I’m on a mission. A conversation got a little out of hand after a couple of wines, and next thing I’m defiantly claiming that ‘one day’ I will drive the Nurburgring in under ten-minutes.
For starters, I have no idea if under ten is an impressive time. But when someone challenges me to do something, I often get a little fired up.
To make this happen I need to improve my driving skills and clock up a lot of hours on a track. Don’t get me wrong, I have not decided I want to be race car driver when I grow up, in fact this project could take me years.
The Audi Advanced Driving Experience is my first point of call. It is similar to an advanced driving course I completed last year with Driver Dynamics but adds a bit more speed and technicality as well as track based exercises such as understeer and oversteer, and a motorkhana competition to the schedule. Plus I get to drive a number of different models from the A and Q ranges.
I arrive at Sandown Raceway in Victoria around 8am. This is a customer day, not an event designed for media, so over a light breakfast I get to mingle with Audi enthusiasts who are all excited to be there and keen to get behind the wheel. Another highlight is the chance to meet race driver, engineer and automotive commentator Steve Pizzati, Audi’s head driver trainer.
As you could imagine, letting a bunch of punters loose on a race track in cars collectively worth hundreds of thousands of dollars is a risk. The safety briefing goes over the activities for the day, as well as what we need to be careful not to do. Showing off is a no-no, and as the day goes on it becomes apparent that at least one of the participants thinks he’s a cut-above the rest of us.
He has a scare though during one of the activities and is lucky not to have done any damage to the car. Needless to say, he drives with a bit more focus on technique and less stupidity for the rest of the day.
The aim of the day is to explore Audi’s safety technology including electronic stability control and the anti-lock braking system, and learn the limits of both car and driver. We’re split into groups and work our way through the various tasks.
I have to admit, this scares me. I’ve never lost control on a corner, and never been in a crash (touch wood) but I have to trust that if I follow the instructions I’ll be fine. As Steve says: “relax”.
A water truck is brought in to soak the track to make it slippery. I plant my foot on the throttle and build up speed before turning sharply in to the corner and braking heavily. The aim is to experience it with traction control on, then off and feel the difference.
I’m top of my class for this one! But I think my commitment to the cause may have made my driving partner a little nervous.
Oversteer versus understeer – it’s a lot simpler than it sounds. Oversteer is when the car turns more sharply than the amount of lock you have on the steering wheel, understeer is when it doesn’t turn as much as you’re trying to and your line is straighter than intended.
An exercise demonstrating the anti-lock braking system is next on our agenda. We will swap between the Q5 and A8 models, accelerating until the requested speed is reached, then maintaining it before slamming on the brakes when passing the first cones to engage the anti-lock braking system. ABS allows you to retain control of the steering, by locking then unlocking the brakes quickly. The car feels like its shuddering, which can be startling the first time you experience it and you may think something’s gone wrong – but rest easy, that’s the car doing what its supposed to.
We work our way up to a full ABS stop at speed – with no hands on the steering wheel. Do not try this at home.
We also navigate around the cones that represent an obstacle while ABS is fully engaged. It really helps you appreciate just how much control the car has, and how much control you have over the car in what would be a highly stressful real-life situation.
Next up is the slalom. It looks simple, as all we need to do is thread our way through the line of cones, trying not to squeal the tyres or knock any over.
One by one we line up and take our turns in the A7 and Q3. The laps are timed, and again I’m pretty sure my driving partner thinks I’m a crazy lady – and I earn the dubious nickname – The Cone Killer. I need more practice at this one. Smooth steering, braking and acceleration are the keys and I’m not quite getting them coordinated.
The final challenge is a motorkhana. The course involves a slalom, tight turns, and a full ABS stop at the end.
There’s a very different feel to the way both cars drive in this scenario – the A1 Sportback feels light and spirited while the TT feels sturdier through the turns.
This time most of the cones survive and though I clock some good times I’m just off the pace and miss out on a podium finish.
During the day we also get to do laps of the circuit, led by one of Audi’s driver instructors. We follow his lines and I start getting an idea of just how much is involved in judging when to brake, turn the steering wheel and get back on the throttle when cornering.
As the group relaxes and builds confidence, the trainer increases the speed. I manage to tip over 180km/h on the straight and am happy with that for now.