Autocrossing the Audi A4 Quattro
Text and photos by Steve Sherwood
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to take that fine Audi A4 automobile that is sitting in your garage out for a little fun? Instead of doing something ill advised out on suburb streets, what if you could experiment with the limits of your car in a controlled environment? That is what autocross is. Simply stated, autocross events are ones in which you can take your car through a pre-determined timed course, marked by chalk lines and orange/yellow cones, and compete against cars of similar make or handling level. The courses are usually set-up to test your ability to brake quickly and efficiently, modulate the throttle, and navigate the course as fast as possible without hitting any cones or going off the course. You are timed against people driving cars in your same class. As of 1999, the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) has decided that the Audi A4 in quattro and non-quattro form will compete in stock form in the G-Stock class. Cars that have been modified with suspension and/or exhaust fall into the C-Street Prepared class. In both cases participants can use "R" or "racing" compound tires (BFG g-force R1 tires for example). You must wear a helmet (usually Snell-rated M85 or better, soon to be M90 or better) and have all debris removed from your car (cell phones, maps, coins, floor mats, etc.). Physical damage to cars in the autocross events is VERY rare.
Why Autocross your Audi?
Autocross events give you the opportunity to feel how your car will react in different situations. Practicing these maneuvers in a controlled environment is highly recommended. The feeling that you get as you improve, run after run, is pretty exhilarating. During the winter months some local clubs still offer autocross events in which you can test your ability in rainy conditions (SCCA Slush Series events). This is where the quattro driveline really shines.
What is different about a Quattro?
The quattro drivetrain allows the driver to get on the throttle sooner than most FWD or RWD cars. If you get on the throttle too soon on a FWD car (VW Gti) the car will push or understeer through the corner (the wheel is turned the direction you want to go, but the car is still going straight forward). If you get on the throttle too soon with a RWD car (BMW M3), the car might just exhibit oversteer (a condition whereby the rear of the car swings out in the turn). This also might be called throttle oversteer. The quattro is very neutral in handling...meaning that it doesn't oversteer or understeer to any great extent. If anything, depending upon the set up, the Audi A4 might exhibit a slight bit of understeer, probably due to the front/rear balance of the car being slightly biased towards the front. Quattro, essentially, makes it easier for a novice to do well, and if the driver does do something irratic, the car will be very forgiving. Even with this advantage, have people spun out in A4 Quattro's on autocross courses? Yes they have. So, the main point here is to be as smooth as you can on an autocross course, regardless of whether you have the quattro drivetrain or not.
Example of Understeer (Plow) Example of Oversteer
Tricks of the trade
Several A4 owners have been successful running Audi A4s in autocross. A few have dialed in about 1.5" degrees of negative camber in the front...fewer still have done some negative camber in the rear. One nationally-known autocrosser, Joe Goeke, was even running a 245/45/16 tire on his girlfriend's A4 2.8 Quattro in 1998 (with sport package). Special note: these tires were run with special spacers, to ensure they didn't rub. Of course, tires are what separate the men from the boys. The normal rule is that you can usually improve 2-5 seconds on a course going from street tires to tires suited to autocross (R compound tires), depending on the length of the course. Some of the more successful tires to use in autocross are; BFG R1, BFG g-force R1, Kumho V700 VictoRacers, Yokohama A00R, Toyo Proxes RA-1, and Hoosiers.
Some people have been known to add octane boost to their gas prior to an event, with mixed results.
Who are the major competitors?
In G-Stock class the major competitor is the Acura Integra Type R. This is one car that, when set up correctly, cannot be beat. The combination of light weight and a high-revving engine makes for a formatable competitor. In C-Street Prepared, the major competitors are the Honda CRX, BMW M3, Mazda Miata, Porsche 968, and Mazda RX3. Due to its high weight, the Audi A4 does not fare well in national autocross events against the big boys and girls, but locally, you can find some drivers that seem to be very competitive.
In addition, in most areas they have a Rookie class which is available to newcomers in the sport. The only restriction in this class being that you need to run street tires (you cannot use R compound tires). First timers should not worry about going fast..You should work on staying on the course first then driving the line second...Do this and speed will come with smoothness....And don't be
afraid to ask one of the more experienced AutoXers to go with you to give you some instruction... the overwhelming majority of them would be glad to help. Besides, they will
feel honored if you do so.
Wear and Tear on your car
It is generally believed that three or four 40-75 second runs on an autocross course does little damage to your car. Do your tires wear out? Yes, they do over time. However, if you partake in 3-4 autocross events over the course of a year, you should be fine.
If you are under the Audi warranty (less than 50,000 miles or less than 36 months old) please be advised that some dealerships do not totally understand what autocross events are about. Some of them MAY consider autocross a type of "racing" and as such, dishonor or try to dishonor a warranty claim due to the manner in which the car is being used. If approached with a situation whereby the dealership service advisor is questioning whether or not you "race" your car, please explain to them that the event that you participate in, is NOT racing. You are learning the handling characteristics of your car in a safe controlled environment.
How to get involved with autocross in your area?
Autocross events are usually held across the country, usually in the months with good weather. In California, for example,
autocross events almost happen year-round. To find out about autocross events in your area, it is suggested that you visit
the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) website. The SCCA website can be found at http://www.scca.org. At that site you can look for the link to the regional websites for the SCCA club in your area. One other thing....autocross is also called Solo2, so if you see anyone talking about Solo2 or ProSolo, they are talking about autocross events. Lastly, other organizations like the Porsche Owners club, BMWCCA club, etc. conduct their own autocross events. These events are sometimes open to other car makes as well.
So...go give it a whirl sometime...you will be amazed at what your A4 can do. Don't forget your helmet.