“Hi everyone, I’m Andrew, and I’m a car driving event addict”.
Don’t they say that the first step in recovery is admitting that there is a problem?
So you can appreciate that when OpenRoad Audi invited me to this year’s Audi Driving Experience, I graciously accepted. As it turns out, OpenRoad Audi had reserved the entire session for only their customers only, just so that they would be able to get more friendly with their client base. I love it when a company goes the extra mile to build its community!
In its 3rd year now, the Audi Driving Experience has proven to be a show stopping event. With four premium professional driving courses in Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto, all participants can expect a truly memorable experience with world class hospitality and professionalism all under the watchful eye of event boss Chris Bye.
It would be an understatement to say that the driving instructors here just have racing experience. In fact, not only do they have experience, but a great track record of podium wins too.
For the day, our amazing lineup of Audi Driving Experience instructors included Scott Goodyear (of “Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame”…uh..fame), Antione Bessette, Jeff Boyce (former factory development driver for GM’s famed Corvette racing program), and Daniel Morad (2010 World Karting Champion, 2007 Formula BMW USA Champion, 2008-2009 Team Lebanon driver in the A1 GP series). All of our instructors were full-time driving coaches and manufacturer representatives, so this was something they lived and breathed everyday.
My day started off with Audi spokesmodel Mandy Ross at the registration area. What a treat it was to meet her! After signing the obligatory waivers, I was ushered to a catered lunch in the drivers’ lounge side of the Audi tent. There was a huge assortment of hot food, salad, deserts, and various beverages.
Smiling servers were all too happy to load up my plate with the selections of the day. I was careful not to overindulge knowing full well that there would be higher than normal g-forces that I would have to endure later in the day!
After lunch, all participants were moved to the classroom session side of the tent. Scott Goodyear took the stage and gave us the run of show for the day.
As I later found out, not only is Scott a nice guy, but also the pro driving spokesperson for Tire Rack’s Street Survival teen driving program. It goes to say that he is a huge believer in educating young drivers when it comes to more driver training in order to reduce the number of road accidents.
Since we were in a safe environment and under the guidance of the pro drivers, Scott instructed us to feel comfortable in pushing ourselves past our comfort zones. In other words, wear out Audi’s brakes and Pirelli’s tires to learn what the car feels like when it is about to lose traction in various scenarios. He likened it to pilots practicing in flight simulators so they would know what to do in emergency situations.
Scott explained that because the Audi Driving Experience is open to the general public and not just for Audi customers, many of the participants who go through the day come from all walks of life. Many do not even own Audis, but rather, are there because of the high level of instruction and the opportunity to experience the cars in a controlled environment with guidance. They all leave hopefully as better and safer drivers, with the added bonus of being impressed with the Audis anyway.
“The proof is in the pudding” as the saying goes, so it is safe to say that the Audi Driving Experience works as a huge boon to Audi Canada as potential customers can move past the glossy marketing materials and really test drive the first rate engineering that goes into the cars for themselves.
The stars of the show
The day was broken up into various modules designed to focus on different areas of driving.
Our exercises for the day included:
1) An autocross section with the Audi TTS
2) A driving oval section with the Audi S5
3) A drag strip and slalom course with the Audi A6 TDI.
The Audi driving experience wouldn’t be an experience without ending in style. For that, Audi had arranged for hot laps in the passenger seats of either an RS5 Coupé or Cabriolet with pro drivers Jeff Boyce and Daniel Morad behind the wheels.
And just to see how exhilarating (or sick) we got, the hot laps were captured on video as a reminder of our day! More on that later.
More about the facility
The BC Driving Centre is a purpose-built driver training facility in Pitt Meadows, British Columbia, Canada.
The facility features 550,000 square feet of freshly paved, airport-quality asphalt to accommodate all driver training needs, from autocross courses to collision avoidance exercises.
Drag Strip and Slalom Course
My drive time for the day started with the Audi A6 TDI on the drag strip and slalom course.
Directed by Scott Goodyear and Antoine Bessette, this course consisted of two modules. A side-by-side drag race with another A6 (counted down with an authentic drag-strip lighting tree), then finishing off with a slalom section ending with an ABS braking stop box.
Equipped with 3.0L 240hp direct injection turbocharged V6 diesel engine with 428 ft-lbs of torque, I was impressed by the level of noise isolation from within the A6’s cabin. But even from the outside, the Audi’s diesel engine is a far cry from the noisy Ford F350 diesel engines of yesterday. Self-regenerating soot filters ensure the lack of plumes of black smoke emanating from the exhaust pipes.
Like many turbo diesel engines, the A6 TDI starts off with a bit of turbo lag from a dead stop. But when the boost kicks in, the wave of torque that arrives pins you back into your seat. The engine pulls like a train all the way to its redline (or around 125 km/hr on the drag strip).
In the slalom section, Scott provided us with feedback via in-car radios as we were driving. The big Audi hung onto wet road thanks to Quattro all wheel drive. But its handling was clearly biased to safe understeer if pushed too hard while dancing with the cones. This is still a heavy midsized luxury car after all.
In my humble opinion, the A6’s interior was by far the best of the trio of Audis we had at our disposal for the day. From the beautiful black open-pored wood lined with silver inlays to its soft leather, the interior just exuded quality everywhere. I was particularly impressed with the clarity and resolution of the heads-up display, which rivaled that of the BMW X5 that I wrote about a few weeks ago. The MMI interface’s navigation graphics have also got to be one of the best in the industry.
I came away impressed not only with its interior, but also with the A6’s agility and technology. My only major complaint was the overboosted steering assist which didn’t improve much in Dynamic mode.
This module is more aptly described as “chase the rabbit”. Under the guidance of Jeff Boyce, the exercise starts with two Audi S5’s being placed on at opposite sides of the oval from each other. One at 12 o’clock, the other at 6 o’clock.
Both cars set off at the same time, and the more precise you are with steering, throttle, and braking, the easier it is to catch up to the other car. It quickly became a game to drive as smoothly as possible, paying attention to proper weight transfer while choosing the most efficient racing line.
As with the previous exercise, Jeff provided immediate feedback via in-car radios, helping us to improve our understanding of driving lines, car control and weight transfer while at the limit of adhesion on the wet pavement. In the S5, if you get on the power too quickly after the apex, and the car tends to run wide off the course as with most all-wheel-drive cars.
The key to the exercise turned out to be, 1) taking the corner wide, 2) braking hard, 3) turning in late while trail braking (thereby allowing for weight transfer to the front wheels and more grip), 4) being patient on when to feed in the throttle, 5) Squeezing hard on the throttle pedal when the steering wheel was almost back to centre lock.
With its torquey supercharged 3.0L V6 engine with 333 hp and its supportive Recaro seats, the S5 was my favourite car of the day. Thankfully after the halfway point, Jeff had us reverse direction on the course to prevent dizziness from the repeated centrifugal forces!
This oval course also turned out to be my favourite driving module of the day.
With Daniel Morad’s go-kart championship winning experience, it was truly appropriate that he was instructing us for this driving module.
The course was laid out as a twin-coned parking lot solo II-style autocross course. One driver would compete against another on the mirrored track layouts.
With 50/50 weight distribution and a curb weight of only 3219 lbs (versus the A6’s 4178 lbs), the TTS was a nimble featherweight of a car. Perfect for this exercise, which focused on looking at where you wanted to go and low speed maneuverability.
With the rain drenched asphalt under our tires, proper entry speed into the corners was even more crucial or the TTS would understeer at turn-in. Ever wonder why people hit curbs in the real world? This is one of the reasons.
I was also surprised by how easy it was to get the TTS’ rear end to step out if too much throttle was added (before ESP steps in). But get everything right, and the TTS proved to be very “go-kart” like in this tight course.
The only letdown for me was the slightly dated interior (compared to the A6 TDI’s), and the TTS’ gearbox. It clearly didn’t like aggressive inputs on the throttle or brake torqueing from a dead stop. There was a noticeable delay between throttle application and thrust, unless the stability control was turned off – something we were instructed not to do.
Just as with the dragstrip and slalom exercise, the course ended with an ABS stop box. It was amazing how many drivers completely under estimated the amount of stopping distance required on wet pavement.
Every single person overshot the stop box by at least 1 car length the first time round, including myself. Once again the real world application of the Audi Driving Experience was clear.
The cherry-on-top to end off a fantastic day was the chance to ride shotgun with either Daniel Morad or Jeff Boyce in the pair of RS5s.
The hot lap melded all 3 modules of the day in an all-out sprint around the BC driving centre in 100% attack mode. Here we really got to see the talent and skill of the instructors (Daniel Morad in my case) despite the wet weather.
Rather than try to describe the experience, I figured that I would let the pictures and videos do the talking.
Forgive my Cheshire cat grin for the entire hot lap and get yourself signed up for the next Audi Driving Experience when it comes into town the next time. You won’t regret it and neither will your passengers!