Friday, January 18, 2013

Whack an R8!

Text by: Victor Photos by:Victor 

It all started at around 5:48pm on Saturday 5th January when I pulled up in my rental car (a 1.8 Nissan Tiida, thank you for asking) at the Dubai Autodrome, where I would experience the thrill of the Audi R8 V10. 

I bought the "Audi R8 V10 thrill" experience online and as I walked in, quite nervous, I felt the chilling breeze of the A/C failing to calm my nerves. I walked towards the reception counter with excitement-induced goose bumps and somewhat stutter to the receptionist: “I'm… I'm here for the, eh... The R8 experience…” 

The receptionist looked at me as if I had just asked for a Big Mac at Burger King. I suddenly felt as if I was at the completely wrong place and that I wouldn't get to drive the R8 today. I somehow knew that this was going to happen all along, but before I broke down in tears, she replied with a smile: "Oh you're Victor? Read and sign this waiver please". I quickly skimmed the wavier, which contained all the usual stuff: we’re not responsible… Blah blah blah… Break this and you owe us your kidney, etc... I scribbled a smile face at the bottom of the page and next thing I know I was in the briefing room. 

The briefing started with instructor Neil Wilson giving us a short introduction of himself and what we will be doing. He informed us that we would be driving around the "club circuit" which is 2.46km long. He then put on a short video that went through the rules of the racetrack and what the colour-coded cones that are put along on the tack mean. Red cone was race-track code for BRAKE! Blue cone was code for STOP BRAKING AND START TURNING FOR CHRIST SAKE and yellow cone was simply a yellow cone marking the apex of the corner, a target we should come as close to as possible… enjoy!

Once done with the briefing, we were stuffed into Hyundai minivans (too irrelevant with the R8 experience to remember what model, as one could have simply walked there…) and taken to the mighty R8s that were lined up in the pits next to the track… 

And there they stood, behind three large steel doors yanked opened with the help of industrial-sized chains, three Audi R8 V10s, black red and grey, ready for action. As you might already know, the Audi R8 V10 features the same 5.2 litre V10 fitted in the Lamborghini Gallardo LP560 only with slightly less power, 520bhp rather than 560bhp, and sports a 0-100 run of 3.9 seconds rather than… well who cares about the Lambo, we're here for the R8! 

Next to the R8's are three Audi TT 2.0 turbo. These were the cars we would "start" in. We hop in the TT's with our instructors behind the wheel and hit the track. As I was driven around, the instructor briefed me a little more on how to take the corners and made sure that the cars were nicely warmed up for what was to come. 

After 3-4 laps it was time to hop into the driver’s seat. Neil, my instructor for the day, came from South Africa, and was a seasoned racer with 16 years of racing experience. He told me to take it slow and easy the first lap to familiarise myself with the track. By a huge coincidence, it turned out that he worked for Falken Tires with the Formula Drift team in Singapore, where he ran into the guys at 9tro, where I started out my days of car journalism as a witty intern. 

Bonding done and my first lap finished, I had gotten a somewhat feel for the car and asked Neil for permission to go faster, to which he simply replied: go for it! I start pushing the TT's 2.0 litre turbocharged engine hard. I noticed that Neil suddenly went quiet. Was surprised by my heavy right foot, or just too busy praying to remember to talk? I got a quite positive response from my laps in the TT, and after three laps Neil asked me to drive into the pits. It was time… Time for the R8! 

 As the sun set, I hopped out of the TT and felt my neck hair rise out of excitement. I went toward my grey R8, jumped in, and tried to remember how my seat and steering-wheel setup was supposed to be for the track according to the briefing. Knees and arms bent, steady firm grip on the steering wheel… Once set, Neil gave me the clear to hit the track and suddenly, I was struck with a feeling that I completely forgot how to drive… 

Once I regained my sanity, I put the R8’s 520 stallions in gear, and start driving. It was actually happening - I was driving an Audi R8 V10 on a track! How awesome! And listen to that grunt… 

I was quite restraint of the throttle at the started, but Neil encouraged me to push the R8 harder, which of course, I did! I immediately felt how well-balanced the car was and how superbly the all wheel drive system coped with the 530Nm of torque around the corners. And whenever it did let go, it was just so manageable. I was surprised that such a powerful car could make me feel so confident. As if it was teasing me to push it even harder. 

Then it was time, the straight! The 1km long straight! It was finally time to put the lead that I had been accumulating in my right foot for years to good use. Naturally, I floored it. Neil went back into silent mode, I could see in the corner of my eye how he was peeking at the speedo. I was also quite curious of what speed I was doing but I was too focused on the track, let’s just say it went really fast. Within seconds, the straight had come to an end and a hard right turn appeared out of nowhere, was that there before? I see the red cone, my brain somehow remembers: BRAKE! And then the blue cone, TURN FOR CHRIST SAKE! Clip the apex, sharp turn complete. Heart racing, adrenaline flowing, and three more laps to go! 

The second and third laps were quite similar, only I started becoming more and more confident about the car and track. Still, I tried not to get too cocky as I know being overconfident usually ends up in one big fireball. Suddenly, it was the final lap! I clipped those corners, hit those breaks, took time to recognise a smell that was unmistakably fried clutch and then it was the last corner, followed by - the straight! I floored it and once again saw Neil peeking at the speedo. In what felt like the blink of an eye, the straight was over, followed by a hard right turn that came out, once again, of nowhere. I saw the red cone, hit hard on the brakes and Neil told me with one single sigh of relief: “you hit 235km/h there!” To which I replied: “yeah I saw that! What is the fastest you've been around here?” I ask, Neil replied: “240km/h”. We laugh. 

I drove into the pits, with a grin up to my ears, hands shaking from adrenaline, and I could only make one though clear in my head: AGAIN!!!

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