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In October this year, we celebrated our fifth anniversary and to make the occasion extra special, we took the fastest Audi cars on sale in India to have a track day along with Aditya Patel – Audi India Motorsport racer. The venue was Buddh International Circuit (BIC) in Greater Noida, the only F1 circuit in the country. In the first of this three-part series, we give you a glimpse of one of the finest naturally aspirated engines in the market, the 5.2-litre V10 from the Audi R8 V10, enhanced further by the dual-clutch transmission in the R8 LMX. And to do justice to these cars, we had Aditya Patel push them to the limit at BIC.
“Audis only understeer?” enquires Aditya patel, aping the know-it-all he frequently deals with in his line of work, ‘work’ in this case being driving fast Audis extremely fast. He is half way through destroying the tyres of the R8, powersliding round the parabola of the BIC, the V10 behind my head shrieking blue bloody murder, and he pulls off that trick separating the good from the really good drivers – applying increasing quantities of both throttle and corrective steering lock while simultaneously eyeballing you in the passenger seat, waving that typically south Indian question mark with his left hand and… most important for continued employment in this business… not crashing.
In my defence, I’ve never complained about the R8 being understeery, and especially not the R8 V10 Plus. In tweaking the torque split of the Quattro drivetrain, this second-gen R8 slaps you in the face if you so much as mention understeer. Oh, and there is that safety net of initial understeer to save you from your lack of talent but settle the R8 in a corner, give the throttle hell and the back end swings round like a cat whose tail has been stepped on. In Plus-ing it, Audi has turned the R8 from a sportscar to a supercar and, like any self-respecting supercar, it will bite you in the ass if you think you’re the cat’s whiskers. It doesn’t even feel like a 4WD supercar, the back end is that frisky, the quattro working to pull you even harder and even faster out of the corner while not sacrificing agility and playfulness. It demands, nay expects, respect and is all the better for it.
“When the history of the IC engine is penned by somebody wheezing around in an autonomous, shared, electric car, this V10 – surely the last of its kind – will star in the greatest hits”
Now there’s nothing new about this R8 V10 Plus, but then again nobody with half a brain said no to the combination of an R8, the BIC and a full tank of gas. Much has been said and written about the fastest Audi ever built and for all its heroic lap time and cornering g-forces, the experience is still headlined by the engine sitting mid-ship. The V10 is spectacular, and I say this with full knowledge and experience of Ferrari and Porsche motors. Getting it shrieking above 6, 7, 8000rpm, the entire speedo binnacle flashing red in your peripheral vision, the primal scream behind your head… when the history of the IC engine is penned by somebody wheezing around in an autonomous, shared, electric car, this V10 – surely the last of its kind – will star in the greatest hits. Firing down the long back straight of the BIC, foot hard into the firewall for one whole kilometre, it is raw, visceral, unfiltered and absolutely brutal. Speeds are one thing and there is no dearth of fast cars these days, but the sensory overload is quite another experience altogether.
Enter the star of evo India’s inaugural issue, the R8 LMX. 60 issues and five years later I’m back in the car with which we clocked 300kmph to announce evo’s arrival in India, the first sports/supercar magazine in the country going max attack in the sports/supercar that put wind in the sails of this segment. There was a time, not long before evo India’s launch, when a sports car was rarer than an honest politician, and then came the R8 splashed across magazine’s pages and seared into public consciousness. No Ferrari, no Porsche, no AMG, no nothing did as much to establish, and then grow, the sport car culture in India as did that first-gen R8. By the same yardstick no manufacturer did as much to build the whole track day culture out here as did Audi. “Back in 2012 when we did the first Audi sportscar experience we had 12 R8s,” reminisces Aditya. “It was the first supercar that I drove. It was the first supercar most of our participants ever drove.”
“Inside, everything is manual, electric motors thrown out to reduce weight, except for the gearbox that got the then-new twin-clutch automatic replacing the single-clutch automated manual”
It was also the first supercar I drove. Drove as in properly drove: over many days, over many driver-training sessions, at racetracks all over the world; drove over many weekends and very many miles; even got to experience it on a runway, at night, at Le Mans, at the same time as the 24 hour race. I haven’t driven an exotic as much as I have that very first R8 and the LMX that we have here, it was the final hurrah for a car that did so much to transform Audi’s image. The headline, when it was launched, was the introduction of laser headlights for the very first time on a production car, neatly bookending the fact that LED headlights also debuted on the very first R8. Nobody cares about headlamps though, what really mattered was the V10 engine – amped up to its more powerful state of tune, 562bhp, while the suspension incorporated all the development from the R8 GT and the very first V10 Plus. Inside, everything is manual, electric motors thrown out to reduce weight, except for the gearbox that got the then-new twin-clutch automatic replacing the single-clutch automated manual. There’s more light-weighting courtesy extensive lashings of carbonfibre. And then they capped production to under 100 cars.
“The grip is relentless and inexhaustible. More than being playful the R8 makes every effort to keep you safe and sound”
Just like in today’s R8, the V10 in the LMX is the dominant experience. Nobody in the country has spent as much time in this car as Aditya has, and he tells me that all the light-weighting makes it “surprisingly pointy, and there’s so much grip in the middle of the corner.” After the new R8 what I also notice is the LMX is generally more relaxed, not as frantic, and not as nimble. In that sense it feels old – also because Audi takes gigantic leaps on interior furnishings and screen counts with every new car – but you can also see how the R8 hand-held so many into the world of sportscar ownership. At the expense of being too safe at the limit it forgives your mistakes and your exuberance. The grip is relentless and inexhaustible. More than being playful the R8 makes every effort to keep you safe and sound. Well I guess all this was required for a time when nobody really had a clue about how fast a really fast car could go; when everybody on a track day would bullshit about hitting 300kmph both on the way to the BIC as well as on its back straight.
This is the first time we’ve got the new and old R8s together and it’s hard not to make comparisons. The figures first: power has gone up by 48bhp; the 0-100kmph time is down by two-tenths to 3.2 seconds and the top speed goes up by 12kmph to a well-rounded 330kmph. The interiors, well, the new R8 is just gorgeous. The exteriors – sharp corners in place of soft curves. You don’t get a v8 anymore, Audi aiming more for super than sportscar territory. The gearbox is more responsive, especially on the downshifts, and you don’t get a manual either. And there is an immediacy to everything that is greased lightning. The steering, electric assistance in place of hydraulic has supercar-immediacy. On the steering wheel is the track-mode button to set suspension, engine, transmission, exhaust screech, everything into full attack mode. The back end is now less inclined to save you from yourself. The fast car has become a very, very fast car. And when you switch off ESP, well, let’s just say that it scared me enough to turn it back on again.
“Drama happens at big triple-digit speeds. You need big balls and big confidence. You need to be quick with the steering and sharp with the eye”
The thing is with a rear-driven car, any big-engined rear-driven car, you don’t need mad talent to bonfire the tyres – just lots of gas and lots of steering lock. With a four-wheel drive car though, gingerly punching the throttle will only end up shredding the front tyres. No, with a car like the R8 V10 plus getting it to dance needs more gas at the precise moment when you’re thinking of backing off. Drama happens at big triple-digit speeds. You need big balls and big confidence. You need to be quick with the steering and sharp with the eye. It’s when you really commit to it that the R8 takes on another dimension. She is not shy in letting her tail out but keep the power on, dab on some oppo, let the electro-hydraulic multi-plate clutch together with the locking rear diff feed in even more power to the spinning, powersliding, rear tyres, and there you have the R8 at the limit of what it was engineered for. The best car Audi has ever made; up there with some of the best of its kind. Well, at least that’s what I can gather from the front row. I’m but a passenger to Aditya’s wheelsmanship.
Stay tuned for the second part of the series starring the RS 5 Coupe and the S5 Sportback.