Lapping it up on a dream Audi drive
I love it when dreams come true. I still remember the first time I saw the Audi TT when it arrived on the scene in 1998. Those moody curves were just gorgeous, sexy but not vulgar. I wanted one so badly.
The years came and went, dreams largely unfilled until recently I found myself at Ruapuna Race track, my hand gently caressing the pitch black high-gloss bonnet of a TT RS2.5 TFSI Quattro ($137,900) and being told to get in, it was my turn to drive.
First up was a briefing on how to assume the correct driving position from Audi's chief driving instructor, Tim Martin. If I thought I could just jump in and jam my foot on the accelerator, I was wrong.
Martin patiently took me through everything including how to sit properly. "Stretch your hands over the top of the steering wheel. Your wrists should rest on the wheel with your fingers hanging down," he says. "Your legs need to be bent enough so that you can slam on the brakes with as much power as possible."
I've obviously fallen into a bad slouchy, stretched-out habit because the seat needed moving forward and up. I'm not allowed to turn the steering wheel with the palm of my hand.
Rules in place, I'm finally given the go-head to drive and I pull off behind the lead car. Audi trainer Stu Owers, a man with four podium finishes in the Nurburgring 24-hour race, is in the front and over the radio comes his surprisingly relaxed tones.
"OK you don't need to come up so close behind me," he cautions. I rein in my inner petrolhead and listen as he gives me instructions on how to drive around the track. At strategically placed traffic cones I brake, look across the corner to the apex corner, and flow out squeezing on the power.
"It's almost slow motion with your feet," Owers says over the radio. "Look to where you want the car to go."
Next up it's a demonstration of ABS braking. I'm from the generation when I was taught to pump the brakes so they didn't lock. "Just stand on the brake as hard as you can and push your foot through the floor," says Tim. The rule with ABS is don't pump the brakes. Let loose in an Audi A4 2.0 TFSI Avant ($92,500) I'm told to drive as fast as possible to the cones, which I need to pretend is something that has fallen off a truck. I have to brake and then swerve out of the way.
It's terrifying. The thrill of going as fast as I want is tempered by the growl and power as the car springs forward and hurtles at the cones.
Seconds from "disaster" I slam my foot on the brake and a violent pulsing frightens me into lifting up my foot. Wrong. With ABS brakes you have to keep your foot down. The pulsing is the just the brakes doing their job. They stop the wheels from locking and provide the shortest stopping distance. Once I have my thumping heart back in control, I give it another go. Success, I survive being killed by imaginary logs falling off a truck and stop in just seconds.
Next up it's into the S5 Sportback 3.0 TFSI Quattro ($128,900) and time to try out the ESP. I know - all that new age stuff, who knew that car men were in tune with the universe. Turns out they're not, but they do know a thing or two about electronic stability programmes. ESP automatically applies the brakes when it detects loss of steering control and helps steer the vehicle. As I hurtle down the racetrack I have to swerve out on to a water-covered lane before I hit the cones - yet another imaginary truck -and then swerve back into my lane and brake.
Another rush at the cones and I discovered ESP really does know what the car's thinking. Sensors on the vehicle's suspension monitor speed and steering angles. It applies the brakes to individual wheels to keep the car under control.
Our next ride was in the Audi A1 ($47,500) - just have to say, so cute. This is the car for nipping around town. It's grunty, powerful, sounds good and has a presence. Sadly I take out a row of cones in a misjudged cornering manoeuvre and my time is bad.
When Martin and Owers judge that we've practised enough, we're two laps around Ruapuna as fast as you wanted to go in the Audi R8 5.2 FSI Quattro. Funny how people lose their sense of humour around expensive cars. "So if I scratch my name on the car do I get to keep it," I said hardly expecting to be taken seriously. "That's a $296,900 car," came back the growl.
With Stu in the passenger seat I roared out of the pit lane, heart thumping. The stream of driving tips running through my head could hardly keep up with the car as we roared into and then out of corners and then clocked 170kmh down the straight. And just to keep things in perspective, Stu then took me for a hot lap around the track. This time I was in the passenger seat. I stopped looking when I saw the speedo creep past 220kmh and just gave myself over to fate, relishing the thought of how cool it is when dreams come true.
Ask at your Audi dealership about having your own Audi Driving Experience.