Monday, February 11, 2013

An Experience Like No Other: The Audi Driving Experience

There are track days, and there’s the Audi Driving Experience—a track day unlike any other, allowing mere mortals to flog cars with more than 500 horsepower on a race track. The Audi Driving Experience is a carefully crafted immersion experience into the world of Audi and everything the company stands for, namely: performance engineering.

Seeing, let alone, driving precision crafted cars such as the S8, TTRS, or R8 GT are stuff bucket lists are made of, and you are normally required to fly off to faraway countries such as Germany, North America, or if you’re lucky enough, Malaysia to sample them. Thankfully, no plane ticket was necessary as the Audi Driving Experience made its way to the Philippines. Audi distributor, PGA Cars, Inc. brought this one-of-a-kind experience to the Clark International Speedway, and for four days, transformed the humble circuit into the playground of the muscular and the powerful.

The four-hour event is designed for people of every ability level and is filled with everything from technical briefings, street drives, autocross courses, and of course, racetrack driving. All in all, it’s designed to introduce people to Audi’s performance car range. Audi takes the Audi Driving Experience very seriously, and has experts, product specialists, and dedicated professional drivers on hand to give one-on-one coaching. And of course, Audi and PGA Cars’s legendary hospitality come standard as well.

As the shuttle arrived shortly after eight in the morning, the Clark International Speedway was a sight to behold: around 30 cars, representing Audi’s line-up, were parked on the circuit’s main straight, looking as if they were ready to pounce and rocket to the horizon. Seemingly leading the charge was Audi’s newest compact, the A1 Sportback. This is followed by the A4, A6, Q3, Q5, Q7, S6, S7, S8, TTRS, the crème de la crème: the R8 GT and its drop-top sibling, the R8 GT Spyder.

After countless photographs and admirations of the R8 GT’s bare carbon fiber details, guests were ushered into the air conditioned hospitality suite. The program started with a short briefing which provided some basic track driving basics: the correct driving position, correct steering wheel hand position, and how to determine under- and oversteer and how to compensate for them. After that, everyone was divided into groups and the Audi Driving Experience officially commenced.

The first part consisted of Real-World Driving. A customized route inside Clark Freeport designed with a mix of straight-line roads (speeds in excess of 120 km/h were the norm), twists, turns, and busy intersections with traffic lights. This allowed people to get more familiar with the real-world driving characteristics of each car. The aim of this exercise is to get people familiar with the interior design, ergonomics, and amenities of each Audi vehicle before hitting the track. Guests were even encouraged to swap cars during the drive to get acquainted with everything from an A6 to a Q7. Of course, in the end, everyone discovered that no other car can rival Audi’s ability to combine versatility and performance without compromise.

The Real-World Driving served only as an appetizer to the Audi Driving Experience’s first course: Autocross. With everyone now more familiar with the functions of their Audi, it’s time to emphasize the “track” in track day. Two autocross courses were laid out, the first highlighting Audi’s responsive handling. With a choice of the A4, A6, or Q3, participants went through the slalom course highlighting the need to have precise steering inputs as well as the correct hand position on the steering wheel. Thanks to a patient instructor, each participant was rewarded with a smooth and accurate passage to the next exercise: emergency braking maneuver. The key in this exercise was proper application of throttle and brakes (as well as smooth steering movements). However, that was easier said than done when the Audi Driving Experience’s weapon of choice in this exercise was the 520 horsepower S8. With a 0-100 km/h time of just 4.2 seconds, this 650 Nm beast hammered you with g-forces while you had to avoid pylons at the end of a long straight. Thankfully, by going through the complex maneuver again and again, things became second nature.

After finishing the Autocross, it was finally time for the main course: Track Lapping. Taking everything learned from previous sessions, it was time to attack the full length of the Clark International Speedway in both the S6 and S7. Equipped with a 420 horsepower, turbocharged V8 engine and Quattro all-wheel drive technology, this pair combines a seemingly endless stream of power with precision control. On one hand, the S6 is a statement of stature, sophistication, and sportiness while the S7 is a design-forward statement even when standing still. However, on the track both the S6 and S7 were phenomenal with amazing levels of performance. Paced by either a 360 horsepower TTRS or 560 horsepower R8 GT, lapping the circuit became the ultimate test of car and driver. As the skills and comfort level increased, so did the speed. Soon, everyone appreciated Audi’s deep engineering and uncompromising performance and speed. And as the dessert for the entire experience, several slots were raffled off for a “taxi ride” around the Clark International Speedway in the S6, TTRS, or R8 GT Spyder by the professional instructors.

The day certainly went by so quickly and before you know it, everyone was departing from the Clark International Speedway. Although the Audi Driving Experience lasted just four hours or so, the drive and the time spent going there was well worth it. The highly structured program and mix of both theoretical and practical lessons proved to be the ultimate takeaway. For Audi owners, it managed to give them a better understanding of their cars and the high-levels of engineering built into each one of them. For the rest including prospective Audi buyers, the Audi Driving Experience gave an exclusive look into Audi’s performance, precision, and innovation.

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