At the Audi Sportscar Experience, you learn, laugh and drive on a famous race track at a gorgeous setting with instructors who are professional race car drivers. This is program teaches vehicle control in Audi’s superb performance cars with driving exercises and track time on the fun and challenging Sonoma Raceway, formerly known as Infineon Raceway and Sears Point. The cars used in the exercises and on the track are the TTS coupe, the S5 coupe and S4 sedan. The nimble TTS is rated at 265 horsepower and the S4 and S5 are both 333 horsepower.
The beauty of using Audis, besides being a factory program, is the predictable handling, the safety factor of all-wheel drive, and the immediate comfort and brilliant layout of controls. You get a nice taste of speed without the distraction of excessive horsepower. The cars are fast, but not at the scary level of “holy cow!” where time for acclimation is needed. Since not everyone can drive a manual, let alone heel-toe downshifting, the 7-speed dual clutch automated transmissions can either be left in auto mode or paddle shifted for a more engaging experience.
First class accommodations greet the attendees with a continental breakfast and lounge right on the hillside between turns one and two. A “chalk talk” starts the activities with an overview of the vehicle and a discussion of safety. With a participant to instructor ratio of 4 to 1 with two occupants per car with a two-way radio for instructions, it is a very personalized learning experience with plenty of helpful repetition for learning.
One group drives a slalom course with cones and a braking zone in the TTS’s while the other does a braking, turn-in and corner exit exercise in the S4 and S5. These are especially critical to the curvy Sonoma Raceway. With multiple instructors utilized for each exercise, feedback is detailed and extremely helpful with repeated runs for each driver. The brake/turn/corner exercise was done following an instructor who set a fast pace while instructors standing nearby observe from the outside. Instructors were primarily driving 450hp RS5 coupe
Following a short break, it was time for the much awaited track session. Steep hills, frequent high-g turns and blind apexes make it for a laughter inducing joy-ride as a passenger and a seriously awesome driving experience. The track is tight with frequent turns and minimal straights. It is a driver’s track and makes you appreciate the extreme concentration yet absurdity of racing multiple cars on it. The fact that the Audi’s “handled” it so well is a testament to the engineering of them.
A brief shuttle ride in the Audi S8 and S7 flagship sedans to the nearby Ram’s Gate winery was a gourmet treat. Between servings of the scrumptious lunch, we shared stories with fellow attendees from all over the US and Canada. Some were on a motorcycle trip, a couple on a wine tasting trip (hint ladies – bribe your man with this day at the track), a guys trip to wine country and others. The instructors including Greg Liefooghe, Matt Bell and lead instructor Jeff Sakowicz talked racing as well.
After lunch it is back to the track so that each participant is able to drive each model at speed. The instructors know the track so well that they critique using their mirrors while setting a tire-squealing and sometimes rear end rotating pace for the followers. It is very impressive, indeed. Talking with your co-driver/passenger also contributes to the observation and learning process. Turn 6, also known as, “the carousel” was the author’s favorite. It is a fast, long, downhill left-hand turn that pushes the car to its limits with a drifting full throttle exit.
After a very full 6.5 hours, we conclude with a Q&A session, a survey, a certificate of completion and Audi Sportscar Experience hats passed out. Audi has this dialed in perfectly. It is an ideal destination location, excellent cars and top-notch instruction. This Audi Sport program is only $1,195. Put it in your vacation budget wherever you are.
Not only is track time in the sport models available, but so is an off-track driving experience for scenic drives in Sonoma county with instruction and photo opportunities. For those seeking higher speeds, more detailed instruction and skill development; a multi-level R8 program is offered. Past experience in the R8 V8 has proven it to be a wonderful every-day exotic with neutral and forgiving manners combined with extreme capabilities accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack. No matter what you drive, the Audi experience at Sonoma Raceway should be on your driving and vacation list.