A day at the Audi Driving Experience
I am quickly ascending to the world famous turn two at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (aka CTMP, aka Mosport). Our lead instructor, noted road and rally racing ace Frank Sprongl, lines us up for the blind double apex corner that drops quicker than an intoxicated college student’s will power on spring break.
We crest the hill, I hold my steering arch, the car gets light as it slightly carries to the right, gravity replants the vehicle as it aims for the second apex and we exit corner two. No drama, no issues, no sweat. But this is not a race car we are in. Heck, it’s not even a sports car; we are driving the 2014 Audi A6 TDI.
Audi produces some seriously sporting machines like the R8, TT-RS and RS 5. But the brand likes to think a bit of sport is put into every vehicle adorned with the four rings. To prove this, it created the “Audi Driving Experience,” a comprehensive classroom-to-track driving school offered in several countries around the world. Audi brings together top instructors along with the latest and greatest Quattro equipped cars to world famous racetracks for consumers and enthusiast alike to experience what these cars can do.
THE AUDI DRIVING EXPERIENCE
Audi USA offers the course, called the Audi Sportscar Experience, at Sonoma Raceway in California and allows students to partake in a variety of sessions, including one exclusively for R8s. The course we are attending is the Canadian version which consists of a roadshow stopping in four different Canadian cites during the fall. Our stop is outside of Toronto at the aforementioned Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. Running the program is a group highly skilled and highly accomplished road racers; Scott Goodyear Richard Spenard and Frank Sprongl.
The day begins with Goodyear sitting us down and running through the premise of the school. It is designed for all skill levels, from experienced track users to novice drivers. The key techniques focused on are being smooth, confident and expanding forward vision. Of course, Audi wants people to experience the driving feel, acceleration, braking and handling of the brand’s latest products; the point of school isn’t just to make people better drivers, but to also sell Audis by showcasing what they can do.
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Classroom topics include the importance of setting the steering wheel and head rest to the proper heights as well as understanding a few basics of car behaviour and control. Goodyear has the students push the car so they can experience understeer and oversteer as well as feel how much the electronic systems are in play managing the cars direction and tire contact patches. Modern cars have so much technology built in that they compensate for a lack of drivers skill and allow faster and more comfortable driving. This can be both good and bad, so the school wants it’s students to feel the limits of adhesion to understand what happens if they are passed.
From the classroom, it is out to the steering and braking courses which we skip since we are on a tight timeline during this abbreviated day. After that, it is time to put the recently learned skills to the test at the autocross courses. Here two identical courses are laid out in the track’s paddock that pits driver against driver, as well as against the clock. Audi’s weapon of choice for this course is the TT-S equipped with the S tronic automatic transmission.
Having spent days upon days pounding through this tight pylon-lined course, the front tires on the TT-S are more worn out than a “yo momma” joke and look ready to show their cords at any moment. This may explain why during my fist lap I blow through a tighter bend and introduced the TT-S to a few pylons. After learning the course, a few of us are laying down what we think are impressive times, until they get obliterated by an ex-racer and a karting champion.
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From here, students head out in groups to learn some of CTMP’s trickier corners by repetitively running them over and over again. Once the instructors are assured the students have learned enough car control, it is time for some lapping session around the entire course.
TRACKING THE TDI
We begin in the A6 TDI; the most unlikely of track weapons. Powered by a 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel engine, the 4,178-lb car is claimed to be capable of launching from 0-60 mph in just 5.5 seconds. With only 240 hp on tap, it is the monstrous 428 lb-ft of torque that really gets this German sled going. CTMP is a track that rewards smoothness and momentum and after a few laps following the instructors, it is easy to forget we are piloting a big oil-burning German sedan and not a small sports coupe.
With minor body roll and ample tire grip, the A6 TDI inspires confidence and is easy to operate through quick corners well in excess of highway speeds. Not once during our lapping session does the stability control or traction control engage; exactly as it should be when driving a vehicle within its limits.
AND THEN IT WAS S5 TIME
The final session of the day for students is a repeat of the lapping they just partook in, but this time with Audi S5 coupes. Despite being down over 100 lb-ft of torque to the A6 TDI, the S5 weighs 300 lbs less, has nearly 100 more hp and features more sport orientated suspension calibrations. Our vehicles are optioned with the seven-speed dual clutch automatic which allows us to focus more on hitting our braking points and keeping on the preferred racing line. Speeds steadily increase during our session and by the end we are really moving and approaching my limits as a driver, but not necessarily those of the S5.
With the day winding to a close, we are all getting ready to leave, but Audi has one more treat for us; hot laps in Frank Sprongl’s Audi Quattro rally car. Yes, THAT five-cylinder, fire breathing Audi Quattro rally car. I slap on my helmet get strapped in as Sprongl brings the monster to life. It is hard to explain the speed and grip of this car as it is situated for any type of road surface. But even on street tires on a road course this car remains glued to the road as Sprongl bangs through the sequential gearbox. Upon exiting the slowest part of the course, turn 5B, the Quattro tops out before the back straight has even begun due to its immense power and short gearing.
While not everyone will get a ride in the Iconic Quattro, every other aspect of this course is available to students. Best of all, pricing for the Canadian event is beyond reasonable at $380 CAD for the half day session and $795 CAD for the full day. A lot of schools will charge that much and require you to bring your car to be thrashed throughout the day.
Although the school based in Sonoma will differ slightly, expect the same level of instruction and fun. For those living in Canada and the northern U.S., there is some bad news. All the events in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver are done for the year. But not to worry, the school will be back next year so keep checking their site for the 2014 schedule.
GALLERY: Audi Driving Experience
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