Track attack: Audi Sportscar Experience
The best track car is always one that needs no prior preparation. You just show up and drive. You’d like to drive flat out down the kilometre long back straight at the Buddh International Circuit without worrying if your brakes will work after that long straight. And that’s precisely what the annual Audi Sportscar Experience has been aiming to provide since 2012, while also showcasing their latest and sportiest offering in India.
We got the half day version at the former home of the Indian GP. The programme aims to ramp up your driving skills, making it accessible even to people who haven’t driven on a track before. Before we were let loose on the main track in an R8, we got our feet wet in an RS 7 and an RS 6 Avant after a brief theory session with Audi race car driver, Aditya Patel. I think it’s fair to say both these cars are pretty awesome to start off with. The day started off with a couple exercises in the parking lot to get us used to being more aggressive than we would on the road. It was a short and tight autocross type of course in the RS, which had been made more challenging with the addition of cones.
Our instructor, Deepak Chinappa, a champion rally and race driver, never sat in the passenger seat, opting instead to give instructions over the radio. It made sense, as he was able to point out and sort out the mistakes immediately. The idea was to navigate the tight, twisty course as fast as we could without hitting cones. We got a sighting lap, which we ran with the traction control on. Our last runs were timed and the fastest runs were acknowledged at the end. I managed to put in the fastest run in the batch, and of the day till then. I also managed to getting everyone laughing as I spun on my last run in the RS6 Avant.
Both the RS6 Avant and RS7 are surprisingly nimbler than you’d think on such a tight course layout. The Quattro drivetrain ensured astounding grip. We’ve road tested the RS 7, but honestly nothing can prepare you for the violence over 600bhp that the 4-litre twin turbo V8 throws at you when launched. Hitting 100 in the mid-three second range, the RS 7 is unsurprisingly even cooler on track. Oddly, I actually liked the RS 6 Avant better than the RS 7, as it provided more of a laugh. Yes, it was heavier and 40 odd bhp down, but it was still easy to toss around.
We then got to the proper track part of the programme. After a brief chat back in the classroom where they told us about the old R8 V10 Plus cars we’d be using along with the new RS 5. We drove a few laps each behind the instructors as they talked us through the lap and how to optimally use the car and the width of the track. In our crash course, we only got the time to work on these two elements but it was fun.
Our instructor started us off slow, then gradually ramped up the pace, careful not to leave anyone in the group too far behind. You’re sharing a car for this part, so you get to enjoy the cool view as a passenger at the top of turn three, as the grip from the R8 pulls you into the hairpin before you barrel down the 1.2km straight hitting close to 250 kmph, courtesy the 602bhp from the naturally aspirated V10, before braking hard for turn four. The level of grip and confidence that the Quattro system provides is fabulous and even a track newbie can perform some proper heroics. The way it pulls through the parabola is something that you cannot experience in most other supercars.
The instructors did take note of who was more comfortable behind the wheel during the laps we did, pushing us harder when we went out for our next stint. All the laps were done behind an instructor’s car and everyone was kept decently under the car’s limits. They were fun, either way. It didn’t hurt that our instructor was an old friend from our rallying days together, who let me have some more fun on my hot laps in the RS 5. We loved the previous generation RS 5 for its ability to provide everyday comfort, while having a monster of a naturally aspirated V8. It sounded glorious and made some serious power, while being a great handler, making it a very complete performance car. Since this new version has dumped the V8 for a turbo V6, has it given up its rawness and become mellow? Not a bit. And I'm happy to have sampled this newest RS model at the very end, leaving the best for last. You’d think that after the R8, the smaller engined and more road focused RS 5 would be less fun on the track, but that wasn’t the case at all. The latest generation RS 5 is powered by Audi's new 440bhp 2.9-litre turbocharged V6 petrol engine that develops a massive 600Nm of torque helping it propel at a pace that’s properly fast, yet very controlled. The result makes the RS5 a lot easier to drive fast and get closer to the limit, without soiling your pants. This should translate to great drivability on the road too.
All in all, it was really fun being back on the track and pushing the limit on Audi’s sportiest offerings. I have a couple of race cars of my own and plenty of experience on the track, but have been out of touch lately. For me, this school ended up being the perfect reintroduction to the BIC. Audi isn’t doing these things for charity, of course, it’s open to customers for a relatively reasonable charge. That said, it’s probably the best place to try out an R8 or any one of the RS cars because you’re actively encouraged to wail on the cars, within some limits.