Last week, Mazda hosted D.C.-area journalists at a luncheon to…
It’s early. The coffee has barely had time to wake us from our zombie state.
Our hosts give us a brief overview of the day ahead and proceed to lead us outside. That’s when we spot a row of five unmistakably beautiful R8’s parked in order of patriotic color and vehicle type. We see blue, white, red, white, and blue again. The white ones, we learn, are the 2017 Audi R8 V10, while their colorful counterparts are of the more powerful V10 plus variety. We knew we’d be driving them on the track, but we didn’t realize we’d get to drive them to the track. No, this was not going to be a bad Monday at all.
Driving to Monticello
By 7:00 am, we had departed the quaint Bedford Post Inn heading northwest to the Monticello Motor Club. An hour-and-a-half journey would give each of us a taste of real life with an Audi R8.
The clouds cleared up just in time for our everyday excursion with the R8. Bluebird skies and bright sunshine lit our pathway. The ebb and flow of commuter traffic along small suburban streets seemed to be more palatable when seated inside the R8. Controls within arm’s reach, music filling the cockpit, the mezmerizing gurgle of the 5.2-Liter V10 nestled behind me, and the virtual cockpit displaying 12.3 inches of the world around me. What more could a car gal need?
The R8 V10 is more than a supercar, it’s a worthy companion along byways and highways. “We like to refer to this car as 50 percent racecar, 100 percent Audi,” says Jeri Ward, Vice President and Chief Communications Officer, Audi of America.
With hands at 9 and 3, twists and turns were a welcome detour from the stoic interstate. The R8 V10 plus, paired with Audi’s new rendition of quattro, transformed even the most mundane on-ramp into an imaginary loop on the track. Massive carbon ceramic brakes were my saving grace each time I realized how easily this Audi approaches triple digits.
The 2017 Audi R8 truly focuses on the driver. You instantly feel at one with this car, never fighting against its power. As we neared Monticello, I became more and more eager to break away from the posted speed limits. I restrained myself; I knew we’d get to witness the car’s full potential in just a few more moments.
Being of average height and above average enthusiasm, I spent most of my seat time in the R8 V10 plus, which comes stock with minimally adjustable lightweight seats for racing. My more petite colleagues, however, required the additional flexibility from the R8 V10 power seats, so they rode in a slightly more plush setting.
You might think it unusual for a woman of average height to describe her automotive journalist colleagues as petite. You’d normally be right. But, this time, none of my male acquaintances were present.
Audi brought together an intimate group of influential women in the automotive world to experience the most powerful production vehicle the brand has ever made. Oh, and we’d be getting to know the R8 V10 on the racetrack. Now, isn’t that something.
Some may say it’s biased or unfair to have an event sans men, but I think it’s fantastic. I love my male counterparts — don’t get me wrong — but there is something magical about the mood when women come together on the track. There are no world records for speed to be set. There are no egos. There’s not even any competition. If anything, women could use an extra dose of confidence behind the wheel in this setting, and I tip my hat to Audi (Lexus, too) for giving us the opportunity.
Taking the wheel
Anytime one ventures onto a virgin raceway it can be a nervous thing. While I had spent time a Willow Springs, VIR, Summit Point and Chuckwalla, I had not driven Monticello before.
Our fearless leader would be Lea Croteau, a professional driver whose love for speed sprang from skiing in the Alps as a child. Simply put: Lea was amazing. She was calming, patient, and gave us each a boost in our capabilities.
Lea took the entire group out to describe the course to us. Miraculously, no one was fighting to be the first car behind the leader (normally the best position for following the appropriate line), so I jumped in. I found myself again inside the R8 V10 plus. I adjusted my seat to accommodate a slight bend in the knee and comfortable position of my left foot against the car’s support. I inched the steering wheel toward me until my elbows had a nearly 90-degree bend. Mirrors: check. Helmet: check. A/C: turned on the lowest setting. Deep breath: check.
Here we go.
Exiting pit row, Lea sped confidently ahead so that we could read her lines and trail in her tracks. Like a dancing dragon at a Chinese New Year festival, we bobbled through the course one after the other. Each car looped around hairpin turns and attempted to be brave at the straightaway. I did my best to stay with Lea. We went around three times before she picked up the pace.
I’ve found, in these settings, it’s best to take it nice and easy as you’re learning the course. Study each turn in, apex, and exit carefully while your speed is low. As a musician, this concept is familiar to me. Yes, I can read the notes on the page, but if I want to perform the music correctly, I must take it slow until I can play the song a tempo.
As if playing a well-practiced run on my violin, each round of Monticello Raceway became smoother, cleaner. My rhythm as the pilot of this 610-horsepower chariot became more harmonious with the rise and fall of the road. The R8 and I performed a movement each time we went around together, and by the last lap, I felt we had made music at Monticello.