By Alistair Weaver
DRIVING contributor Alistair Weaver climbs into an Audi R8 supercar and heads to Snetterton circuit in Norfolk to continue his assault on the Caterham Supersport Championship
IT’S TERRIFYING to admit that I’ve been roadtesting cars for nearly twenty years. I started at University and joined Autocar as a waif-like twenty-one years old in 1998.
Since then, I’ve driven literally thousands of cars and it’s fair to admit that sometimes, I’ve got it wrong. I thought the facelifted Vauxhall Vectra I drove back from Denmark was OK (it was crap) and I told my boss that the Citroën Xsara VTS was a decent hot hatch (he just shook his head).
Last year, I also said that Audi had bottled it with the launch of the second generation R8, but I was wrong – it’s one of the best cars I’ve driven in a long time. Without a supercar badge to fall back on, Audi’s engineers have just set about fashioning a great car that works on so many levels.
Let’s start with the noise. It’s a subjective thing but for me, the Audi has a shrieking, guttural appeal that few cars, certainly no McLaren, can come close to matching. It’s loud — obnoxiously so according to some residents of Suffolk — but it makes a huge contribution to the R8’s visceral appeal. The R8 feels special at 30mph in a way the the McLaren 650S I took to the Anglesey race does not. Given the emissions-led trend towards turbocharging, one suspects this will be the final throw for this engine. Enjoy it while you can.
The drive from London to the Snetterton Circuit in Norfolk can be achieved via the M11/A11, but that’s just dull. Take the A120 east then the A134 towards Sudbury and you stumble across some great driving roads. Here the R8 felt genuinely super in a way the Audi TT sports car never can.
“True to Audi’s values, it’s far from intimidating to drive but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. . . and it is brutally fast”
The old R8 was a fine car, but the newcomer is appreciably better – in the way that it steers, turns and despatches British blacktop.
The ride is uncannily good even in the more aggressive of the drive modes, but this is never at the expense of body control. The steering, too, has an impressive breadth of response without feeling fidgety. True to Audi’s values, it’s far from intimidating to drive but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun, whatever your level of experience.
And it is brutally fast, which is handy in Suffolk, the county that’s home to the worst drivers in the country. Everyone subscribes to the 40mph club – on the open road, through villages, past schools, everywhere. It’s like autonomous driving, but with real people behind the wheel.
In such an environment, 601bhp is most welcome. Forget the academic 0-60mph time (3.2sec for the record), it’s the mid-range wallop that really impresses. Third and four gear are just mighty and the quattro four-wheel drive system does an astonishingly good job of deploying the thrust. The flappy-paddle gearchange is great too – you’ll change down just for the aural pleasure.
The rest of the car is classic Audi, by which I mean exquisite taste, beautifully executed. The interior is a haven of minimalism with everything focused on the digital dashboard. The visibility’s good and for a mid-engined supercar, it’s reasonably practical. The front boot is supplemented by a shelf behind the seats which gets more useful the shorter you are.
“It looks too much like the old version. Audi should leave gentle evolution to Porsche and grow some balls”
What’s not to like? Not much to be honest. It’s a personal opinion, but I still reckon it looks too much like the old version. Audi should leave gentle evolution to Porsche and grow some balls. It’d be nice to see a manual option too and it’s a shame that by dropping the V8 version, Audi has taken the R8 out of reach of many potential customers.
My series of supercar drives has inevitably created lots of banter in the racing paddock. Many of my fellow competitors have serious toys in their garage and it was fascinating to watch their reaction to the R8. It didn’t get the same attention as the McLaren but there’s plenty of respect for what it represents and everyone loved the noise.
Me? I like the intelligence and self-confidence of choosing an Audi supercar rather than feeling the need to boost one’s ego with an exotic badge. The Yorkshireman in me also likes the fact that at £132,715, it’s nearly £90k cheaper than the 650S. Forget the same again styling and revel in what is genuinely, a superb car.
Snetterton is probably my least favourite circuit. It’s flat and fiddly and in Caterhams, the racing tends to be quite processional. I was disappointed to qualify 14th out of 35 cars, but I was only a second off pole around a 2.99 mile lap, such is the competitiveness of the Supersport grid.
An eventful first race saw me hit from behind and punted off the circuit, but I was able to battle back to 13th. Race 2 was less dramatic and a 9th place finish saw me bag some points.
The next round is at Oulton Park in Cheshire on August 13th. Fast, flowing and bit dangerous, it’s my kind of circuit.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015