- 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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- Post is under moderationCAR Audi R8 Spyder V10 END OF TERM
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It’s farewell to our drop-top supercar – and its magnificent #V10 . But will we miss having an R8 as a daily driver?
Knocking about in a drop-top supercar for half a year is likely to sit pretty high up on any petrolhead’s bucket-list. Running an R8 Spyder was, of course, a brilliant experience – one I may never be lucky enough to repeat. And with the Spyder’s £129,990 base price taken up to £167,740 by options such as carbonceramic brakes (£7700), the gloss carbon exterior styling pack (£4900) and the Sport Plus Pack (bringing Audi’s three-mode magnetic adaptive dampers, Dynamic Steering and a sports exhaust, for £3500), this R8 really was deep into supercar territory. But before I get into the many reasons why it was such fun, there are a few (decidedly first-world) irritations I want to air.
My first complaint relates to the attention a car like the Spyder gets out on the road. Mostly the waves and the thumbs-ups and the friendly comments are all quite fun, but what I could have done without was the steady stream of morons who were determined to lure me into a street-race on motorways and dual carriageways. I’m no saint, and there will be drivers out there who’ll have vivid memories of a bright red projectile firing off into the distance, but mostly I just let them go.
You could spot these bargain-bin Brian O’Conners a mile off. They’d approach at speed, then suddenly stand on the brakes when they clocked the R8’s extra-wide rump. They’d sit behind for a little while, too close for comfort, before pulling alongside. I never looked over to make eye contact, instead fixing my stare on the road ahead. From here they might circulate the car once or twice, or sit in front of it, or even flash their lights to try to get my attention. After a short while, once they’d realised there was no sport to be had, they’d disappear, probably to recount to their mates the time they roasted an R8 on the A43.
Then there was the fact that a car such as this one stands out wherever it’s parked. I was always nervous about leaving it out on the street overnight (living in a city, I had no other choice), a concern that was realised one morning when I found the driver’s window had been smashed. Unless you happen to have secure parking wherever you go, I suspect that underlying nervousness is, sadly, part of the supercar ownership experience.
There were a few annoyances relating specifically to the R8, too, notably the fixed-back bucket seats (a £3000 option), which I’ve written about far too often already, and the width of the thing, which made certain car parks hell to navigate. It also needed a quiet-start function, as my poor neighbours will attest. Does this all sound a bit moany?
Perhaps it does. Regardless, in just about every other sense, running the Spyder was utterly brilliant.
How could it not be? I always smiled to myself when I caught a glimpse of it. I made a point of dropping the little window behind the seats on every single journey, no matter how tedious, and stretching the magnificent engine all the way around to the 8500rpm red line, with the exhaust in sport mode, just to let the V10 howl flood into the cabin. There’s no better way to start the day. Or finish it, for that matter. I suggested when the car arrived that this exercise would be more a case of living with a whacking great V10 engine than running a particular car, and it’s certainly true that the motor dominated the entire R8 experience.
Once the weather improved, sometime in March, I could actually use the car as its maker intended by getting the roof down. I found that quite a calming experience. I wouldn’t drive the car particularly hard with the hood lowered, but instead would stroke it along and enjoy the sounds and the smells and the fresh air. It isn’t often you can use 533 wild horses to their full potential on the road, so having something to enjoy about the R8 at moderate speeds was a massive boon.
The car averaged around 23mpg, with high-20s just about achievable on a long, steady run. It didn’t need a service during its time with us, but it did need a fresh set of Pirelli P Zeros (just over £1000 fitted) soon before it went back to Audi. Smashed window aside, the R8 didn’t once let me down in any way – which, of course, is how it should be.
One final thought. Having run a bona fide supercar as my everyday car, I’m not certain I’d be in a hurry to do it again. Not because the R8 was in any way taxing – given its massive performance and handling ability, it was actually very easy to use – but because I wouldn’t want to normalise what is actually a very special thing. I think I’d keep the supercar for weekends and driving holidays. After all, eating steak every night would soon wear thin.
Date acquired November #2016
Duration of test 6 months
Total test mileage 9667
Overall mpg 22.8
Costs £1048 four tyres
Purchase price £167,740
Value today £120,000-135,000
Left: Prosser took the R8 to north Wales for a farewell drive. Where better to enjoy that mighty, 533bhp V10 one last time?
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