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'Seven cars, all capable of 300kmph, at the home of the Indian Grand Prix,' read the tagline to the cover story in the very first issue of evo India. And this was the headline story, hitting 300kmph in the Audi R8 V10 Plus
On a private industrial estate a blue missile streaks away from the rising sun, driver’s face set in stone, vice-like grip on the steering wheel, palms a little damp, right foot twitching as the speedo sweeps around. 200, 240, 260, 280 …. the numbers pile on inexorably, but the road runs out equally quickly. Braking markers come into view: 1000, 800, 500; the pitch, urgency and decibels amplifying till my co-driver matches the fervor of the howling V10 behind my head. 400 – bam! – kick the ceramic brakes hard, scrape two pairs of eyeballs off the windscreen, swallow hard and resume breathing. There isn’t enough road, not if we do a standing start.
Turn around, the road going ever so gently downhill, the low sun in our faces. Ari Vatanen raised his palm to shield his eyes from the sun while charging up Pikes Peak in that glorious Climb Dance video. I’m not Ari Vatanen. Neither will we be trying a downhill run today.
Plan B: there’s a slip road but there are two problems – it is dusty and it chops out about quarter of our main straight. But it is our only option so we go for it. Good thing that we have an old friend at hand.
It’s a familiar car, the Audi R8. The same basic shape that knocked my socks off when, against a backdrop of Le Mans footage, Jacky Ickx drove it down the ramp at its global unveiling prior to the Paris Motor Show. Back then (2006) there was no Twitter and you didn’t Facebook over the phone so you just stood there, stared in awe and drank more champagne. A simpler, uncomplicated time.
That shape has stood the test of time but what has really seen the Audi become the default supercar in India is its usability. The docile nature when you just want to drive, enjoy the road, take in a bit of the scenery, drop two gears when a nice corner comes into view, slow down when a pothole appears; the reassurance of Quattro, the sensible ergonomics, the overwhelming quality and dependability. I’ve yet to come across a supercar owner who hasn’t owned or extensively driven an R8. It’s almost like the Maruti 800 of the super car world! A rite of passage.
A familiar car then; yet not so familiar. This is the R8 V10 Plus. Don’t go poring over the pictures because there are no Plus badges (I looked, trust me). What you get is the carbon-fibre splitter, side-blades, wing-mirror shells, rear diffuser and gloss black wheels. The colour is unique – Sepang Blue satin finish (Buddh saffron next?) – and together with the all-LED headlamps and directional-sweep LED indicators in the tail lamps it still does cut a striking shape.
It moves too. The R8 was launched with the V8 engine, a beautiful engine that knocked on the door but was never allowed into the supercar party. The big step came with the V10 engine (related to the Lamborghini Gallardo), the R8 moving into pukka supercar territory in terms of performance. And with the V10 Plus it joins the supervisory board. Figures are up to 542bhp and 540Nm, an extra 24bhp and 9.5Nm over the standard V10 (which itself was upgraded last year), and that drops the 0-100kmph time by a tenth to 3.5 seconds.
Judging by the flashing ESP light on the central console our acceleration time today is higher than 3.5 seconds but that’s the beauty of all-wheel-drive, despite a dusty surface we’re still pinned to the seats and a blink is all it takes to get to triple-digit speeds.
I’ve engaged Sport mode but that’s the only button that needs, or can be engaged on the central console. Unlike the standard R8 there are no switchable magnetic dampers. Instead there are fixed-rate items that are slightly firmer than the regular adaptive system on its Sport setting and it manifests in a firmer low-speed ride. Build speed, which we do rapidly, and the Plus turns out to be more planted; more stable. We turn on to the main straight at 120kmph and she doesn’t flinch. So we launch at the start of the slip road and turn in at over 160kmph. This is now the limit and the nose starts hinting at understeer but even then the front-end bite is remarkable, a lift and the nose tucks in nicely, and when I get on the gas it reveals a rearward weight bias that brings the tail into play. If the need of the hour wasn’t to carry as much speed as possible on to the main straight one could slide the R8 V10 Plus like a rear-wheel-drive car.
Sideways is not the fastest way so we keep the histrionics in check and flick the wipers as the first drops of rain hit the windscreen. It’s now or never.
200kmph and the R8 is accelerating hard. 8400rpm, flick the right paddle and select fourth on the S Tronic gearbox, a dual-clutch unit that delivers clean, hard shifts, a world away from the old R-Tronic gearbox. The road, like everything in our country, isn’t smooth but the small revisions to the suspension make it more planted, the small compressions and dips are taken in her stride and she never wavers from the straight ahead. All four wheels stay glued to the road, even on the one nasty bump that is taken at a much higher speeds on this run. The vice-like grip remains on the steering wheel but is probably not required. I’d have chickened out by now in another super car. The R8 delivers confidence. It literally holds your hand.
250kmph. It’s a full-chested bellow from the V10, a remarkably well-orchestrated mechanical symphony, that has been cranked all the way up to 10. It’s not pure volume, there’s a rich depth and clarity to the tone and tenor. And the way the engine spins, piling on revs for such a large engine, just adds to the theatrical performance. Not that I notice.
280kmph. The braking markers come into view. 285. 290. 293. I dare not look down at the speedo. Briefly I think that a head up display would be nice. Concentrate! – I scream to myself. There’s far too much noise now. Gaurav is alternating between speed, braking marker distances and firing the camera. While planted the car is also now shuddering over every bump. These are serious figures and the car is approaching its limits. The wiper comes on. Spots of rain. Shit. 296. 298. Come on! Come on! Fractions count now. My left foot is primed and covering the brake pedal. 300! 301! Brake, brake, brake.
Welcome to evo India. Welcome to the 300kmph club!