Win on Sunday, sell on Monday
We’re at a buck eighty or so, the mighty 610-hp engine in the 2017 Audi R8 V10 Plus bellowing right behind my shoulder blades as I peel off the front chute. Grenade the carbon-ceramic brakes, and waltz the squirming coupe down the funnel into the sharp left-hander that begins the iconic road course at Daytona International Speedway. Seventh back to third, almost as quick as you can count it. Off the brakes and dive for the apex. The Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires are a little hot and greasy, and pressures have zoomed from 33 psi to 46-44 psi, but there’s noticeably more grip at the front end than in the old car.
Hard on the gas as the road opens up. Fourth, fifth, straight-lining the kink as much as possible before standing on the brakes again. I keep the car straight deep into the turn, flick the left-hand paddle twice, then swing right for an apex that’s almost behind us. There’s more room than expected on the exit, though, and after riding with Dion von Moltke, who drove an R8 LMS racer here in the 2016 Rolex 24 At Daytona, I know I can mash the gas pedal right at the clipping point. The tail gently drifts wide but is easily tamed by a touch of countersteer.
In the R8 LMS, on slicks, the left-hand sweeper ahead is flat in fifth, no problem. In the road-going R8 V10 Plus on street tires, it’s like you’re defusing a bomb. I feather the throttle on the entry then start squeezing on the gas well before the apex, taking great care to be as smooth and gentle as possible. Get it right, and the R8 will hit close to 120 mph (193 km/h) before the braking point for the long, looping right-hander that heads us back in the direction of pit lane. Get it wrong, and it’s a long, terrifying ride across the grass.
After the looping right, the next left-hander takes us out of the infield and back onto the NASCAR tri-oval. It’s a tricky turn, mainly because not a lot can be done about the initial understeer other than to be patient and wait until the corner radius opens out and you sweep up and on to Daytona’s famous banking. There, the horizon tilts and a wall of bitumen fill the windshield as the Audi hunkers down and gets on with the program: 130, 140, 150, 160 mph (209, 225, 241, 257 km/h), the digital tach dial flashing red in my peripheral vision as the 5.2-liter V-10 approaches its 8,850 rpm rev limit in fourth, fifth, sixth gears.
The Audi snap-rolls off the banking like a fighter jet, and we’re on the bus-stop chicane two-thirds the way down the back straight almost before I know it. Hard, hard, hard on the brakes—the 15-inch front, 14-inch rear carbon-ceramic rotors might seem like $10,000 USD worth of overkill on the street, but here they’re worth their weight in gold. I borrow another von Moltke trick here, keeping the Audi tight on the first apex but letting the second one breathe a little and hugging the right-hand side of the track more than seems natural at first. On race day, says von Moltke, this keeps the car out of the marbles that scatter to the left. But it also makes it easier to straight-line the third and fourth apexes and build speed more rapidly as we head back out onto the banking.
The 5.2-liter V-10 redlines in sixth gear not long after we come off the top banking. Snick the right paddle. Seventh gear, right foot buried, and the mildly banked curve at the peak of the tri-oval looks like a wall ahead. I float the car gently to the right then gently back to the left as we flash over the start-finish line at more than 180 mph (290 km/h). Then it’s hard on the brakes, and the dance down to the turn onto the infield section starts all over again.
Last January in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, one of world sports car racing’s blue-ribbon events, the Magnus Racing R8 LMS driven by John Potter, Andy Lally, Ren Rast, and Marco Seefried did this 703 times on its way to a class win at the wheel of their factory-backed R8 LMS. The R8 LMS is Audi’s contender in the burgeoning GT3 category for production-based sports cars, a category that boasts cars from 13 different manufacturers, including Aston Martin, Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, and Porsche. And, says IMSA CEO Scott Atherton, it’s more production than most, having fewer allowed variations from bone-stock specification than almost any other car in the field.
In fact, says R8 project manager Alwyn Watkins, an affable Canadian of Welsh descent who now lives in Ingolstadt, Germany, about 50 percent of the parts in the LMS and the 2017 R8 V10 Plus road car are shared. Watkins says the engines are absolutely identical apart from the flange that allows the race car engine to be bolted to a sequential-shift transmission instead of the seven-speed dual-clutch that’s standard in the road car. Oh, and the race engine has less power—585 hp versus 610 hp—because of a mandate from the GT3 rule makers.
The R8 LMS engine can therefore run a full race season with no more than the normal maintenance the regular road car engine requires. “With 585 hp in race spec, you’re not running that motor at its full potential,” Watkins says. “Plus it’s a motor that has been around a few years now. We’ve got all the teething issues out of it. The race teams benefit from the millions of miles of basic durability testing the factory requires before a car is released for production, and the benefit the road car gets is that the race teams are flogging the piss out of the engine for 24 hours. You can’t do that anywhere else. You never get this sort of dynamic movement, the shaking and the vibration you get from racing, in regular road car testing.”
One hot lap. That’s all you need to know the 2017 Audi R8 V10 Plus is the real deal, a proper sports car that’s more than just a loud exhaust and sexy silhouette. Loosen up the engine, bed in the brakes, scrub the tires (the Pilot Sport Cup 2s are part of a $6,000 USD optional wheel/tire combo you can order from the dealer), and in showroom-stock condition, right down to the brake fluid, it’ll run a lap of the iconic Rolex 24 at Daytona road course within 10 seconds of its race-face sibling’s qualifying pace. And the R8 LMS, remember, has grippy slick tires, way more downforce, and is lighter, thanks to the two-wheel drive format that’s mandated in GT3 racing.
Win on Sunday, sell on Monday. It’s an idea as old as the automobile. And it still works.