|November 9, 2007
The Audi R8: One of Life's Big Thrills
I do not have to justify or proclaim anything about the stunning Audi R8. Others have beat me to the punch on that front - for this automobile has already been justifiably (and universally) decreed as having turned the entire exotic supercar class upside down. It is THAT good and it is THAT fun and when everybody from the ever-excitable Jeremy Clarkson to the typically dour newspaper writers (and countless others in between) starts in with the crazygushingaccolades then people can and should feel with certainty that Audi has built something very, very special.
The Audi R8 is potent pleasure on wheels, a mid-engine, earth bound rocket ship that turns average drivers into certified racers and great drivers into transcendent freaks of nature behind the wheel.
Exhibit A: When I was 8-years old I got to drive a locomotive. My grandmother knew a friend of a friend who had his 35 years on the job with the Burlington Northern and one day quite unexpectedly we arrived at the little train depot for the ride of a (short to that point) lifetime. I was summarily issued a red striped hat and ascended the long ladder aboard the 130 ton diesel burning monster.
That kind man gave me a simple set of instructions - blow the horn twice before starting, release the brakes, move the lever forward only to the first notch and hit the horn three times before we got to the railroad crossing at Main Street. And then he proceeded to let me "drive" the beast for about a mile without any further guidance. The next day on the playground the legend that I had piloted the train for 15 miles began in earnest, but the point is that when you do something big you know it. My buddies had their scale model railroads in their basements, while I'd already had my first taste of power on a massive scale.
Exhibit B: High school prom. Fast girls and even faster cars were the name of the game where I grew up, and outshining my two best friends' rides would prove to be a major hurdle. My friend "Jock" had rich parents and therefore had a brand new Porsche 928 S4 at his disposal, while my other friend "Farmer" had a dad who understood that pure displacement equaled pure, unadulterated speed. His IROC, although perhaps a bit cheesy by today's more refined standards, was nonetheless the recipient of much needed new rear rubber multiple times each year. German precision and American muscle was very hard to overcome indeed.
You can't drive a locomotive to prom, but this time a different one of Grandma's connections paid off. Third cousin twice removed so-and-so from Bakersfield, CA had just moved back to the area and shared Grandma's affinity for family genealogy. It just so happened that one afternoon as they were locked in some deep family discussion I found out that my soon-to-be-best-cousin-ever was the proud owner of a little exotic car collection and had a sympathetic ear for a 18-year old facing the prospect of driving his mom's Ford Taurus Pumpkin on the big night.
Mr. Countach, as this cousin will hereinafter be called, was more generous than I could have ever imagined. Mr. Countach's red Lamborghini handled like shit to me (or was it really the other way around?), but it was faster than a similarly red IROC in a straight line. I popped my cummerbund every time I got in and out of that thing, but I learned at a young age that driving around in hot wheels with pretty much anybody > driving around with a hot date in a domestic sedan. In all fairness, I was only 18 - meaning I didn't have the first clue how to "drive" an exotic car or an exotic woman for that matter.
Exhibit C: People who love the technology behind cars probably also love, or at least can appreciate, the technology behind transcontinental flight. On one such long nonstop trip from Vancouver to Frankfurt I was a lucky first class passenger. In those days pre-9/11, access to the cockpit, particularly for those in first class, was possible. I had inquired about coming up front at some point during the flight and was stunned when one of Lufthansa's finest offered the jumpseat in the brand new A340 for as little or as long as I was interested. That was an easy offer to accept - immediately.
In fact after hearing that I had mastered Microsoft Flight Simulator (having logged some serious time not on the mundane A340 but rather on the Concorde), a mysterious affinity formed between the two pilots and me. This propagated itself when I was allowed to lightly throttle the engines during taxi, flip appointed switches here and there as directed and even sit left seat during the middle of the night somewhere over Greenland with the shimmering Northern Lights dancing against the dark sky. Flying - OK humor me, I did have a small part in that day's flight - a "heavy" during take off put me smack dab into a very exclusive club.
And this of course leads to the recent past where Exhibit D still exists as a vivid reminder that for many of us the process of seeking out bigger / better / faster / more is a lifelong passion. Few events make the list and the point of my narration is of course to illustrate that at 35-years old I can now point to just four distinct times when I experienced something that topped my expectations by such a wide margin that it indeed re-calibrated my entire thought process about mechanical thrills.
The Audi R8. The glorious Audi R8 well deserves its spot on my life's list. A full road test from Infineon Raceway and the area around Napa / Sonoma will follow, but based on my life's history it appears I am now in a 7-10 year holding pattern for the next big thrill.