Yesterday I had the awesome experience of participating in the Audi Sport Performance Drive. It’s a free event that provides instructed time behind the wheel of Audi Sport R/RS cars at either Atlanta Motorsports Park in Dawsonville, GA or Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, IL. I’ve been on the waitlist for months, but finally was able to secure a spot in yesterday’s afternoon session at AMP (Warning: long post).
The objective is to promote the Audi Sport brand, and illustrate how it differentiates itself from Audi - it’s the Corporate Racing and Customer Racing branch and operates as a subsidiary of Audi, also developing and designing the R/RS cars. Each session has two instructors and four participants. I don’t know what happened with my session, but only two participants showed up (myself and one other), so we each had an individual instructor. The instructors are pro drivers, and they are actually racing this weekend at the IMSA race at VIR, piloting the RS3 LMS.
At first, they show you a promotional video and a nice presentation giving the history of the Audi Sport (guessing formerly quattro GmbH) brand and how their cars were generally made illegal after participating and winning various racing championships, as a result of rule changes. Interesting side note - apparently Mercedes-Benz and Audi were both part of Auto Union way back in the day, and when they split, part of the deal was that MB got to produce the larger engines (6-cylinders and larger) for a set timeperiod, leaving smaller for Audi. That’s why Audi initially developed their amazing five-cylinder or racing and rally lore.
The experience also provides the opportunity to select two R/RS cars to drive on the track with the pro driver instructing. The cars available to drive are the R8 V10 Plus, RS5 coupe, TTRS and RS3. Starting around November they said they’d be adding the RS5 Sportback to the group once it becomes available. Both me and the other participant bemoaned the fact that we don’t get the RS4 and RS6 Avants here, though I doubt our complaining did much good.
Anyway, I opted for the R8 and the TTRS and since I had track experience, they wanted me to take the Ara Blue R8 out first - I’d have actually preferred to learn the track in something a little slower, but wasn’t about to argue. We get outfitted with helmets and then the instructor drives a couple laps to start to show braking points, turn in points, apexes and where you want to track out. He was very casually explaining all this while driving the R8 EXTREMELYquickly. I’m not new to the track and have seat time in quick cars, but this thing was a missile. We return to the pits and switch seats and adjust things to where I’m comfortable and then head right back out. The first lap is more about getting the line right, so I generally took it easy, but the sound of that V10 behind your head is pretty intoxicating. Once we came back around to the front stretch, he tells me to floor it.
Hearing that V10 at full chat with the sensation of being pushed back into your seat is intoxicating. T1 at the end of the straight is the slowest part of the course and you really have to jump on the brakes to get it whoa’d down in time. The first lap I hit them both too early and not hard enough, so once we got back there on the next lap, I hammered them with everything I had and they damn near suck your face off with ABS pulsating the pedal under your foot. Needless to say, the carbon ceramic brakes work really, really well. The R8 was a little difficult to see out of - the A-pillar cut into my forward vision when attempting to look ahead to spot the apex and targets for tracking out. Aside from that, it was a ball of fun to drive, if a little unnerving for how fast it is. The track has two portions where you go WOT - the main straight and a section going uphill to a blind turn. That one is extremely unnerving the R8 as you catapult yourself towards a blind turn with 610hp at your back. At the end of your session, they have you switch it to Comfort mode to note the difference and get a cool down lap in.
After returning to the pits, we hopped out, had a quick debrief with the instructor to go over things they’d like us to improve on (for me it was braking harder later, improving transition off the brakes and using all of the space on the track). After that quick debrief and a quick drink of water, it was onto the nardo gray TTRS. Same situation, the instructor takes you around first to show you the different approach with this vehicle and then you swap. Suffice it to say, I LOVED the TTRS. As a track toy, I’d take it over the R8. The five-cylinder makes great noises and is a gem on the track, it has grip for days and the ability to rotate a lot better than my S3, despite sharing the same platform and AWD system (it’s tuned differently in the TTRS and RS3, obviously). It was light on its feet and I found it much easier to hit all the points I was supposed to with ease. Would be a very tough call between one of these and a Cayman S or GTS.
If you’re interested in reading more about it, here’s the website:
I received my Access Code via my Audi Club region, but I think if you went to your local Audi dealer that has an Audi Sport subsection and expressed interest, you may be able to sign up, for a really fun, albeit too short, afternoon.