Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Audi driving experience

Yesterday I participated in an event organized by Audi at the Pitt Meadows Airport. It was focused on driver skill training and was an absolute blast. It came down to flogging Audis on an extremely large and wet expanse of tarmac, doing big fishtail oversteer, emergency braking, cone slaloms and understeer exercises. The cars we had at our disposal were S4s and A6s, all 2012 models. There was also an R8 lurking about that was used for hot laps, it was pretty much ripping around the periphery of the event, driven by a world champion rally car driver with wide-eyed participants in the passenger seat.

I arrived around 11:30am and was immediately impressed by the scale of this event. I more or less expected some small tents, porta-potties and a few cars to be scattered around. Instead, I found a large number of Audis and some very impressive looking temporary buildings, complete with reception, buffet and classrooms, all very well appointed with cushy leather seats and nicely heated. I immediately returned the bag full of wet weather gear back to the car since it was clear I wasn't going to need it.

Lunch was first, catered by The Dirty Apron (made me happy!), while I watched the previous group (they had an early start) finish off their classes out on the field. It was still dry then so they had a tanker truck spray water in strategic places for the various exercises. Once lunch was done we were divided into groups and headed for the classrooms where we got some basic theory about tire physics, weight distribution and other information to prepare us for the events to follow. I was in the S4 group, looking forward to getting out there.

Yep, flat screens mounted in the classrooms for instruction
We then paired up with other participants and headed out to the cars. It was raining heavily by then so the water truck was parked at the back. The R8 was now skidding and drifting around like mad, much to the enthusiasm of the people watching it from under a tent.

the R8 having fun
In the S4s we did oversteer and understeer exercises. This was great fun, gunning the engine then doing some mad steering to induce understeer for example and trying to remember what the instructor had said earlier in order to correct the situation. After a few tries I got the hang of it and it clicked. The oversteer bit was also fun, at some point I more or less forgot to let up on the gas at the designated cones and as a result the car went into a wild fishtail, scattering cones everywhere and ending up with a cone wedged under one of the front wheels. I called it the cone of shame but it was more the cone of fun! The S4 is very fast btw, especially with the dual clutch transmission setup.
S4 in understeer practise
After the S4 antics it was time for a hot lap in the R8, the driver still grinning mischievously saying it was a bit of a handful in the wet. This was an understatement of course, he gunned it straight off the line and the resulting vehicular mayhem was impressive. Somehow he managed to keep it more or less going in the direction he intended, the engine howling angrily and the poor drivetrain struggling through the massive puddles and slick surface. This was of course an immense amount of fun and a few minutes later I climbed out of the car feeling a bit giddy. There was a dashboard camera involved so I will get a video of this at some point.

After a quick coffee break (they had a full espresso bar that served up a choice Cappuccino) and some more instruction, this time about emergency braking and cone slaloms, we headed for the A6s.

The A6s, looking all sinister...
The first thing I noticed is how gorgeous the interior of this car is. Very, very nicely appointed. Lots of gadgetry like a heads-up display, night vision, adaptive cruise control, heated steering wheel and so on. It even has a little touchpad that allows for gesture input i.e. you can write out letters with your finger while entering an address in the navigation system for example. The other thing that surprised me is how fast this car is. The cars we had were equipped with the 3.0 TFSI V6 making 310hp and according to my iPhone timing did 0-100km/h in about 5.5 seconds. This became evident during our first exercises which was emergency braking. It involved mashing the accelerator, getting to about 90km/h then slamming on the brakes to avoid a wall of cones heading left or right depending on a cone being raised by one of the people standing on the side of the track. Interesting experience, I was impressed by how much control there still was under massive braking in terms of being able to steer the car through the cones.

The cone slalom was the bit that I had the most trouble with, the first couple of cones would be fine but error accumulation meant further down I would get into trouble, mowing down cones and on some runs, completely losing control of the car. After a few tries I got the hang of it a bit better, the instructor giving feedback through a 2-way radio all the time.

This was a great event, I learned quite a bit and was very impressed by the production values. Audi looked after us very well in terms of creature comforts, the instructors were very good (all competitive race car drivers of some variety) and even though the weather was absolutely terrible, it added to the challenge. During the closing comments it was mentioned that Audi is looking at doing more of these including advanced courses and an R8 experience. All I said was 'sign me up!'

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