Our man tests out Audi's new purpose-built test track in Neuburg, Germany
There’s something about questioning someone’s masculinity when they are asked about drinking, women and cars. We get all defensive. We can all drink the most, have bedded countless stunning women, and have the same driving skills as Sebastian Vettel.
The reality is, in my case I’ve been called a lightweight when it comes to necking pints, the only model I’ve ever been with had to made up from a box, and while I think I can hop in an F1 car and keep up with the pack, the truth is, I can’t.
Being a motoring journalist and driving different cars week to week – with a few track days thrown in the mix – I would say I’m quite a good diver. Well that was until I went on the Audi Driving Experience day recently, on the German manufacturers new purpose-built test centre at Neuberg, near their headquarters in Ingolstadt.
It’s only when you are shown by the professionals that you realise that there’s more to a car than a steering wheel and the four round things on each corner.
From the initial briefing until you get on track, the Audi driving instructors are on hand to give you their wealth of knowledge, which is all geared to making you a better driver on the track, as well as a more competent driver on the road.
The small details are the ones that can make you quicker – and safer. Just sitting behind the wheel of the car, I was told my driving position was all wrong. The steering wheel was too far away, and my slouched posture meant that I was never going to get enough pressure on the brake without being pushed up on the seat.
We were doing a full driving day, which meant getting behind the wheel of two poster cars, the Audi S4 and the stunning R8. My eagerness to just jump in the R8 and tear around the track was like opening your favourite toy at Christmas, but thankfully, the morning session was all about car control, and understanding what understeer and oversteer was all about, and how to correct it.
Every driving enthusiast loves a bit of oversteer, getting the tail out and power sliding till the rubber decides to leave the rim. But the reality is, when it happens, if you don’t know how to control it, you’re in serious trouble.
You find yourself going too fast into a corner and the car pushes straight on and not in the direction the steering is pointing. We’ve all done it, and it’s a heart-in-the-mouth moment you don’t want repeated. Being taken though these exercises by Audi’s experts really showed what the car is capable off, and with this special tuition, how to correct it in the safest manner possible.
These manoeuvres aren’t something you can practice on the road, and that’s why these track days are well worth doing, as you really do leave a better driver.
From oversteer and understeer, to avoiding hazards and changing lanes at high speed, the early part of the day was very technical, yet very informative. Seeing how a car reacts in certain situations allows you to hone your skills in case you may encounter any of these circumstances on the road. It was also a good way to prepare you for the rest of the event, which would be behind the wheel of a 5.2-litre V10 Audi R8 that can get you to 100kph in just 4.3 seconds.
I’ve always lusted after an Audi R8, and it’s not like I was going to get my hands on one in Ireland, supercars just don’t sell here. But being able to drive one on a track, where you can push it to the limits was something to behold.
The numbers only tell half the story. Yes, it’s a 5.2 V10 and it can do 0-100kph on 4.3 seconds, but nothing prepares you for the sheer power when you plant your right foot.
I’ve been on the Autobhan in an S7 and done numerous track days, but boy was this in a different league.
The amount of power and technology Audi has packed into the R8 is phenomenal, and it’s a supercar that you can actually drive without it trying to bite you in every corner.
As the laps went on, I felt more comfortable and I’m sure the laps times were coming down, but thankfully this was not a race, as the Audi test driver was setting the pace, and I could follow his lines to see how to get a quicker time.
It was hard to park the R8 up after many laps around the purpose-built test track, but I definitely felt I had learned a lot from the day, as well as getting to drive the supreme R8. The Audi Experience I took part in, which included a morning’s tuition in an S4, and a full afternoon track experience in the R8 costs €975 (ex vat).
Audi driving experiences are held at numerous tracks around Europe, but the new centre at Neuberg is a fantastic place to hone your driving skills.
You can check out my experience by logging on to www.sundayworld.com/lifestyle/cars and get a taste of what lies in store should you fancy a great day’s driving.