Hot laps behind a pace car in an Audi nudging 300km/h ... what could go wrong?
IT’S THE morning after the Bathurst 12-Hour race and Mount Panorama looks like the aftermath of a Game of Thrones battle.
There are gouge marks everywhere in the concrete walls, signs of skids and slides and crashes. I can’t see any body parts but a giant clean-up crew has been scooping up carbonfibre shards and other debris since daylight.
The scarring on the circuit is a reminder that there are big consequences for a mistake at Bathurst when you’re driving it as a closed-road racing circuit.
And I’m driving it this morning in an Audi R8 V10 Plus, which can catapult me to 100km/h in 3.2 seconds — often — and on towards a top speed of 320km/h.
This is a taster for a car that is not in showrooms until April. Audi Australia has shipped 13 left-hand drive R8s (combined cost, $6 million-plus) for buyer, staff and press events.
This is the best of all, hot laps at Mount Panorama with a pace car, driven by seasoned V8 Supercar pilot Dean Canto, to show me the way but not slow me down. “Hey, we’ll take it easy Pauly. I’ll just go as fast as you like,” Canto laughs. As if.
The car itself is something
very special, a total revision of the original R8 that took Audi into the supercar world and up against Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren.
The Audi speedster shared a lot of the running gear with the Lamborghini Gallardo, including the V10 engine, but there were big differences beyond the bodywork.
The original R8 was intended as an everyday supercar, which meant forgoing the truly edgy top-end performance. Now the cooking V8 engine is gone and the chassis is sharper, with a carbon-fibre heart for rigidity.
The example I’m driving, the Plus, gets even more power, carbon-fibre brakes, fixed rear spoiler and more.
More details, including the vital information on prices and equipment, is coming in a couple of weeks.
Expect the basic car to start from about $400,000, depending on exchange rates, with the Plus pack taking it up to about $450,000.
Audi Australia is reckoning on an output of 449kW turning the seven-speed S-Tronic sports gearbox. Its quattro allwheel drive will feed up to 100 per cent of torque as required to front or back end.
It will roll on 20-inch alloy wheels, the pair of seats will be much enhanced and the driver will face Audi’s “virtual dashboard”, as already seen in the latest Q7 and other models.
But this is a car for doing, not talking, and I’m quickly into the driver briefing.
“Speed will come. Drive at your own pace. And please don’t overtake the instructors,” jokes Audi performance driving chief instructor Steve Pizzati.
“What we’re doing today is the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. It’s left-hand drive cars on the fastest, scariest racetrack in the Southern Hemisphere.”
On the track, the R8 Plus is idling away, facing Mount Panorama. I’ve been here many times in the past, driving a Volvo 760 road car, a V8 Supercars Commodore in the 1990s, s Mercedes C63 AMG and a Fiat Abarth in the 2014 12-Hour. So I know what to expect. Except I don’t. Not remotely. This car is brilliant, brilliantly quick, and takes the concept of the original R8 to the next level. It could still do the commuter run in city traffic without any fuss.
The cockpit is just right, the paddle-shifters work instantly, the brakes are supremely powerful and the engine is always “on”. The Audi rockets up Mountain Straight, running easily up to 9000rpm in each gear, zaps across the top of The Mountain, then positively erupts down Conrod Straight. Short of a V8 Supercar, this is easily the fastest thing I’ve driven here.
Yet I’m never frightened or flustered. The car moves around but it’s mostly just walking on the tread blocks in the high-performance Pirelli tyres — that’s what happens when you’re cornering at better than 140km/h.
After four laps we stop. The R8 is idling and my pulse is up near the red-line. Thank goodness for the excellent aircon. My only complaint is a seat belt that’s not tight enough to stop me moving in the seat.
Then it’s another four laps, with Canto pushing harder and me even happier to keep pace. I trigger the on-board lap timer — and the readout shows about 2 minutes 30 seconds. That’s seriously fast: V8 Supercars run in the 2:10 range.
As we three work together — Canto, the R8s and me — the Bathurst laps get epic. The big digital speedometer gets all the way to 282km/h on the run into The Chase and I even see 242 on Mountain Straight.
But I stamp on the brakes only once, there is not a single sideways slide and I know the car will happily drive out of Mount Panorama and down to Sydney without a fuss.
Two hours later, I’m still full of adrenaline and buzzing. It’s that kind of special car on a very special track. What more can I say? The sun shone and we had a very, very good speed.