No-pres­sure pack

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.

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