If you could choose one Aussie race track on which to drive an Audi R8, picking anything other than Phillip Island would mean you’re missing out on something special.
Which is why I was pleased to discover that’s where I’d be heading to participate in the Audi Sport Driving Experience.
The one-day program costs $1500 and grants access to the best cars in Audi’s range from RS3 to R8, and a lot of feedback from professional race drivers, present on the day as instructors.
Usually you’ll find the likes of Steven Johnson, Dean Canto, Luke Youlden, or Garnet Patterson at the wheel of your guide car, helping you be your best and fastest self.
I should point out that I was particularly lucky on the day I participated in the course – only two other people were in attendance, meaning we essentially had one-on-one coaching with Johnson, Patterson, and Chris Pither.
MOTOR review: Audi Advanced Driving Experience
Also present, as always, was Steve Pizzati, racer and professional driver who hosts and heads up the Driving Experience program, and is set on making drivers as good as they can be.
There are plenty of chances to pick his brain about driving, and anything else car-related you might want to ask – as long as you don’t mind a bad (in the best way) joke here and there.
Anyway, before lapping the track in Audi Sport’s fast metal, we had a morning of honing our skills and pushing quattro’s capabilities to the limits.
In an RS6 and an R8 – yes, the first exercise involved a V10 supercar – we practiced last-minute ABS swerving, driving at up to 100km/h and following a direction from instructors to turn left or right into a marked lane with very little time to react.
The purpose of this, aside from the driver training element, is to show the capability of Audi’s cars.
Audi absorbs much of the cost of running its Driving Experience into marketing expenses, so it makes sense that it wants to show off how good its cars can be – especially when only $3000 is helping Audi pay to hire P.I, more than a dozen staff, and run its fleet, as was the case on this particular day.
Next up, a bit of sliding was in order. In RS6s and RS5s, the two paying attendees and I were directed to switch off all the electronics and deliberately swing the rear end out in a 180-degree turn on the wet skidpan, then try to hold the slide to avoid spinning.
Sliding an AWD V8 wagon is more fun than, but also harder than you’d think - at least that was what I found. Driver training is a good eye-opener when it comes to discovering your own limitations.
The last exercise for the morning was an emergency lane-change, without time to brake before an obstacle. Picture it like you’re driving along an 80km/h road when a car pulls out in front of you suddenly, but it’s only one lane each way and there’s a car coming the other way. Except all the cars are cones.
With the exception of a couple of cones knocked over by someone who wanted to push the limits a little (which is exactly what this day is about), we all managed to avoid colliding into the imaginary cars, owing to the fact that even a 2-tonne wagon can be nimble enough to get you out of a sticky situation.
After lunch – which has been of excellent quality at both Audi drive days, by the way – it was time to hit the track for some laps.
Riding shotgun with Pither and Patterson a few times between laps was a good way to see exactly where the lines and braking zones are, though once you’re in your own car it becomes more of a judgement of your own skill, where the guide drivers are happy to hold back a little if you play a corner safe.
After finishing the Audi Advanced course and spending the morning getting to know the RS range, confidence was high enough to properly tackle The Island, starting with the RS5, and working through the whole range of other cars present (RS3, RS6, TT RS, and of course R8) until I had lapped P.I. almost 20 times, all the while threatened with heavier and heavier rain.
There’s not much that’ll get your blood pumping more than braking hard at 240km/h in the rain with another car in front of you.
Finally, to wrap up the day, a quick competition in the form of a timed wet motorkhana let us put our skills to the test, traversing cones in an RS5 and TT RS, trying to tackle the slides and resulting traction control that come with driving hard in the wet. The good news here is that everyone in attendance ended up on the podium.
For $1500 (plus the $999 for the Advanced program, a prerequisite for the Sport day), the program strikes me as hard-to-beat value. You come away a better driver, with advice from some of the best drivers in the country, and you get to drive the fastest Audi has to offer at Australia’s best permanent circuit.
If you can afford the cost, it’s something you won’t regret.