|October 22, 2000
Audi quattro Challenge at Treasure Island, CA (9/16/00)
Earlier on this past summer Audi of America embarked on a new marketing program for Audi owners. My impression of their goals were to 1) get feedback on current A4 and A6 models, 2) get feedback on the latest version of Audiusa.com (and the MyAudi initiative), and lastly to 3) give owners some basic driving skill training by letting them experience, first hand, some of the features of their cars, including the quattro drivetrain itself, the Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP), Anti-Lock Braking (ABS), and traction control system. The name of the program? The Audi quattro Challenge. Audi had initially decided to hold three events in the top sales areas: metro-Denver, Northern California, and New Hampshire. According to one Audi representative, "Because [we] have the largest Audi following in these areas". Do I personally think that Audi should continue to stage these event in the future? The answer is an emphatic YES.
We arrive at Treasure Island
The view from Treasure Island towards the city of San Francisco, Alcatraz Island, the Bay Bridge, or the Golden Gate Bridge is simply breathtaking. I took a few quick pictures show the awesome view from many vantage points. Suffice it to say, whichever direction you looked the view was awe inspiring. Upon arriving at the island, we all congregated around a historic Treasure Island building that now houses the police department and a few other civil offices. It seemed like the parking lot was exactly the right size for our group. Many people arrived as early as 7:15, but the majority showed up between 7:30 and 8:00am. All told there seemed to be about 75 cars in attendance.
As we were milling around admiring the "silver" AoA press cars (allroad quattro, TT 225Q roadster, TT 225Q coupe, A4 1.8TQ, and the lone black A8L) a group of technicians started a technical inspection of our cars to see if they were suited for the day's festivities. My S4 passed muster -- imagine that!
Overview of the Day's Events
Carol Glynn and others from Audi of America explained that the event was to be a celebration of quattro. Then a representative from RallyArt explained our agenda for the day. We were split into three groups to simultaneously participate in three separate mini events: the Accident Avoidance Course, the Wet Handling Course, and the Dry Handling Course. The instructors for the events were introduced; they were mostly existing race car drivers or ProSolo competitors hailing out of the Denver area.
Accident Avoidance Course
This course was designed for several reasons. Many Audi owners have never been put into a situation where we had to test their Audi in a real life accident. The purpose of this course was to put the owners into a simulated situation whereby they had to react quickly to avoid an imaginary obstacle. In this course there were three defined areas: the quick lane change section with braking, the ABS testing session while turning, and the ABS testing session in a straight line. In the first section the participants came around a left hand corner and accelerated to about 40 mph and then were directed, by an instructor with a flag, to go either left or right of a cone island. In this section many people went through the exercise in low to moderate speeds. However, a few brave souls really accelerated hard and attempted to avoid the cone island. This is where the entertainment ensued. The gentleman in the laser red S4 got top honors from the crowd, in the way of enthusiastic clapping, after he managed to spin his S4 out in rare form. Well, at least he learned how to spin a quattro. (Side note: Just a point of clarification. Any car, with or without quattro, can spin if put into certain situation. The quattro driveline, ESP and ABS minimize the chances of a spin but they do not totally eliminate the possibility that a spin will occur). The second section of the course was a test of what ABS does when turning. You were asked to accelerate the car up to about 30mph, brake at a specific point, and then turn and come to a stop. This is not a recommended thing to do, but it was designed to show the participants what their Audi would do in such a situation. What does it do, you ask? Well, as the steering input is increased, the ABS decreases its hold on the brake power. The third section of the course is where the participants go in a straight line and brake at certain points trying to stop a flag displayed with the number "0". On my three runs I stopped early one time and overshot the desired spot two times. All in all this Accident Avoidance course helped those who had never really pushed their cars. They also got a taste of what ABS really feels like (a pulsing sensation).
Wet Handling Course
The next course was designed to allow us to experience the difference with driving on a wet surface with quattro. A short autocross course was established with a series of hoses spraying water down the entire course length. We each navigated the course driving through the water, but also tried to go through the course in the least amount of time. Surprisingly, no one spun out. However many did find out that you cannot power through a turn if you are going too fast. The understeer phenomenon was felt by all competitors.
Dry Handling Course
The last course for our group was the Dry Handling Course, which was also the timed course. Our group had the best sequence of sessions, with the Accident Avoidance course first, the Wet Handling course second, and the climax being the Dry Handling Course. Cars were separated into groups of five drivers and allowed to compete against each other on a 16-17 second autocross course. For many this was the first time they had competed in anything like this. For others like Corey Smith, this was just another day at the park. Corey, the C-Street Prepared Solo2 champion in the SCCA SF Region this year, came out with the lowest elapsed time of the day -- a blistering 14.67 -- in his modified Audi S4. Needless to say, the professional instructors were impressed with his showing. Most others in our group were running from the low 16 to the high 18 second range. I was able to get close to Corey with a 14.97 second run, but once again he showed that he is a worthy competitor in his S4.
Professional Driver Hot Laps
The cumination of the day comprised of a seemingly endless number of hot laps by professional drivers on a longer autocross course. Hot laps are laps driven considerably fast with the tail of the car hanging out pretty significantly. What RallyArt had done is allow their drivers to drive in a competitive way, with the car full of wide-eyed Audi owners. To some this was an amusement park ride par excellance and to others it was a teaser. "Hey, how come we can't take our Audis over to THAT course?". Two similar cars were filled to the gills with Audi owners -- either an Audi A6 2.7T and an Audi A6 4.2 or an A4 1.8TQ and a A6 2.8Q. Each participant had to wear a helmet for safety reasons. AIt wasn't long until the A4 was retired and the A8L was brought out. The amazing thing is that this A8L was doing hot laps with four passengers AND the driver. These hot laps went on for at least an hour before the event was over.
Log Cabin Dinner
Audi also notified us that dinner was to be served on the Presidio, just south of San Francisco, in a old establishment called the Log Cabin. At about 5:45pm a number of us arrived at the Log Cabin after meandering through the thick fog that had accumulated on the Presidio campus. The establishment had set up two banquet bars and had a number of people peddling various gourmet delicacies from table to table. At about 7:30pm a German theme buffet was announced and we all made our way through the buffet line. I sat at a table with a few old friends and a few new ones from Audi of America. The Audi Area representative for Service for my region was definitely a good person to get to know; discussions ranged from "the viability of Audi Sport USA once again campaigning a American LeMans works team" to "Damn this dessert is good, I wonder how many calories it has". The day ended -- a very worthwhile one.
Audi of America definitely cares what the American public wants. The Audi quattro Challenge events are certainly evidence of that fact. The budget for these events are considerable, which was evidenced by how well the event was handled. The event was very worthwhile to me, and just about everyone I talked to. I hope Audi does more of these events in the future.