There are a number of ways you can get yourself onto a racetrack, but sometimes they mean plenty of blood, sweat and dollars to bring your own car up to code.
That’s not always the case, though, because a handful of car brands in Australia offer track events for owners, as a way of keeping buyers in view and who are thinking of maybe upgrading to the newest high-performance model.
Of course, there’s also the opportunity to showcase the full capabilities of performance models in a less restrictive environment than a typical road drive might allow.
Audi does something similar, but rather than just inviting current Audi Sport owners along, the Audi Driving Experience is open to the public. You can sign yourself up for a day of car-control exercises, or a day racking up laps on the track, all with highly qualified tuition from some of Australia’s premier race drivers.
For 2021, the Audi Driving Experience program returns after 2020’s proposed tour was stomped on thanks to the grip of coronavirus restrictions around the country.
Some of the details of this year’s program are a little different, with an eye to attendee health and safety, but the program seems no worse for it.
To showcase what’s on offer, Audi invited CarAdvice to Phillip Island for a slightly abridged tour of the program at the legendary Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit. There are few better backdrops you could hope for.
Under the normal ADE agenda, the drive days are categorised into two classes.
The Dynamic program uses a range of Audi’s RS models and covers car-control exercises like emergency braking, skid control and slaloming.
On the surface it might look a little basic, but in reality there’s plenty of fun to be had behind the wheel, exciting cars to do it in, and quite a lot to take on board with Audi’s pro drivers offering heaps of tips and tricks.
For the media experience we started in RS 6 Avants, and hit a wet skidpan for some power-oversteer action. I held low expectations, as Audi’s tried demonstrations like this on previous Driving Experience days in various cars, and they usually stick stubbornly without an absolute expert driver behind the wheel.
No such issue. With a hulking twin-turbo V8 up front, and up to 800Nm ready to churn the wheels into a frenzy, getting the big wagon to shake its tail with stability control off is one big, giggly hoot. Plus, you get a couple of goes at it to really maximise your slide angle.
For the purposes of comparison, you also get to have a go with electronic intervention in place. The results are far less entertaining, but show exactly how useful stability control can be if things get out of hand.
If you’d like a more track-focussed experience, the Audi Sport Pro day puts you on the circuit, with one-on-one coaching to help you get the absolute best out of your time behind the wheel.
This is big fun, and the R8 is a monstrous and awe-inspiring car to do it in.
Unlike previous years, instead of climbing through the program in steps, the 2021 program allows you to participate in either program with no prior learning required – as long as you meet Audi’s entry requirements for age and licence-holding.
Because the media day was managed a little differently, the R8 never passed through my hands – but other cars were available, including hot laps in the RS Q8. It probably wouldn’t have been my first pick owing to its weight and height, yet once out on the track, the hulking RS Q8 surprised with its stability and speed.
On a more typical Driving Experience day, you’d tackle emergency stops in a car like this, and the mammoth 420mm front brakes clamped by 10-piston callipers are sure to impress.
The much lighter and more lithe TT RS also got a spin out on-track – right as Phillip Island’s legendary weather turned very damp, and the track progressively became wetter and wetter.
Still, rather than calling a halt to proceedings, Audi’s seasoned instructors used the opportunity to explain where and how the line changes, and how outright speed takes a back seat to keeping things shiny side up.
Even with all of that, and following the driest line of the track, there was no shortage of speed in sections and white-knuckle corrections on some parts of the circuit.
Into the mix, Audi also turns on a pretty satisfying light breakfast and buffet lunch for your price of admission – though I would caution you to go easy on both to keep your stomach settled. PI is a fast track, g-forces from quattro cars are prodigious, and the weight you save by not having a second helping could be the key to shaving valuable tenths of a second off a lap.
Some of the cooler stats for the 2021 ADE calendar are a 23-car fleet with a value over $5.5 million, and with 28 drive days scheduled for this year’s tour, over 600 participants will get to hone their skills in three states.
By this stage, though, it means you’ll need to be quick. Around 90 per cent of the available slots have been booked, but if you’ve got a spare $1250 burning a hole in your pocket for the Dynamic program, or $3500 for the Audi Sport Pro package, the experience – while not cheap – is sure to be memorable.