2010 Audi R8 V-10Enlarge Photo
"Silver car -- slow down, you're off your line, missing turn-in points right and left. Take it easy and let the speed come to you."
I wondered whether that admonition was directed at me. There must be other silver Audi R8 5.2's on the track besides the one I'm driving.
Maybe the instructor is chiding someone else. Might as well try to push a little harder and see what this car can really do:
Coming out of a tight right turn onto a short straight, I downshift to second gear, which is unnecessary because the car's 5.2-liter V10 has more than enough torque in third for strong acceleration out of this turn. Still, I'm trying to push the limits here. So I let out the clutch and squeeze the throttle to 80 percent, staying on it longer and braking later than before.
Everything fades but the view ahead, the exhaust shriek, and a sense of euphoria.
It seems an instant before it's time to take the next turn -- another hard right. I lift off the gas and roll on the brakes. The car instantly and smoothly transfers most of its weight to the front tires.
I'm still going too fast to make the turn. On its current trajectory, the $146,000 R8 is headed straight toward a small gravel trap flanked by stacked tires. Behind the tires is a concrete wall.
Beads of sweat rise on my forehead as I press the brake pedal harder. The tires squeal; the R8's rear end shimmies.
And that's the extent of the drama.
The R8 slows down well before the track stops and gravel starts -- although way past the optimal turn-in point. It tucks neatly into the turn, and immediately my eyes are hunting for the track-out point.
What kept me from skidding off the track -- besides having the presence of mind to keep the front wheels straight while panic braking -- was the Audi R8's fantastic handling dynamics and electronic traction aids.
This car is so easy to drive fast that even pros, let alone novices like me, risk getting lulled into pushing beyond its limits. Two-time Le Mans-winning Audi driver Allan McNish almost did that day.
He was at the press event to help promote the R8 V10 and give a lucky few journalists screaming rides around the track. After one particularly blazing lap, I heard McNish facetiously say to a small group of admirers that he nearly lost control when exiting the front straight onto the banked uphill turn that sweeps to the left.
It was hard to miss that moment from pit lane: The deep blue R8 fired down the straightaway like a bullet, followed by the sound of wailing tires reverberating off the grand stand as the car entered a four-wheel drift into the uphill turn.
Two important lessons stand out among the many during that day of intense driving: 1.) Heed the advice of experts and "let the speed come to you," rather than trying to drive too fast too soon; and 2.) Beware the car that makes you feel like a pro racer -- it will stroke your ego all the way up until the point you exceed its limits.