Car manufacturers are starting to hop on the performance trend again, using trickle-down technologies and offering performance once available only in the upper model range. Audi is a prime example, and typically ahead of the curve when offering a driving experience few others can.
Having a car loaded with leading edge technology is a beautiful thing, so where do you turn when you want to see just what that driving technology can do? These cars are developed on high-speed German autobahns which, if you haven’t driven on one before, is comfortable driving but cranked up a few notches. Unfortunately for us Canadians, few roads – in fact, none at all – offer an experience like this.
So what is the next best thing? Lapping sessions on a closed course with coaching by professional instructors, of course.
I took part in the Audi Driving Experience (ADE) in October last year. The leaves had already started to turn, but the track conditions were ideal, with cool winds and clear blue skies. When I arrived at the paddock at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (Mosport), I was welcomed by a committee of Audi staff and, more importantly, a large tent with a hot breakfast and a number of smiling faces.
To my surprise, we were welcomed by former IRL and CART winner Scott Goodyear, who took care of the ADE introductions and track briefing. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t be getting behind the wheel for our session (we were in the half-day morning session), but we had a list of accomplished instructors: including Daniel Morad (GP3, A1GP, Formula BMW, F2000); Jeff Boyce (Corvette Racing Development Driver, F2000) and Richard Spenard, who has been racing internationally since the 1970s in series that included Formula Atlantic, F2000, Porsche Turbo Cup, Trans-Am, IMSA, the Daytona 24 and the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1987; teaming with Goodyear and Bill Adam in a Brun Motorsport Porsche 962C, no less. I was in good hands.
At our disposal is ADE’s fleet of red TT Ss, white S5s, and the all-new A6 TDI – all of which, aside from the S5, I had yet to drive. In fact, manufacturer driving experiences such as this are perhaps the best places to sample several current vehicles all at once. The ADE is certainly the best place for new Audi owners (or prospective buyers for that matter) to see exactly what these cars are actually capable of.
The groups were split into three; I started in the A6 on the Grand Prix circuit, playing follow the leader and leapfrogging my way from the back to the front at the signal of the lead instructor. Our group was perhaps the most fortunate, having the opportunity to drive the slowest (but definitely not sluggish) car of the bunch as a warm up on the biggest track, where we would return later with the S5. The A6 TDI is a big car, and while it's the only non-performance car of the bunch, the luxury diesel offers ample acceleration via smooth turbocharging, paired with handling that stays smooth and controlled, even while cornering at 110 km/h. Session one: success.
For the second portion of our day, it was comparative autoslalom in the parking lot, matching one TTS against another on an opposite, but identical course. This is the closest thing to racing some lapping days will ever offer, and the perfect setting for the nimble, short wheelbase manual TT. Getting off to a good start is key and, as many drivers can attest, fastest is not always fastest. What I mean is, on a tight course with numerous transitions, the key to a quick time is being smooth – on the brakes, on the wheel, and on the gas. When I concentrated on these things, it felt as if I went two or three seconds slower, but I ended up posting the second fastest time of the group, ahead of my previous time by over two seconds. Session two: success, some learning and plenty of laughs.
Now, it was the session we’d all been waiting for: CTMP with the proven S5, 333 horsepower, Quattro all-wheel drive and the quick-shifting S Tronic transmission. A six-speed manual would have been welcome, but clicking your way through each of the eight gears, especially at the Turn 5 complex, allowed us to drive with an added level of freedom and – let’s face it – confidence too. Playing leapfrog once again, our pace was decidedly more upbeat, our engines revved higher and there was a point that, if you waited far enough behind the following car, you had a level of freedom drivers rarely enjoy. The S5 became that much more than I previously knew. Session three: elated.
Upon returning to the pit area, Frank Sprongl was waiting in his Audi Sport Quattro to give attendees thrill rides around the circuit. Anxiously awaiting, helmet in hand, when we finally got on track it was an experience like no other. Because of its rally setup, the Quattro’s gearing is so low that top speed is comparable to an ATV, say 110 km/h, but in the corners, it’s like something I’ve never felt. Glued is an understatement, and one that perfectly exemplifies just how developed Audi’s Quattro technology was, even 25 years ago. The raw mechanics and dogbox transmission are a transport in time, and show how far Audi has come. Surprise session four: more than I could have asked for.
For anyone interested in attending a track day, this is an experience like no other, rookie or not. The Audi Driving Experience offers world-class instruction on some of Canada’s best race tracks, with a selection of cars from one of the world’s best auto manufacturers. I can’t promise that Sprongl and his Quattro will be there, but the ride is definitely worth the fare.
For a full list of 2014 dates throughout Canada (including winter driving courses), be sure to visit TheAudiExperience.ca.