|July 5, 2000
Audi quattro challenge at Pikes Peak International Raceway, June 24-25 Article and photos by Matt Daniels
Chances are if you bought and registered a new Audi in the state of Colorado in the past 5 years, you received an invitation from Audi of America to the Audi quattro Challenge on June 24 at Pikes Peak International Raceway just outside Colorado Springs. The invitation included a brief description of the day's events: cornering control, accident avoidance and a timed handling course. The event also included speed laps around the main race track with professional drivers in factory cars, dinner that evening, and a "lifestyle" event of your choice on Sunday, June 25. This event was open to the first 100 people that responded, and each could bring a guest.
Since this was the first event of its kind that Audi of America has hosted, they weren't quite sure what the response would be. Needless too say, they were almost immediately overwhelmed with responses when the invitations were sent out. Since the response was so enormous, Audi doubled the amount of cars attending and added another driving day on Sunday, June 25. If you were one of the fortunate people to secure a spot you were then sent a follow up letter with more detailed information such as directions to the track, arrival times, list of items to bring, and the dinner location.
I arrived around 7:30 am on Saturday in an Imola Yellow S4 from the local press fleet. Upon arriving at the track, a large Audi sign greeted me with an arrow guiding me around to the main parking area. The parking lot was already filling up with Audi's of all makes from recent years: A4, A6, A8, S4, TT Coupes and roadsters, as well as a number of first generation A6's and one Ur-S4. I was guided to the parking lot for thetechnical inspection of my car which included checking the tire pressure, wheel bolt torque, tire tread, and the fluids. After my car passed the inspection, I was assigned to the Blue Group and was directed to a tent to finalize my registration and wait for the morning's orientation.
Outside the tent there were a number of new Audi's all on display, including one of two European spec allroad quattro's currently in the country. The allroad drew a big crowd, and the reaction to it is still pretty mixed between loving it and hating it.
Once inside the tent, I had to sign a few pieces of paper work, then I headed right over to the breakfast buffet that Audi had provided. Before I made it to the buffet I got side tracked by the race prepped S4 that had been used by Champagne Motors. Also inside the tent was a Cactus Green A4 displaying a number of accessories available through the Audi Accessories Catalog, as well as an area to buy Audi products such as shirts, hats, etc.
Around 9 am Carol Glynn from Audi of America welcomed us to the event. She handed the podium over to one of the instructors who ran us through the day's schedule then introduced us to our group leaders. I was in the Blue Group, which was headed by Jerry Pearl - a 17 year veteran of ice racing, an instructor for the Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Steamboat springs, and a private instructor to a number of government agencies, including the Secret Service.
Once back out in the parking lot, we got into our cars and followed Jerry to our first event for the day - the Wet Handling course. We were split into three rows of approximately 12 cars and then guided to a tent for a short orientation about this course. The beginning of wet handling course started with a short demonstration of a BMW 540I and a A6 2.7T quattro on a wet skid pad. The rear wheel drive BMW demonstrated a significant amount of oversteer on a hard turn, while the A6 quattro took the turn with ease.
Next, one of the instructors to piloted the A6 quattro through the flooded autocross course. After that demonstration, it was time for us to get behind the wheel and show off our stuff. The first row of cars went through the course two times, while the rest of the drivers got to stand around and cheer them on. It was fun being able to watch other drivers of all different abilities take their Audi through this course. Some people were taking it with everything they had, while others where playing it safe. But all were having fun.
When my turn finally arrived, I was more than a little excited. How often do you get to take out a S4 that's not even yours and push it has hard as you want in a controlled environment? The instructor at the starting line gave me a few pointers then it was time to take off. In total, the wet handling course had five turns and a few which had diminishing radii, which made things more interesting. The S4 handled beautifully for me and I navigated the course without killing any cones. On my 2nd lap, I took the last curve a little too aggressively and over corrected a little too much as I came to the stopping point at the end of the course. Two cones by the stop sign sacrificed their lives as I tested the ABS brakes in order to stop.
When everybody had finished their two laps we were happy to find out that we had time to take another lap. For my 3rd lap I really wanted to take the course as aggressively as I could, but I backed off a little when I could feel the car wanting to break loose. I wish I could have navigated this for the rest of the day, but after my group was done with our final laps it was time to head over to the timed autocross course event. Finally, a way to see if we were improving after each lap.
It's worth mentioning that during our time at the Wet Handling course, the allroad quattro could be seen driving around, off-road, in the rolling hills around the track. It was nice to finally see this car in action, and not just on a show room floor. I made a promise to myself that I would get to drive it (or at least ride in it) by the end of the day. I'm happy to report that I did, but more on that later.
Leaving the Wet Handling course, we again followed Jerry, this time to the infield of the racetrack. We were split into six rows of 5 cars, and headed over to the tent for our instruction for this course. Here we learned briefly about using weight transfer to help control the car throughout the course. One of the instructors demonstrated the course in a A4 1.8T and posted a time in the low 22's. But, believe it or not, he hit a cone which resulted in a penalty of +2 seconds.
I was in the 4th row of cars, and while watching the first three rows I noticed one of the emerging stars of our group -- a couple driving a A6 Avant. In their first two laps, their times were in the high 23 second range, which were the best times up to that point. On their third, and final lap, the car in front of them over corrected in the slalom part at the end of the course and missed the sensors to stop his time, so the clock kept ticking while the couple in the A6 Avant did their lap. Imagine their surprise when they saw that their lap time was 59 seconds! Because of the mix up, they were allowed to take a coveted 4th lap, the only ones in my group to do so.
With visions of Gran Turismo in my head, it was time for me to take my laps. After watching 15 cars before me, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the course layout was. I revved the S4 to near redline, dropped the clutch at took off (remember, this wasn't my car). Coming out of the first turn led into a hairpin right turn, which I took too fast, but was able to recover and head into the straight away that had three obstacles in it. This led into a long sweeping left turn, where I could really feel the S4 being pushed hard. Immediately exiting this turn was the slalom part of the course, which I navigated through before coming to stop at the finish line. My time was 23.30, the best time so far for a first lap in my group.
Being a little more familiar with the course, I took the 2nd lap it even more aggressively. My posted time was 22.98, but I hit two cones and 4 seconds were added to my time. Before my 3rd lap, our group leader Jerry recommended braking more going into the turns. Right before I took off, I offered to take a man video taping the days events for Audi along with me. He hopped in, started filming and we took off. I tried to keep Jerry's instructions in mind on my last lap, but I think I used the brakes a little too much; my final time was 23.76. But at least I had a lot of fun, and it was on film. I just hope I can see that footage some day.
The rest of our group ran through their laps, and the best time for our group was posted by a couple in a Santorin Blue S4 with a time of 22.95. After our group was done with this event, it was time for lunch. We drove back to the main parking area and headed to the top of the grand stand were Audi had a wonderful buffet lunch set up for us. This was a good time to talk with others to see what they thought of the event so far. By most accounts everybody was having a great time.
When it was time to get back to driving, it was our turn to do the Accident Avoidance event. This course was broken up into three sections. First was an accident avoidance course where you would speed up then a flagman would indicate which direction you should swerve, right or left, to avoid the cone obstacle, then swerve back and come to a complete stop without hitting the cones (or the flagman). The second was a test of your abilities to stop using ABS brakes on a curve. The third was a straight stopping test using your ABS brakes.
Before we started I got my chance to go for a ride in the allroad quattro, I pulled my car out of line and jumped into the allroad. Our driver Mark took us into the rolling hills near the track. The terrain was mainly grassy covered hills, but it was definitely an area you wouldn't take a normal car into. The allroad handled the terrain easily, including climbing up steep grass covered hills. But these hills were nothing compared to what he took us on next. He drove us around to the infield of the track, where there were two very steep embankments covered with large, loose river rock. Most of these rocks were at least 6 inches in diameter and larger, all of them fairly unstable. Mark stopped the allroad, raised the suspension to its highest level, and then drove right up the rocks. I was amazed that the allroad went up this with what seemed to be little effort. In the 15 minutes that I was in the allroad, I must admit I was extremely impressed. All doubts of it actually having any offroad abilities have been shattered. I know most people reading this will still have their doubts, but if you ever get the chance to see one in action, I think you'll also be impressed with this vehicle. Now I need to know how well it does on the road.
Back with my group, I watched others pilot their way through our final event. It was very interesting to watch the accident avoidance part because more than a few people spun out, sliding through the cones and almost hitting the flagman. One individual didn't even swerve, just plowed straight through the cones.
When it was my turn, I took the accident avoidance way too slow, about 30 mph. The flagman also gave me too much time to react. These two factors combined made this too easy and I voiced my displeasure to the flagman. The second part of this, the ABS stop on a curve, wasn't as easy as it looked. I took the curve a little too tight and almost took out a few cones. The final part, the straight stop, had almost no challenge to it at all - just speed up then slam on your brakes at 40 ft marker and stop before you hit 0. Pretty easy.
My second lap was a little more interesting. Since I took the first lap too slow, I hit this one going about twice the speed as before. Remembering me from my first lap (having the only yellow car at this event had its disadvantages), the flagman decided to play a little game with me. Right before I needed to swerve he pschyed me out by twitching the flag to the left, when I reacted by going that direction, he switched it to the right. By then I had lost a precious second of reaction time and didn't succeed in avoiding the cones. I took out half of them and felt a little embarrassed. The flagman and I were playing a game on this lap and I lost.
On the curve stopping part, I received some good advice from the instructor to take the curve a little wider this time. This advice came in very helpful; I stopped perfectly in the middle of the lane. The straight stopping was about as exciting as it was before, but I tried to make it a little more challenging by braking a little later than before.
The third and final lap for me was a combination of success and failure. On the accident avoidance part I didn't let the flagman win the game this time. I waited until he flagged me completely, I swerved and stopped perfectly. It was a great feeling. My moment of glory was soon shattered when I took out 3 cones on the curved stopping area. The straight stopping section went by without a hitch.
When the rest of our group was through with their laps, our day of driving was over. While this last event probably had more real world type situations in it, the overall enjoyment was nowhere near the first two. My adrenaline just wasn't as high as it was earlier in the day. But, I was soon going to have that adrenaline shoved back down my throat. Our driving day may have been done, but our day wasn't over yet. It was now time for the speed laps with our instructors.
Our instructors were driving us around the track in stock factory cars of almost every model. That doesn't sound too exciting at first, but in the hands of a professional, these cars can really come alive on the track -- even the A4 1.8T filled with four people.
A couple of us, namely Rick Snyder and myself, kind of wore out our welcome on the speedlaps. While most people only took one ride then left, we hung around until we were the last ones. In all, I got in about 6 or 7 runs. But it was so much fun riding along, I don't think anybody can blame us for taking any available spot.
Once our day at the track was over I headed back to my hotel to freshen up before the dinner. Dinner was originally supposed to be held at Emerald Valley Ranch, but due to the addition of another 100 cars to this event, it was moved to the Sturman Industries Estate. This estate, located about 20 miles west of Colorado Springs in a secluded part of the mountains, was originally built as a private residence and was the perfect place to cap off our day. In the distance a small lake could be seen and at one time during the evening a couple of elk walked by in the distance. Dinner was made up authentic Austrian cuisine and for desert there was a chocolate cake inscribed with "Happy 20th Birthday quattro".
Talking with people at dinner it was obvious that everybody had a lot of fun. People who did the lifestyle events that day also seemed to have enjoyed the activities. I wasn't able to attend a lifestyle event on Sunday since I had to fly home, so I can't give first hand experience on how well those went. If there was one common wish among the people that drove on Saturday, it was that we all wanted more time behind the wheel. But considering there were over 100 cars on this day, it was understandable why we couldn't get more drive time.
At the beginning of the day many didn't know what to expect. Some figured that there had to be some sort of "catch" to the whole thing, that it would be a day filled with marketing and sales pitches. Many were very surprised to find out that this was a pure driving event provided out of loyalty to Audi owners.
Many thanks must be provided to Audi of America for hosting the Audi quattro Challenge which was very well organized and well thought out. No matter what your driving abilities were, everybody had fun. The whole point of the day was to learn a little more about your car, socialize with fellow Audi owners, drive your Audi in a controlled environment, and have fun. It was apparent that the day was a great success.
I'm also happy to report that this will not be the last Audi quattro Challenge. For people in Boston and San Francisco, you'll be getting your chance to attend this event later in the year. The San Francisco Audi quattro Challenge will be on September 16 and Boston's will be on October 7. The events will be limited to the first 100 people who respond. If your lucky enough to get in, you'll be in for a fun filled day of driving with your fellow Audi owners, this is one event you don't want to miss.