A motoring enthusiast's idea of heaven - welcome to the Audi Sport driving experience.
16 August, 2018
It’s a rare thing indeed to find something that is so much fun, so utterly enjoyable, but is also good for you. That pretty much sums up an Audi driving experience. It’s one of those pinch yourself activities – a whole race track at your disposal, award-wining performance cars and some of the finest racing drivers in the country there to impart their encyclopaedic knowledge and help you reach a higher level in your own driving.
Just picture this. You’re sitting behind the wheel of an Audi R8 V10 plus, going as hard as you can around a race track, trying to keep the current Bathurst 1000 champion, Luke Youlden, in sight, as he steers an identical R8 up ahead, showing you exactly where you should be positioning the car and where the optimum braking points are around the track. All the while keeping effortlessly out of your reach.
On this particular occasion, the race track is Sydney Motorsport Park and we’re drawing to the end of a day spent behind the wheel of just about every RS model in the Audi Sport range. Aptly named the Audi Sport driving experience, it’s a day that’s seen the participants take part in a range of high-speed exercises under the watchful eyes of some of Audi’s team of expert driving instructors, led by Audi’s motorsport ambassador and Chief Driving Instructor, Steve Pizzati.
Pizzati is well known and respected as a racing driver, engineer and as a motoring journalist and commentator. His impressive career to date has also seen him work on Top Gear Australia as well as on radio and in print, in addition to building a reputation both behind the wheel and as a leading automotive educator.
On this particular day, his team includes the aforementioned Luke Youlden, Dean Canto, Daniel Gaunt and Garnet Patterson – current V8 Supercar, GT3, LMP3 campaigners. But not only are they highly credentialed motor racing champions, each member of the team is also an extremely talented, not to mention, patient teachers.
For any motoring enthusiast, this is nirvana, but even those who haven’t grown up watching Bathurst and dreamt of taking the checkered flag, it is a chance to see not only what they can do, but also explore the limits of these cars in a safe, controlled environment. No oncoming traffic, no speed cameras. For many, curious about how to get the best from their own car or improve their skills and car control, these programs are often a revelation says Pizzati.
a whole race track at your disposal, award-wining performance cars and some of the finest racing drivers in the country there to impart their encyclopaedic knowledge
It’s both a humbling experience and a deft illustration of just how good the cars are
“It’s not just about driving fast,” he says. “We get plenty of participants who want to know what their own Audi can actually do and to experience some of the driver assistance systems first hand.”
“Some come in a little nervous, not really knowing what to expect, but go away with a better knowledge of the cars, themselves and vehicle dynamics in situations that they have never experienced on the road,” says Pizzati.
There is no better place or way for example to get a sense of ESP (Electronic Stability Control) in action, than racing towards a set of cones at 100km/h, before effecting not only an emergency stop on a signal from the watching Dean Canto, but also an emergency lane change. Of course, as in a real situation, you don’t know which way you’ll have to go until the last minute (otherwise it wouldn’t simulate an emergency of course) and Canto – armed with a large red cone to point which way to swerve – is expert at watching you trying to double guess him and sending you the other way t the last minute.
It’s both a humbling experience and a deft illustration of just how good the cars are. From 100km/h, hard on the brakes and just as hard on the wheel, there is nary a hint of slip – the car goes where it’s pointed – avoiding the imaginary obstacle – and comes to a lightening stop.
This is just the first of a set of exercises, including step-off oversteer on the skid pan with the ESP turned off to show just how fast things could go south in the right – or wrong – circumstances.
Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of taking on an Audi driving experience is how much room you have for improvement. Regardless of how long you’ve been driving or even if you’ve attended other advanced driving course or others in the Audi driving experience program, you will always come away enriched.
The Audi Sport driving experience is the second of the courses in the ADE program, starting with the Audi Advanced driving experience and then going on to the Audi Sport Pro driving experience and then what many consider the ultimate – the Audi Race driving experience, where a very small number of participants who have completed all of the aforementioned levels, take on the awesome Audi R8 LMS GT 3 race car in a course dedicated to pure race craft.
Of course for those looking for a completely different driving experience, the Audi Ice driving experience, held at Audi’s ice driving centre in the Austrian Alps is a must.
Some of today’s participants had completed the Audi Advanced driving experience the day before, and the previous day’s exercises have given them a distinct edge as they build on the knowledge with the faster, more performance focused Audi Sport driving experience.
The day is relaxed where it counts, in contrast to the exercises, track lapping and ultimately hot laps, which are pure adrenalin.
In between each stint in the cars, participants relax in the Audi lounge over pit lane, and enjoy a coffee or gourmet food – while Pizzati explains the next exercise and, without over complicating things – the science behind it. The trade off between acceleration and steering through corners, or between direction change and braking. What each progressive model – be it RS 3 Sedan or Sportback, RS 6 Avant, RS 5 Coupe or R8 – is capable of.
Then it’s back out to the track, and after a brief demonstration from one of the team to ensure everyone knows what to do, it’s straight into the cars. ‘There’s no experience like experience’ says Pizzati, and feeling what the car does in given situations is the best way to improve the understanding of how it will react.
It’s a unique opportunity to get a feel for the track under your own steam and see just how much the right placement on the track effects corning speed and the set-up for the next corner. This is not a race, and the full track lapping is not timed – it’s an opportunity to learn the lines, the braking points and how to be smooth, which in turn makes you faster – and following the experts is invaluable.
For those wanting to visit their competitive side though, a timed motorkhana on a wet skid pan is a suitable leveller at the end of the day – where again, smooth is faster, even if it doesn’t look as impressive.
Of course there’s no substitute for the exhilaration of sitting beside the instructors in the cars for hot laps and seeing just what’s possible with the cars in expert hands. Words simply don’t do this experience justice.
Exhilarating, entertaining, pure unadulterated fun and educational. Who’d have thought.
The day is relaxed where it counts, in contrast to the exercises, track lapping and ultimately hot laps, which are pure adrenalin
Want to ensure you always receive the latest news and features from Audi? Subscribe now to the Audi Magazine newsletter.