|July 12, 2007
Stars and Cars NYC: Audi Takes on the Big Apple
Question - how would you celebrate a dominate victory at the most prestigious sports car race on the planet? That race being the 24 hours of Le Mans and the celebrants those racy Audi guys, the answer is simple. You invite a couple hundred of your closest friends to an elegant soirée (that’s French for par-teee!) at your fancy-schmancy Park Avenue digs in Manhattan. As a brand new card-carrying member of the Audi family, I grabbed my cameras and note book and hot footed it to NYC to see just how well the Audi faithful celebrate.
I arrived several hours too early for the event. To my surprise, sitting at the curb outside the Art Deco exterior of the Audi Forum showroom amid the fumes and honks of passing taxis, was the Number 1, race-winning Audi R10. OK, it was the show car and not the real winner, but it easily outclassed just about everything else on the streets in the 10017 ZIP Code!
Time seemed to be crawling, but eventually the hands on my Audi Sport wrist watch ticked over to the magic hour and, with typical Teutonic efficiency, our hosts swung open the doors on the dot with trays of food and drink at the ready. Once inside the 6,400 sq ft show place, I mingled with a couple hundred lovers of the four ring cars. We all ate, drank and shared stories about our cars while we waited for our guest of honor, Le Mans race-winning driver Marco Werner, to arrive and address the crowd.
Despite the fact that the R10 was sitting front and center, the biggest crowd was around the shiny new gun metal grey R8 sitting off to the side. One fan, a smiling Aaron Smith, happily volunteered his opinion of Audi’s new sports car, “It’s beautiful but I’ll tell you more after a test drive!” Another fellow, patiently waiting his turn to sit behind the wheel, went him one better. Holding up his cell phone he said, “It’s my wallpaper.” He paused and added, “It’s my everything!” But these fans were both out done by Neil McPherson who said in a deep baritone, “Love it! BEEEE_UUUUU_TTTTT_FUL!” And added to no one in particular and everyone within earshot, “Hottest car on the planet, wish they had a roadster.” He took a deep breath and added, “NEED THE DROP TOP!”
One guest, a dapper gentleman named Jhamal Rahman, admitted he was an “Audi-holic” (a new term to me, but very descriptive). “The first time I drove one,” he said, “it made me feel like I’m a better driver.” He added, “The handling, the grip, the confidence.” He said he that when he went to test drive a famous British brand he was told by the salesman that it doesn’t handle well in the snow. Rahman laughs, “I told him, you just sold me an Audi.” That’s why he has an A6 4.2, and A8 with a brand new A8L on order. He tossed in a real endorsement for Audi technology (and a clear message to those of us in snow country) when he said, “Put on a set of Blizzacks and you can go anywhere.” Laughing, he added, “You can climb trees with it! ” Audi-holic, indeed!
Eventually the meeting was called to order by Rod Bymaster, Director of Audi Sport America, who introduced the guest of honor, Marco Werner. Werner came to speak to the assembled multitude about driving the all-conquering R10 to his third victory at the great race. But first he said, (to loud applause) “I’m proud to be in the Audi Family.” And then he went on to try and describe the indescribable – driving a 600 hp race car at 220 MPH five times per lap for 24 hours. “It’s very special,” he said. “You can feel the power; unbelievable.” And, after looking back at the R10 on display, he added, “The road feel is very good, it’s a shame you can’t feel it.”
Afterward, Werner sat down and signed autographs for any race fan who wanted one. As you can imagine, the line grew quickly as people queued up to meet this talented driver, shake his hand and take home a special souvenir.
The surprise of the evening came from a real car enthusiast named Louis Schneider who, having done some research on Werner’s career, gave him a very special and personal gift – a book about the racing career of Mario Andretti. I asked Marco to explain his connection with Andretti. Werner admitted, “I’m a big fan. Mario was a hero.” But the best part of the story is that Werner actually got to drive in a race with Mario. They both competed in the same Porsche Super Cup race at Indy. “It was a dream for me,” Werner admitted.
Between autographs I asked Werner about the R10’s chances at the next round of the ALMS championship at Lime Rock Park. He was candid, admitting that the Porsche Spyder, by virtue of its lighter weight combined with the track’s tight confines, had a good chance at taking overall. He added, “The R10 is built for Le Mans. It likes high speed corners and it needs long straights.” He summed it up simply by saying, “It will not be easy.”
To wrap up the evening, Audi gave away lots of door prizes including the top prize of VIP tickets to the July Race at Lime Rock. So while I suspect that everyone went home happy, some people went home happy and laden with free Audi goodies.
Audi is to be commended for pulling off a well attended, world class event and I, for one, hope to be invited to Le Mans winning celebrations for many years to come.