|May 12, 2008
Running the Hershey Vintage Hill Climb in the #40 Valvoline Audi Quattro
During the thirty-minute drive home from the Hershey Vintage Hill Climb as I tried to put my thoughts together from the weekend of racing, it was hard not to think about how far the #40 Valvoline Audi Quattro had come. As much as I have lived and breathed Audi for over a decade, the #40 Quattro gave me an even deeper sense of what the greatest marquee in automotive history has created.
I own several late-model Audi S4 race cars, but for some reason the 1985 Ur-Quattro that I just backed into my garage after doing battle at the 2008 Hershey Vintage Hill Climb in Hershey, PA, leaves me with a different feeling then the others. I purchased the #40 Valvoline Audi Quattro a few months ago. The ad simply read: "ex-Audi race car." Gone the way that many showroom stock race cars have in the past, this example was doing duty as an occasional street car. The ad on the internet grossly understated the condition and value of the car. Other than the original Valvoline war paint, not much had been changed from this incredible piece of Audi history.
I (or I should say the guys at www.AudiBMW.com) have spent the last three months preparing the car for this past weekend. The car was in fine running order for normal street use, but as you know, that does not mean that it is even close to being ready for competition. Many things had to be done to get the #40 ready for its first real test in some 22 years.
First, some typical early Audi CIS drivability issues needed to be addressed. After searching the internet and finding a few key diehard Audi enthusiasts, we were well on the way to unlocking many of the mysteries surrounding CIS fuel management. The most difficult decision to make came with all of the suggestions to simply disregard the system completely and replace it with a modern, stand-alone engine management system. My race team uses Motec on our #06 World Challenge Spec S4 so I am very familiar with the huge performance and reliability gains with that system. I decided against the modern engine management system because, in the true spirit of owning a "vintage" Audi race car, I am trying my best to maintain the original integrity of the car.
Second on the list and probably the most important aspect of any race car is the braking system. My team and I (more so my team - thanks again guys) had to thoroughly test and inspect the entire braking system. After a few practice sessions which involved a very soft pedal, we made the proper repairs and the brakes now bind down hard enough to plant you hard against the 5-point harness.
The next step we needed to take to insure we would be ready for race day was to replace most of the 23- year-old (well used) suspension bushings with new urethane units from PowerFlex. These particular units are by no means the easiest to install but well worth the effort when the car is pushed to its limit.
Moving further down the list, the guys did some reworking of the full 3-inch stainless steel exhaust. The catalytic converter was removed and a few leaks were repaired. The complete list included some 22 items to be addressed and each time we ran the car the list grew slightly longer.
Now with all of the dirty work out of the way, it was time for a facelift that would return the Quattro to its full racing glory. Sometime during the late eighties the car was painted back to its original Tornado Red finish. Each time I saw the smallest hint of the blue or white racing surface hiding under the current finish, it made me anticipate this stage of the restoration like a child waiting for Christmas morning. I use the term "restoration" lightly because the car will continue to see some pretty hard race abuse. I made the decision to refresh versus fully restore the cosmetics because of all of the racing the Quattro had ahead of it. I would like to thank DuPont for supplying the product and Cockrell's Auto Body in Mechanicsburg, PA for the application. In less than a week the car was painted and copies of the historic original vinyl were installed. The car looked amazing! The #40 Valvoline Audi now looks the same as it did in the spring of 1986 when two Polaroid photos were taken outside the race shop for the original SCCA Log Book that remains with the car today.
Now that the car looked the part and seemed to drive the part, the question was whether it was really up for the task of entering competition for the first time in 22 years. The Hershey Vintage Hill Climb www.svvscc.org has been a grand event since the 1950's. The race is set in the beautiful and historic chocolate town of Hershey, Pennsylvania. The Hershey Vintage Hill Climb is referred to as exhibition-only event. But how you can take 73 competing egos, throw in close to 15,000 units of finely-tuned, race-fuel-burning horsepower and not expect at least a few competitors to take it serious is beyond me! I can't figure it out, but if that's what keeps the Volvo-driving insurance man happy, so be it.
I have participated in this event for the past two seasons in a very good-looking and well-prepared 1972 BMW 2002 Ti. This car is owned by a very good friend of mine, Vince Gladfelter, and has been a race car most of its life. The BMW 2002 Ti is so good in fact, that in the 2007 event, we finished 4th and 5th out of 35 competitors. Because Vince owns the car and I would like to drive it again in the future, I will not say who was in the 4th spot; but I will say it was only by 5 hundredths of a second. Shhh, remember this is only an exhibition.
This year I entered the race thinking, first, that I would be happy if the Audi did not breakdown before the final run on Sunday and second, that if I was able to compete all weekend, that I could finish somewhere near the top 10. A top 10 finish would not be easy to accomplish because this year's event gave recognition to Corvettes as the featured vehicle. What comes with featuring Corvettes? Corvette people! Registration more than doubled to 73 competitors. I may not be a huge fan of this all-American sports car, but it is very hard to argue their racing success in the last 55 years.
After 3 months of preparation, the cold and foggy morning of Saturday, May 3, 2008 had finally arrived. I was quite relaxed considering that in a short time I would be driving nearly 100 mph zigzagging between some fairly substantial trees. Over the loudspeaker that was barely audible in the busy pit area, the call for the yellow group came. Within a few minutes, I was staged and waiting for the course clear signal to arrive. When the traffic light to my left switched from red to green, I made one last mental check. Helmet on "yes," harness secure "yes," gauges ok "looks good." Now bring the tachometer up to 4500 rpm, increase grip on the wheel, take one more deep breath and let the clutch fly.
The Ur-Quattro moved slightly to the left, but it did seem to hook up all four, soft-compound DOTs pretty well. Seven thousand first, seven thousand second, seven thousand third, the road ahead begins to curve to the left, don't lift, and stay hard into fourth. The first high-speed curve is approaching quickly, don't lift. The apex is still too far into the corner to see. I begin to lift so I turn the wheel gently to the left and begin to smoothly but assertively apply power and attempt to settle the rear of the car.
It hits me in an instant, something feels incredibly familiar, something that only a handful of race car drivers have ever experienced. A Quattro feels so good, so stable, under power that it becomes addicting. It truly raises the question of how much lateral adhesion is too much. This car is by no means a 2000 World Challenge Spec S4, but the rush of familiarity is undeniable and very welcome at this speed. Now the corners, most of which are taken in second gear, become tighter. The same approach applies: when the car becomes unstable, use the right pedal not the center one. Looking into the rear view mirror at the finish line, I ask myself a question that comes to me at least once a day (my daily driver is a 2003 S8), "Why doesn't everyone drive an Audi with quattro?" This theory was only reconfirmed when a good friend of mine came back from timing and scoring and told me that I ran a 52.457.
After the first run, I am on top of the 72 other competitors. FTD belonged to a 23-year-old, 2958-lb, full-interiored, power-windowed street car that was driven on pump gas to and from the event with a brand new pair of slicks graciously donated by Goodyear (the original 1986 supplier) sitting in the pits. With the help of the tires I did manage to take off over a full second by the final run on Sunday, but even with the slicks my time was not enough to secure a first-place finish. Somehow a 10th-place finish would have left me in a more comfortable spot at the weekend's closing. I would have been very satisfied knowing that this old Audi race car would have only sat behind a few purpose-built, track-use-only race cars. But now with an amazing 3rd-place finish, I have more determination than ever to prove to world that these are not only the cars that changed the racing world forever, but that they can still do it 23 years later.
We will be continuing to develop the car throughout the season. The weekend of May 16, 2008 the car will be on display at the Carlisle Import Kit/Replicar Nationals in Carlisle, PA . I will run the full Pennsylvania Hillclimb Association series and if all goes well, the SVRA, US Vintage Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in September. The ultimate goal for the Goodyear/Valvoline #40 Audi Quattro will be in 2009. I will give you a hint. It's a pretty big hill in Colorado where Audi secured its North American dominance in motor sports.