The North American group conveniently started with sector 1, which runs from the start/finish line to the middle of the Parabolika, the longest flat-out stretch on the track. Turn one, Nordkurve, is a fairly simple, quick right-hander that leads to a short straightaway before the tricky part of sector 1, known as Einfahrt Parabolika. This is a right-hand bend that leads into the long left-hand Parabolika. The best line through is to apex very late and stay slightly to the right exiting the corner rather than tracking all the way out to the curb on the left. This allows more throttle earlier, which pays major dividends down the entire length of the Parabolika. As Rob said, one must ďinvestĒ in the first curve to make gains in the second. This complex is made even more unusual by the fact that the camber of the track changes rather suddenly between the two curves, so you have to be careful not to let this interfere with the right-to-left steering transition. This is no textbook corner.
After driving sector 1 numerous times it was on to sector 2. Here we pick up in the middle of the Parabolika where we left off and accelerate like mad towards Spitzkehre. Braking hard from 5th gear down to 2nd allows the driver to take a nice late apex through the hairpin to allow early application of throttle.
As it turned out this was a particularly frustrating corner for us since the traction control was turned on and could not be disabled for safety reasons. Exiting Spitzkehre the traction control light on the dash was going crazy and the engineís torque was severely limited. Using very minimal throttle helped some, but we felt the software was much too intrusive here. We would have liked access to the first press of the ESP button, which disables the traction control but keeps stability control on.
We should emphasize, however, that things were extremely safe on the course and we want to give the driver assist systems credit in that area. Also, at other spots on the track the traction control was very seamless and imperceptible. It was just the one particular spot that was difficult.
Sector 2 continues into the Mercedes-Benz arena. The entrance here is a blast, the right-hand turn looking deceptively tight. But if you trust the car there is enough flat curb to the inside and track-out area to the left that you can go through under full throttle in 4th gear. Then you have just enough time to get back to the right, click down two gears, and sweep through the left-hand corner, just clipping the curb on the inside.
From here a correct line allows full throttle all the way to the Mobil 1 Kurve since the exit of the Mercedes-Benz arena is an increasing-radius curve heading onto the straight where sector 2 ends.
Sector 3 is the most dangerous and challenging sector. On paper it looks relatively easy but the track changes character a lot and gravel traps lurk around every bend. The entrance, Mobil 1 Kurve, holds the most potential for disaster since the entry speed is so high and there is a gravel trap lining the entire outside of the curve. The key is to nail the entry speed and turn-in point, at which point you can just ease down to the apex and accelerate out full-throttle (just letting the car drift out to the curb on the left).
It must be exhilarating to come through here during a race and enter the motodrome where there are thousands of fans in the seats that curve tightly around the track. Itís a short burst of full throttle to Sachs Kurve, which has by far the most banking of any corner at Hockenheim. The banking allows the driver to basically go through wide open once the car is turned in and takes a set.
For us the section of the track from this point on to the start/finish line demonstrated the abilities of the R8 the best. The left-right combination exiting Sachs can be taken full throttle if the line is perfect. If not, lifting up on the throttle for just an instant rotates the car beautifully and allows the driver to tighten the line quickly. We just let the tail come around until we were correctly pointed again, and then went right back to the floor with the throttle.
Between the quick side-to-side transition and the minor elevation change through here, the car really dances. Itís all done at very high speed, but the car is so predictable and stable that you can easily come through as straight or as sideways as you desire. The handling of the R8 is almost completely idiot-proof. A few times we really slung the car into a corner extremely fast and had complete trust that it would hang on. The low polar moment of inertia afforded by the mid-engine design allows the car to rotate (or stop rotating) very quickly, so mid-corner corrections are extremely easy and slip angles can be as big or small as preferred.
The car rotates right around the driverís seat making the driver really feel like part of the car, and the quattro drive system operates as seamlessly as in any other Audi. Torque split is managed between the wheels without the driver really being aware of it. From the driverís seat, you really are not aware of the mid-engine layout, the rear weight bias or the rear torque bias. The car just works. Make an input, and the car responds in exactly the right manner. The best corning method is to brake early and use a late apex, getting to the throttle early and letting quattro go to work. When you begin to reach the astronomical limits of grip, the car breaks away incredibly slowly into a neutral drift, giving the driver ample time to make a correction. There are no surprising handling traits at the limit. Instead, itís just as if the car is nudging you and saying ďhey...enough alreadyĒ.
Finally we reach the final two corners of the track. A quick jab of the brakes is needed to get the entry speed correct here. Sepp showed us that the best way through is just to set the wheel to a fixed steering angle and steer through the two corners with the throttle. You can really treat the two bends as one long right-hander with a slightly varying radius. As in the last section, itís amazingly easy to adjust the attitude of the car with minor throttle adjustments. Get the line smooth through here and then hold it wide open back onto the start/finish straight!
Now that we knew the track and were getting extremely comfortable with the R8 it was time for lunch. It was good to get re-hydrated and re-energized before going out for full hot laps in the afternoon. This was also a good opportunity to take some photographs and watch the instructors take a few laps on the track.
Time for hot laps! We were really ready to test our skills and experience the track truly flat-out. In the morning all the sector breaks occurred in the middle of the straights, but now we would have the full track open and be able to hit much higher speeds. 220 kph at the end of the Parabolika was the number Rob had kicked around at dinner the night before.
The format for the afternoon was to do 4 or 5 hot laps, then do a cool-down lap and change drivers. After each lap we would change positions as in the morning to give everybody a chance to follow the instructor. We started our first lap by exiting the pits and blasting down toward the tricky right-left kink. The instructors had clarified that when they said ďaccelerateĒ over the radio, we were to floor it. We were only too happy to oblige!
With the right line through the right-hander to hit the throttle early on the way out, we were able to get a little over 230 kph at the end of the Parabolika. At that point we had to back off to avoid overtaking Robís RS 4! The power of the R8 is deceptive. It takes off like a rocket in any gear at full throttle, yet it never feels like itís going wicked fast. Even with such savage power on tap, itís very easy to modulate the throttle and always apply just the right amount. Also, the car is so planted that 230 kph (143 mph) seems completely ho-hum, just like a drive down the interstate. Wind and tire noise are reasonably quiet and the car does not have any vibrations or rattles, so thereís not a lot to inform you that you are traveling at ludicrous speed. Itís only when you start considering the numbers that you realize how fast you are actually going.
Next itís hard on the brakes and three perfect R-Tronic downshifts down to 2nd gear for the hairpin. Awesome. As we apply the brakes at that high speed the car feels like it wants to wander around a little, but itís very easily controlled. Our standard (not optional ceramic) brakes on the R8 were incredible, though quite noisy. Every time we thought we had used them up completely we would try pushing the pedal a little harder, and without fail the car would stop even more quickly. This car can throw you into the seatbelt so hard it hurts, but all the while the chassis remains very composed. The car handles bumps extremely well with a very smooth ride quality similar to any other new Audi, yet it remains almost perfectly flat through the corners. Passengers will wear out their knees bracing against the door and the console, but the car is otherwise very comfortable to ride in around the track, although strong neck muscles are needed under these extreme conditions! We personally see no need for the optional magnetic ride suspension. The standard springs and dampers do the job just fine, and will be less expensive to maintain.
We continued lapping in this fashion until about 4:30, when it was time for our wrap-up meeting. It was definitely hard to climb out and turn over the keys, although not long after we realized we were worn out from the dayís intense concentration. We had a quick wrap-up discussion with more food and drinks in the tent and were given completion certificates and some more goodies including very nice R8 jackets made by quattro GmbH. The service didnít stop there, as we received free shuttle service to our various points of departure around Hockenheim. Our ride to the Hockenheim train station came in a Solar Orange S3!
The Audi R8 Racetrack Experience was a fantastic event. Everybody had a great time and enjoyed the brief chance to drive what is certainly one of the most impressive sportscars ever built on a beautiful track in its home country. There are murmurs of the Audi Racetrack Experience expanding to locations in the United StatesÖ we say it canít happen soon enough!
Page: