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- Post is under moderationAudi returns to Le Mans
For years the German marque straddled Le Mans like a colossus. Then it left. Jake Groves leads the comeback.
Audi bailed out of the World Endurance Championship back in 2016, after a decade and a half of near-complete dominanace. Its swansong was the Audi Sport Team Joest R18, but the story began with the R8 – the R8R contested the 1999 race. Heck, even the R8 production car’s concept forebear was called the Le Mans Concept.
So, when you’re invited to Le Mans, glamping, and with the opportunity to rub shoulders with some famous people (courtesy in my case of Aston Martin Racing, not Audi), taking our R8 to one of the most famous races on the planet is a no-brainer. I’ll be the closest thing to a 2019 Le Mans entry Audi Sport will have – hell, they should be paying me for this.
Lumpy, congested British motorways and fast, clean French autoroutes generally don’t make for a particularly thrilling drive. But when you have 10 cylinders, a foldable roof and a near-continuous convoy of motorsport fans in similarly tasty cars all the way from Calais to Le Mans, you don’t stop smiling. At one point I even spend time in convoy with CAR’s James Taylor, who’s driving a Porsche 911 GT3 RS; some long tunnels allow for laugh-out-loud (and very childish) acceleration tests between the R8’s bassy midrange and the Porsche’s limiter-bouncing howls.
I arrive at the campsite with no backache (the bucket seats are uncompromising but supportive) and ready for a weekend in any weather, the R8’s supposedly paltry frunk swallowing everything from T-shirts and shorts to chunky boots and a thick raincoat.
The weekend itself proves unforgettable. I come away exhausted and temporaily deaf but it will be hard to beat watching the sunrise at Tertre Rouge, taking a helicopter ride over the track mid-race and testing my own endurance by staying up most of the night.
Then, on the misty Monday morning after, I do the whole trip back again with a similarly wide smile on my face. That is, of course, after a quick blast up and down the Mulsanne straight, sneaking a few pictures on the second chicane.
Any niggles? It’s a small one, but plenty of recent new Audis have an updated version of Virtual Cockpit that looks cleaner and comes with some cool graphics – something the A1 hatch gets but this facelifted supercar doesn’t, even though the two were launched at the same time. Oh, and there are a couple of creaks coming from the instrument cluster – again, not a dealbreaker, but evidence of the R8’s handmade origins.
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The story so far
All style, no substance? Le Mans and back will test the R8, asking that it lug all-weather camping gear, cruise long distances and still thrill when required
+ The attention you get; engine, pliancy in Comfort; engine; topless thrills; grip; did we mention the engine?
- The attention you get; thirst
Price £152,645 (£169,120 as tested)
Performance 5204cc V10, 612bhp,
Max speed 204mph
Efficiency 20.9-21.1mpg (official), 22.2mpg (tested), 302g/ km CO2
Energy cost 30.1p per mile
Miles this month 3575
Total miles 7819
Come on Audi, GTE next year? The R8 couldn’t look happier on Le Mans tarmac
In the tunnels, the R8’s bassy midrange battles a Porsche 911 GT3 RS’s limiter bouncing howls
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- Ways to start the day come no finer: ? Naturally aspirated V10 ? Spyder for fruity country smells ⭕️ Mid-engined poise for back-road thrills No wondWays to start the day come no finer:
? Naturally aspirated V10
? Spyder for fruity country smells
⭕️ Mid-engined poise for back-road thrills
No wonder jake-groves turns up to work grinning every day with this as his More ...
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It’s a superstar supercar on the road, but how does the R8 fare on track?
Should a 611bhp mid-engined supercar make a good track car? Reading that back it sounds like a contender for the easiest question asked since ‘Is F1 more interested in the minutiae of the rules than the racing?’
KY19 NLF has, to date, proved to be a mixed bag on track. Its time has, as I write, been restricted to the first evo track evening of the season at Bedford Autodrome, but the changeable conditions provided the perfect canvas for the R8 to paint me a detailed dynamic picture.
The first half-dozen laps were on a wet track and it took two laps of the Autodrome’s 3.8-mile GT circuit before the first strokes of feedback appeared, allowing me to pick out more detail on what was going on beneath me. Which on a greasy track and a set of Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres struggling to generate any heat, wasn’t a great deal.
Entry to low-speed turns had the front end struggling to find any grip, the steering taking on a lightness that mimicked the City steering setting on a 1999 Fiat Punto. And yet the R8’s quattro drivetrain doesn’t struggle on the exit when you start to feed in the V10’s power – unless you’re reckless with the throttle, that is, then there’s plenty of shuffling and slipping to manage, although this isn’t too much of an issue because the R8 comes to you when it starts to get squirmy.
Mid-speed corners in the same conditions eradicate a large portion of the front-end vagueness on entry, but the transition from grip to slip and back to grip mid-corner isn’t as clearly telegraphed as you would hope for in a car with a 5.2-litre V10 positioned between the bulkhead and rear bumper. It takes a steady throttle and Guinness-smooth steering inputs to avoid a spiky mess of slip when you’d much prefer to be parallel to the circuit’s edge.
It all comes together in the high-speed stuff. Which is reassuring. When you need the utmost commitment from the R8’s front end, you get it, the Pilot Sports finding purchase through the layer of grease, the steering coming back to you, the chassis chatting away. When you need the full processing power of Audi Sport’s engineers, the R8 delivers terabytes of data to your palms and backside.
As conditions dry, the R8’s low- and mid-speed performance up their game, but strangely on the drier surface, at higher speeds, within a handful of laps you feel you’ve experienced everything the R8 has to offer. It feels a little synthesised, a sensation that could be down to our car’s optional #Dynamic-Steering and adaptive dampers, two components that have proved themselves to be great companions on the road. This sounds like a perfect excuse for me to try a non-Performance R8 without such features on track, as per the example that triumphed in our 911 group test in issue 262. Away from the track, the R8’s ability to switch from a supercar that will force your eyeballs out of their sockets when you use as much of its performance as you dare, to a car that could rival a Continental GT for suppleness, refinement and comfort, is showing it to be more at home on the road.
Date acquired April 2019
Total mileage 4423
Mileage this month 1075
Costs this month £0
mpg this month 18.7
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