Rewarding the Best
On April 21st, the top techs and their guests were flown to Munich the tour of Germany would begin. The tour included visits to some of the many castles in Germany: the summer residence of Ludwig II in the Bavarian countryside, the Nymphenburg Palace in Munich (which, despite its name was completely devoid of attention-hungry young women), and the Heidelberg Castle. And of course we spent plenty of time visiting countless beer gardens and traditional German bars, but for some reason, memories of the German bars are blurry and spotty at best. Our tour also took us to many historic Rococo and Baroque Churches that provided ample opportunity to ask forgiveness for each prior night's Octoberfest-like indulgence. Audi chose to shuttle us around Germany in tour buses rather than RS4s, but we didn't mind since each tour bus was equipped with a bar stocked full of cold German beer (and as far as I know, that option is not currently available on any Audi).
Of course, a trip to Germany would not be complete without a visit to our Mecca - Audi's headquarters at Ingolstadt. In Ingolstadt we were spent time in the Audi Museum where Audi hoardes some of the most impressive cars produced over the past 100 years. Audi's beginnings are on display with examples of all of the founding companies: Horch, Audi, DKW, Wanderer, Auto Union, and NSU. A display of many of Audi's show & concept cars are present as well: the 1990 V8 Quattro Avant that was custom built for Ferdinand Piech, the 1991 concept Avus W12 Supercar and the Quattro Spyder, the 1979 Quartz Pininfarina concept car, and many other design studies that became Audi production cars over the past 40 years.
Production and concept car history is interesting, but pales in comparison to the many Audi racecars on display. There was an example of Audi's racing history from every motorsport program throughout the years. There was the technology showcase of the pre war Grand Prix racers, the dominating Group B "killer B" rally cars of the 80s, the 1988 IMSA 200 Turbo Quattro (dubbed "unfairly advantaged" by the whiney losers in IMSA) and the 1999 Audi R8C Lemans race car.
After the staff at the Audi Museum had mopped up the gallons of drool left by our group, we began a tour of the A3 production line and Audi's advanced paint shop. The A3 production line resembles what most people expect of a modern car manufacturing line: bodies and chassis roll down a line, and a carefully choreographed troupe of workers move around the car installing hundreds of pre-assembled parts. The second part of the tour was of the paint facility, which is not normally open to the public, and after our kid-in-a-candy-store behavior, will probably never be open to the public again. Despite all the automation and technology of the paint facility, Audi still employs the use of careful human eyes to inspect each gleaming body that rolls off the end of the line. In a weak attempt to establish a bond between those workers and myself, I thanked some of the employees for the great paint finish on my Laser Red A4 and my Pelican Blue A4. They shrugged and kept working leaving me to wonder about the potential language barrier or simple indifference to American tourists.
Two days later, we were taken to Audi's Neckarsulm factory where production of the A2, A6, and A8 are handled. We were scheduled to view the production of the A8, but since that line was in the beginning stages of retooling for the all-new A8 that will be premiering this fall, the line was off limits to us (and off limits to most Audi employees as well). But we still witnessed the amazing technology of aluminum car production by touring the A2 line. We viewed the complete A2 construction from the stamping of sheets of aluminum to the end of the line where every A2 rolls off onto a test track. The amazing automation and technology of the aluminum production line makes any traditional steel body production car line look as out of date as Henry Ford's first experiment in mass production.
To finish off the Tech Challenge Germany trip, each pair of visitors was chauffeured from our Heidelberg hotel to the Frankfurt airport in a brand new A8. The 1.5 hour trip to Frankfurt flew by thanks to our driver who cruised the Autobahn at 265 kph (a brisk 165mph) for our amusement. You have to love the Germans and their Autobahn.
Round 1 and 2 of the 2003 Tech Challenge has already been completed, and the final round in Atlanta is scheduled for this fall. Three of the 2002 Tech Challenge winners are returning champions, and they are all working hard to return to Germany yet again in 2003. For 2003 Audi will be taking the top ten winners to Germany, and spoiling them in even more extravagant ways. I have already begun my lobbying efforts with Audi to offer this same reward program to the poor, under appreciated Audi Club Chapter Presidents. My liver and I need to get back to Germany as soon as possible!
2002 Tech Challenge Winners:
The 2002 Tech Challenge Winners: Front row, L to R: Paul Barks, Dermot Walsh, Darren McNeely, Mike Hadley, Paul Baglow. Back row, L to R: John Kamp, Rob Strodtbeck, Andy Grignon.
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