Originally published July 30, 2015
The 2017 Audi R8 offers two power levels from its 5.2L V10, 540 hp and 610 hp in the Plus. I’m really not quite sure what you would do with those extra 70 hp away from a track. Granted, the Plus also adds a carbon-fibre wing and other goodies, but holy smokes, the standard 540-hp V10, serving up 398 lb-ft of torque as well, is quite ballistic enough for anyone sharing the road with Corollas, F-150s and semi-trailers.
I guess you’ll just have to take it to the track. Conveniently, we happened to stumble upon just such a track after touring the Portuguese countryside for a lovely and gut-wrenching drive. At times it felt like we had to suck in our guts or squeeze like the Knight Bus to make sure we could get by some of the heavy lorries coming the other way on Portugal’s B-roads.
But we made it and refreshed ourselves with coffee, shaved ice and, of course, Portuguese egg tarts, before hitting the track. Oh wait, it’s dark out. Well, maybe we can still sneak a few laps in… But really, Audi shipped us out here and unleashed us in the R8 specifically so we could experience the full potency of its Plus-sized engine, its laser-sharp reflexes and its stunningly bright laser headlights. All at once. At night. On a track. Which I’d never driven before. A little crazy? Perhaps… Um, yeah, definitely crazy.
But like they tell you in the self-help books, never argue with crazy. (Do they say that? I never read self-help books, so I’m just making that up.)
So, after some quality time in the standard model on regular roads, and then a hot lap being brutalized by one of Audi’s factory drivers, Rahel Frey, in the previous-gen LMS car around the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve, in Portimão, our turn had come. We settled into the heavily bolstered sport seats, covered in stitched, quilted leather, no less, and got our driving position just right. The bright red start button nestled in the steering wheel beckoned, and we fired up the mid-engine V10, but kept it in a fairly conservative Dynamic mode (there was a further Track mode we will get to later), but all safety nets on.
That other time, with the speeding ticket: Test Drive: 2014 Audi R8 V10 Plus
Away we went, the sun having dipped below the horizon some time ago, and only a hint of dusk blanketing the distant hills. Following a safety car, with its light bar and flashing hazards, it was impossible to get lost, and the undulating track snaked up and down the dry dusty hills with blind crests challenging the car and driver to hold on, and deep dips compressing the car and giving greater turning traction than expected. After two exploratory laps, just as Robby and Bobby require, they waved me through to go charging around on my own. Um, no. I waved down my safety car driver and dragged him out with me to continue the stream of track notes as the laser headlights pierced the gloom, picking up the reflection off the cones marking braking, turn-in and apex for every corner, but the early mild turns lull you up to greater speed than is advisable, and without an expert warning, I’d have gone sailing right through the tricky double apex that sneaks up on you unsuspecting near the end of the circuit. It’s all a blur of cones, reflection strips and piercing bright headlight, my bravery giving out before the braking zone after a straight and leading into a hairpin.