger than a standard parking space from a sprinting 50 mph—all to best the time of the other drivers, who were staring at the clock ticking up by hundredth of seconds. The top time was in the 27-second range, with my personal best breaking into the 29s.
Once everyone got a few passes on the autocross course, we took to PBIR’s road course for track lapping. This is where the rubber meets the road. Led by professional drivers, many of whom are racecar drivers for various professional circuits, the course was marked at several turns where drivers should begin braking, taking away a lot of the guesswork when hitting the hairpin and chicanes.
The 2014 Audi R8 V8 Coupe was tight in the smaller Autocross track, with precise handling and stellar acceleration through the turns.
PBIR’s road track is a bear at 2.034 miles with 11 strategically laid turns, each varying in contour, radius and length. When braking hard into a hairpin, the responsiveness and handling of the R8 was never in question, sticking to the tarmac as if the asphalt were coated with stick’um. The waved brakes on the V8 and V10 are smooth and responsive, even when taking a turn at 100 mph. And the substantial pound-foot of torque opened the car up when leveling off; we’d slingshot out of turns with the force of an unleashed bull, gaining speed and momentum, which was on full display in the back straightaway. At six-tenths of a mile, I got the V10 pushing 160 before stomping the brake for the wide-arching turn—the G's planted us to the seats as we careened out of the apex of the turn, Iron Maiden blaring on the seven-speaker sound system.
The track lapping had three R8s running in a tight formation following a driver who lead in an A8, which also is blazing fast. Each run equated to three laps, with lead switches thrown into the mix. Then we’d hop into another car and test out the handling and performance between the V8 and V10s. I gravitated toward the V8 during the Autocross—it seemed a bit more responsive in the tighter confines—while the V10 was king during the track lapping: When leveling off a turn and slamming down the accelerator, the 391 pound-foot of torque would push your eyeballs straight through your skull.
The Audi Sportscar Experience, and the R8 is general, is much like summer love, sneaking up for just a short stay, lingering on in the memory as transcendent. But the 2014 R8 can be a longlasting love starting around $114,000. Those just looking to the score a racetrack ride can take on a full slate of R8 driving experiences at the Raceway at Sonoma. Get the details here.
|The Audi R8 Grand-AM No. 52 at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.|
Photos courtesy of Audi USA News.