The Audi Driving Experience at The Circuit of the Americas

I like to go fast. Who doesn’t like to go fast?

Exactly how fast you get to go is directly dependent on what is sitting in your driveway and your ability to get it to a safe and legal place to drive it fast (like a racetrack). Those two factors can be very limiting to your ability of actually getting to go fast at all. But, even if all you have is a clapped out Volkswagen Jetta with an oil leak in your driveway, I have found a shortcut where you can go fast too. Like really fast, in fact, ludicrous fast.

This life hack to the ultimate chase for speed is waiting for you at one of the most premiere race tracks in the world, the Circuit of the Americas. It’s called the Audi Driving Experience at the Circuit of the Americas and anyone who is 21 years or older with a basic driver’s license can pilot a 610 horsepower Audi R8 around the exclusive race track. Yes, immediately grab a flight to Austin, Texas, and get out your credit card. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to go fast, very fast.

The Circuit of the Americas is a 3.426-mile, 20 turn, road course located near Austin, Texas. The race course has been home to the U.S. Grand Prix Formula One race since its completion in 2012. If you want to drive it, all you need to do is get out your credit card and contact the Audi Driving Experience.

When you arrive at the Circuit of the Americas, commonly referred to as COTA, right away you will realize this is a special place. This is the American track where Formula One world champions come to compete for the ultimate racing crown, and wear a cowboy hat while spraying champagne on the podium. The Audi Driving Experience is housed in a lounge above the Formula One garages overlooking pit lane on the front straight.

In the morning when you arrive you will be treated to a white tablecloth catered breakfast. This is a first-class experience. The staff will provide anything you need, a locker, water, coffee, even Dramamine. After breakfast, you will meet your instructors — professional racing drivers — who will give you a brief lecture on racing techniques. Whether you are just a driving enthusiast, a motorsports fan, or a licensed racing driver, everyone will gain something from the instructor’s advice.

There are four different driving experiences ranging from half-day to full-day, and also a formula car experience for those who want to feel like Lewis Hamilton. For the full-day R8 Track Immersion program (costing $1,850 and worth every penny) students start out in a 400 horsepower Audi RS 3 in a slalom and lane change exercise.

Before you hit the big track in the mighty Audi R8 you get the chance to hone your skills in a slalom and lane change exercise. For this practice session, you get to drive a 400 horsepower Audi RS 3. The car is a lot of fun to zip around between the cones.

Before the instructors unleash you onto the full course of the Circuit of the Americas in the Audi R8 they want to work you through some lower speed car-control exercises. The idea is to gain skills in throttle modulation, smooth steering inputs, and keeping your eyes up. Where you look is where you will go. If you look directly at a cone instead of beyond it, you will gain target acquisition and smash that cone. The point of the exercise is to avoid the cones, but sometimes that can’t be avoided.

In the slalom exercise it was okay to kick up the aggression and get as close to the cones as possible. Yes, some cones were harmed during this practice session (see the one flying behind the Audi RS 3 above), but that’s what cones are for. In the autocross segment, hitting a cone would add two seconds to your overall time.

Once students mastered the art of killing cones, it was time for some competition. The Audi Driving Experience runs a timed autocross using a turbocharged 400 horsepower Audi TT RS. The fastest student in the class earns a gift certificate for a free session of COTA Karting as well as bragging rights for being the fastest in the class.

After the slalom exercise we had a chance to compete head-to-head with our classmates in the 400 hp all-wheel drive turbocharged Audi TT RS. The autocross took us through a fun 30-second course which navigated a water hazard (where things got interesting).

The autocross gets more complicated as they add a water hazard to a slick off-camber corner. No matter how fast you want to go through the corner to win the autocross you have to give it up for the water. If you don’t, you will slide through the slippery snot and end up off-course. The trick is to let the all-wheel drive Audi do what it does best and use all four tires to navigate through the slippery stuff. A smooth, conservative approach through the water will provide big gains. Once the tires are dry after a few hundred feet, it is time to let the turbo kick in and drive aggressively again.

The autocross competition is fun, but it is just a warm up to the real fun — driving the Audi R8 V10 Plus around the Circuit of the Americas.

Our whip for pedaling around the Circuit of the Americas road course would be an Audi R8 V10 Plus with a 5.2-liter, 610 hp mid-engine. This is the exact same powerplant in the Lamborghini Huracán.

The Audi R8 V10 Plus is a real-deal supercar. Its exotic, its expensive, its mid-engined, it is fast. This is the car Tony Stark drives. Yes, Iron Man drives an R8, and you, a mere mortal, get to drive it on the same track Lewis Hamilton races his Formula One car around. If just the idea of this doesn’t get your heart racing, you must already be dead.

The Circuit of the Americas is a massive track to try to learn. With 20 turns and 133 feet of elevation changes it can be a lot to take on (especially in a 610 hp supercar). The instructors at the Audi Driving Experience were very helpful in teaching us the track in an easy to consume manner. They broke the course up into four sectors and taught us each one separately.

COTA is no autocross course. It is nearly three-and-a-half miles long with 20 turns to memorize. The back straight is so long you have enough time to make a phone call and order a pizza (although I wouldn’t recommend it). Most people have never been around this track. Knowing this, the Audi Driving Experience has developed a method to ensure each driver has the ability to master each portion of the track before the speeds begin to pick up during the day.

There were R8s for everyone! Come outside to the pit lane and pick your favorite color. The driver’s door was open and the tank was full of gas. It was time to drive an R8!

Two people are paired up to share an Audi R8 during the rest of the day and take turns riding shotgun or driving the insanely fast car. Having this information ahead of time, my recommendation is to bring a friend and buddy-up for the Audi Driving Experience. Bring a friend you trust to drive well, otherwise you may spend part of your day sucking up the leather seat cushion with your butt as the driver scares you around the fast track. You don’t actually have to ride shotgun if you don’t want (you can hang out in the lounge), but passenger seat-time does give you more views of the track and more opportunity to learn it.

The instructors break down the track into four sectors and take students through each sector one at a time, over and over again, forward and backward, until they have the sector down pat. Then students move on to the next sector.

During the sector training, where the track was divided into four sections to help learn the course, we were allowed to get out, look at the track and drive the segments backwards. This was hugely beneficial in seeing and learning the track.

Once the sector training is completed, you run the full track to put it all together. The instructor drives in a lead Audi R8 while three cars follow him around the track. The instructor uses a radio to communicate details and hints about driving the track throughout the lead-follow session so students know where to enter curves, where to apex, and where to brake. Yes, you will use the brakes, big time.

The Audi R8 V10 Plus is a car that most people won’t even have the chance to drool on at a dealership, let alone drive. With a mid-engine connected to a dual-clutch, 7-speed transmission, this car has 610 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque. It comes with carbon ceramic brakes and blasts through the quarter-mile in 10.9 seconds. Yes, I said 10.9 seconds!

After a really nice catered lunch in the Vegas-style lounge, it will be time to go fast. This is what you came for, this is what you paid for. Let the Audi R8 V10 engine roar, and what a roar it is! Ryan Connolly, the director of the Audi Driving Experience at the Circuit of the Americas, talked about the preparation of the Audi R8s to run around COTA, “These cars are stock. We run Pirelli tires and we fill the cars with pump gas. The only thing we really do for maintenance is flush the brake fluid occasionally. The car you drive here at COTA is the car you can buy from the dealership. It holds up great lap-after-lap all day long.” Audi, as a manufacturer, knows how to build fast cars that last, with 13 overall wins at the grueling 24 Hours of LeMans, they understand what it takes to engineer a car that can handle the track.

The Circuit of the Americas is a fantastically designed racetrack that has massive, paved runoff areas. Arguably the safest road course in America, it earned an FIA Grade 1 certification, which allows Formula 1 to compete on the track.

The instructor leads three cars around the track at a time and picks up the pace as the students behind him master the correct lines of the track. The track itself is extremely safe to drive at the limit, with large paved areas on the outside of the curves if a driver misses an apex or a braking zone. During the lead/follow, students really get the chance to feel the power and handling of the Audi R8. This car is phenomenal. It is extremely balanced, has power forever, and the brakes never fade. You can drive this car hard and it won’t quit (until it runs out of gas).

During the lead/follow sessions, each driver had the chance to be directly behind the instructor. In order to shuffle the group, we each had the opportunity to make a banzai pass down the front straight in order to get in the correct order for the next lap. The Audi R8 is a fantastic car that loves to go fast.

Each student will get the chance to be directly behind the instructor and try to chase him down. As each student shows his or her capability behind the wheel of the R8, the speeds increase. This is where you get to go really fast.

As the student’s showed they had the skills to pilot the mighty Audi R8 around the Circuit of the Americas and hit all the correct apexes and exits, the instructor in the lead car would pick up the pace. It was a legal car chase with 610-hp supercars with students trying to catch the instructors. Totally awesome.

Just how fast do you get to go? Well, I found 7th gear and 155 miles per hour on the back straight. That is double the speed limit in any state. The crazy part about the 155 mile per hour number was it didn’t feel that fast because the Audi R8 is such a capable car and the Circuit of the Americas is such a safe racetrack. I was concentrating so hard on hitting my braking zones and nailing the apexes I didn’t even know how fast I was going. It was my passenger, who was trying to rip the door handle off the passenger door, who notified me in a shrill of panic and excitement, “We just went 155!” My response, “I wonder if next lap I can hit 156!”

The speedometer in the Audi R8 says 144 mph, mere child’s play. Later in the session, I was able to get the car up to 155 mph on the back straight. All that speed and not a worry in the world about getting a speeding ticket.

Between track sessions, students will bring the cars back down pit lane, grab a bathroom break and some complimentary refreshments, while the crew tops off the fuel tanks. Then car partners will switch between driving or sweating in the passenger seat for the next session.

Between track sessions, while the Audis were getting fueled up with more high-octane go-go juice, participants had the chance to lounge in an F1 garage filled with refreshments. Pretty posh for a race track.

Eventually, like anything that is super fun, the party has to end. After hours and hours of track time the Audi Driving Experience has to come to a close. But, not before one more task: Instructor Drives. Each student gets the chance to ride shotgun with an instructor/pro driver who will drive the Audi R8 like it was designed to be driven: hard.

The final fun for the day was instructor rides where the pro drivers showed the participants how it is really done around the Circuit of the Americas. The rain came down at the end of the day, so students got the chance to see what Quattro is all about as the instructors expertly drifted the Audi R8s around the rainy wet course.

Each day ends with a little award presentation for the fastest autocross competitor and some beer and warm soft pretzels back at the second-floor lounge. This is an opportunity for participants to bench race with one another and ask the instructors any final questions about the track, their driving, or the Audi products. In the end, everybody got the chance to go fast.

I attended the R8 Track Immersion program because, like most participants, I wanted the chance to pilot an R8, but I also attended the event because I wanted professional instruction on the fastest line around COTA. I saw the Audi Driving Experience as a great way to get some track time for a reasonable price before I attended the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) National Championships at COTA September 13-16, 2018. As you can see HERE, it must’ve worked!

There was no way I could rent the track and tow my car to Austin, for what it cost to play at COTA with Audi. Plus, I had pro drivers giving me inside information on the best line for the best time. Either way, my experience with Audi and COTA is one I won’t soon forget. My recommendation: Get there and do it!

About the author

Rob Krider

Rob Krider’s mantra is “Race Anything, Win Everything” and is a multi-champion driver who currently competes in the NASA Honda Challenge series.
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