Breaking the banks at Daytona
Primland is big enough, remote enough to have its own private network of roads. It’s a tempting distraction, but we’re ready to go by dawn, piling into cars and then a private jet, a course set for speed.
It’s a quick flight to one of the most storied, most daunting places in all of motorsports.
Daytona International Speedway is one of the places where the R8’s 203-mile-per-hour top speed gets tested regularly. It runs in racing trim at the 24 Hours of Daytona. That means an identical engine, and 50 percent of its parts in common with the road car.
Daytona isn’t for amateurs, and even the trained drivers in our group pay careful attention to tips from Audi race driver Dion von Moltke as we warm up to Daytona’s imposing banks in a prepped fleet of R8s fitted with racing tires and racing bucket seats.
The cars have GoPros and RaceKeeper monitors, with a crew of two watching the data stream in. There’s a leaderboard. That’s not the usual press-drive recipe—that’s a competition.
First, we take a few customary warm-up laps with an extra kink coned into the racing groove. Once we’re up to operating temperature—us and the cars—the extra cones come off, and it’s on.
It’s three laps at a time, but within a heartbeat, the R8 already feels real, and at home.
Sprint out of the pits and into the short road course worked into the infield, and the R8’s speedometer is already in the triple digits.
Slip through a pair of esses and prep for the first big right-hander. You can slip the surly bonds of grip and let the R8 slide briefly left before it hooks up, moving power from the rears to the front wheels.
Hurtle through the next left-hander, then slam on the binders. There’s a big pivot to the right, where you can open up the throttle, where the triple-digit-speeds make a short comeback.
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Then it’s on the brakes again for the big set-up—a quick, tight left-hand bank that puts you on the track where NASCAR legends have risen—and fallen.
Dive deep and put the front left tire down near the base of the bank, and let it fly. 120. 130. 140. 150. The R8 blinks up to an indicated 165 miles per hour, and that’s before the longest, biggest bank of them all.
Get ready. The bus stop is here before you know it, before you ask yourself why it’s called the bus stop. The second bank erupts, and you nudge the car with a slight steer from the right, pushing it down the bank while the throttle flings the speed higher, and higher. The car pulls ahead serenely, while I press deeper for a mile per hour or three more.
Flatten out for a frozen moment, skip another heartbeat, and the grandstands blaze by, a mosaic of red, yellow, blue, and green, ending in a flash of checkered black-and white.
That’s one complete flying lap, one top speed drifting near the 170-mph edge, one lap time under two and a quarter minutes.
That’s good enough for a fifth-place finish. The R8 has a lot more in it—but then again, the car usually does.
That’s the lesson learned, from a few hundred awe-inspiring miles in Audi’s latest supercar. It reaches for the stratosphere—but it hardly strains.