The Audi Driving Experience

Believe it or not, being a member of junk-mailing lists, in particular those targeted at consumers of high-end "lifestyle" products, can be good. Being a close friend or relative of a person on those lists can be even better. This second approach has gotten me past the door of a surprising number of product launches, luxury car test drives, and top-shelf whisky tastings, usually in the company of my cousin Torm, whose tastes are somewhat better funded than my own and whose addresses are in somewhat wider circulation. But it was this October that Torm, my friend Jay Wilson, and I headed south to the Homestead Speedway to participate in the ultimate free-of-charge luxury-goods marketing event: the Audi Driving Experience. Click on the link to read more and be prepared to accept that all Audi requires from you is a driver's license and the flimsiest pretense of being richer than you actually are to stuff your head into a helmet and set you loose on a racetrack piloting several hundred thousand dollars worth of powerful machinery.

After a brief classroom lecture from a professional race driver (a native of Puerto Rico ragged on by other drivers thus: "You're from Puerto Rico - that's not called racing, that's called running from the cops!"), our session split into groups of six and headed out to our first mounts of the day, a line of Audi A6s, for a high-speed lane change exercise. Much rubber was lost to the atmosphere and many cones mashed flat before we were through with this one - but we all eventually made it through cleanly and at much higher speeds on our first tentative run.

This first test allowed us to relax a bit, so amazed we were not to have embarrassed ourselves, so we headed on to a slalom course brimming with confidence, to try out the Q7, the A8, and the A3 wagon. A widely spread comparison, this. Of course the A3 was the fun choice here, but you can have a lot of fun pushing SUVs and luxury sedan to their somewhat sloppier limits as well, and the rough pavement in this section of the infield made for a bit of a challenge in any of the cars if you were already driving in a spirited manner.

Next we climbed into a group of A4s for another lane change exercise; this time we were instructed to sink the brakes to the bottom as a soon as we entered the test section. I don't have much to report on this, as our attention was pulled away by the gleaming convoy of S5s streaking around the oval track to our left. This is the main event: high-speed runs around part of the oval and an infield road course section, driving in a convoy headed by professional rally driver (and occasional drifting competitor) Stephan.

We were outfitted with helmet and head-sock (the head-sock we got to keep - that is NOT the sort of thing you want to put on your head after it has already soaked up a gallon of someone else's sweat) and took our places in manual transmission S5s, which at 354 horsepower is, I believe, the most powerful car I've ever driven. Those poor souls (only one in our party) unable to drive manual were given tiptronic Audi TTs for the test, and each car received a 2-way radio through which the professional in the lead car issued our instructions. All we had to do was stay 3 car lengths from the car in front of us and follow the same line as the leader; the better we executed these rules, the faster the overall convoy would go. Unfortunately, we only made it to 125 MPH or so, due to some sloppy driving from the car in front of mine (which received many admonishments from the stern Stephan), although I'm told that the convoy hit 140 or even 150 in other sessions. But no matter - at these speeds I didn't have a chance to look at the speedometer anyway!

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