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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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).
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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!