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Lord of the rings: Audi’s R8 GT flat out in the UK

  1. This story started badly. I can tell things haven’t gone
    well, because approximately one hour after first stepping into the new Audi R8
    GT, I’m curled uncomfortably in a semi-foetal position in the back of a police
    car having a painful conversation with two police officers. Neither look happy.
    Mind you, I probably don’t look particularly Timmy Mallet either.

    “Is that… vehicle… your car, Sir?’

    He nods to the R8 GT gleaming menacingly in the lay-by, the
    Audi rings skulking under the broad blade of fixed rear wing. The massive
    exhausts look a bit like gun barrels. Big ones. 

    Words: Tom Ford
    Photography: Joe
     Windsor-Williams

    This article was originally published in the December issue of Top Gear magazine

  2. “Er, no, not as such, it belongs to Audi.”

    “I know it’s an Audi, Sir, but who is the car registered to?
    I notice that it has a German registration.” I hear the tiniest hint of
    accusation on the word ‘German’.

    “No, no, that’s what I mean, it belongs to Audi. It’s a
    press car. From Germany.” I add, for some reason pronouncing the word ‘Germany’
    in a cod-German accent, so that it comes out something like ‘Jah-man-ee’. I am
    a moron. The officer fixes me with a gaze you could poke through sheet steel.

    “So, Sir. How fast do you think you were travelling around
    that roundabout?”

    “Er. Er… I’m insured
    through the insurance!” I stall, trying to remember two things, one, which
    roundabout he’s talking about and two, what the speed limit is on roundabouts.

  3. “Er. About 60mph?” I venture, with the absolute knowledge
    that while not taking the mickey, I’d rather not incriminate myself beyond
    plausible explanation, anger the nice policepersons and end up getting sexually
    abused by a crackhead in some filthy holding tank. It’s at this point I think I
    may have been watching too many US cop shows; we are in Cambridgeshire, and the
    likelihood of either crackheads or holding tanks is fairly low.

    “I think not, Sir.”

  4. What follows is a fairly frank discussion. While I was doing
    nothing very badly inappropriate, a bright orange mid-engined sports car making
    noisy double-blip downchanges around A1 roundabouts at 2am on a Tuesday
    apparently rings alarm bells in the minds of traffic cops.

    They thought the R8 was nicked, and presumably heading to a
    rendezvous with a container ship somewhere near Grimsby. The fact that this
    particular R8 GT is on German plates, is covered with carbon-fibre go-faster
    bits and has a visible roll-cage obliterating the rear view didn’t, apparently,
    help. Eventually I’m ejected from the back of the police panda and allowed to
    continue my journey, with a few choice words of advice ringing heartily in my
    ears. Better than a camera? I think so. I literally crawled the rest of the
    journey, the R8 GT straining underneath me like a greyhound trapped in a bag.

  5. Still, a few hours of kip, a cooked breakfast and three
    coffees later, and I can tell you that Audi’s new R8 GT is not, as the name
    might suggest, a bloody GT. I know this, because after a 10-hour schlep to the
    ankles of Scotland, my thighs are bruised from being wedged into a lightweight,
    non-backrest-adjustable bucket seat and my internals are still vibrating in
    time to a chassis and damper arrangement stiff enough to turn your kidneys into
    a nutritious meatshake. When I stopped for fuel, I unfurled from the driver’s
    seat, flopped onto the forecourt tarmac like a broken marionette and squirmed
    my way erect. Compared to the eminently everyday R8, this is a spiky, angry
     thing.

  6. Then again, it’s supposed to be exactly that. The GT is the
    product of pressure from existing R8 buyers who decided that a more focussed
    version might well be an absolute hoot. So Quattro GmbH, Audi’s performance
    arm, decided to draft in the knowledge base garnered from the R8 LMS racing
    car, and make a road and track-day racer with a bit more bite than a standard
    Audi R8 V10.

  7. Job done. As soon as it turns a wheel, you can feel that
    this is a much stiffer chassis set-up than standard - springs and dampers wound
    down, a lower ride-height, the car shrink-wrapped around the FIA-spec roll
    cage, part of the ‘Racing Package’ that includes a fire extinguisher, fuel-pump
    kill switch hidden in the ashtray (plus an external one nestling in the lee of
    the windscreen) and four-point race harnesses. There are no inertia-reel belts
    hidden in the B-pillar, so you best get used to the associated faff at petrol
    stations and pee stops: sense of occasion, yes, practicality and day-to-day
    usefulness, no.

    So it’s a bit hardcore then, which means we had to go
    somewhere equally spiky to see what it could do. That is why I find myself
    droning my way up the A1, the M6, through the Trossachs and toward the Isle of
    Skye. It feels like a very long bit of motorway to get anywhere pretty.

    Photo: kill switch hidden away in ashtray

  8. Suffice to say that the GT doesn’t make touring particularly
    pleasant, though it’s worth noting that it doesn’t bounce or smash into
    potholes so much as feed into them with extreme prejudice, and that the
    standard R-Tronic six-speed robotised manual has a dawdling, anachronistic
    automatic mode. It also has satnav and a Bose stereo, something I wasn’t
    expecting in a car with seatbelts that prevent you from reaching either once
    you’ve got your bottom properly strapped in. But still. The Highlands await,
    and as the motorway peters out and the roads start to become more interesting,
    tiredness announces itself with a yawn that makes it look like I’m trying to
    swallow the steering wheel, so I head to a nearby hotel for more sleep.

  9. The next morning and up before dawn to have a proper look at
    the car. Sunshine has levered open the sky to reveal brittle bits of seemingly
    dead stuff nailed to the Scottish distance. Nothing seems very happy, life and
    light groaning their way into another day. This is not the bouncy sunshine of
    the Mediterranean, or the oozing goldenness that slides into the Caribbean,
    this is hard-fought, irritated daylight whose harsh glow is squeezed out of
    the horizon like the last dregs of solar toothpaste from the tube of the
    universe. Morning is forcing itself out of bed with a hangover.

  10. Even the R8’s Samoa Orange metallic paint looks subdued,
    bookended as it is by accents of carbon. On the outside, there’s a large carbon
    rear wing, a double-lip carbon front splitter, carbon sideblades and vestigial
    winglets on the corners of the front bumper. Any chrome is ditched in favour of
    matte grey, and, though the orange pops spectacularly in bright sunshine, when
    the day is overcast it drops back to the visual equivalent of a dull thud.

  11. But the hardware will put a smile back on your face. In the
    back there’s a re-worked 5.2-litre V10 making 552bhp and 398lb ft, good enough
    to punch the GT to 62mph in 3.6 seconds and on to a maximum of 199mph. Numbers
    not unlike that of the similarly engined and rather lovely Lambo Gallardo
    Superleggera (562bhp, 398lb ft of torque, 202mph and 62mph in 3.4) - though at
    1,340kg, the Lambo is still significantly lighter than the Audi. Which is odd,
    because the main reason this particular R8 feels so committed, so tied down, is
    not because the engine has hoiked itself up by a few ponies, but because this
    is a ‘lightweight’ R8.

  12. Shaving the weight has obviously been a bit of a mission for
    the good people of Quattro GmbH and it has involved the extensive use of both
    straight carbon fibre and carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP). The list
    goes something like this: the rear hatch is now CFRP and saves 6.6kg from up
    high in the R8 GT’s centre of gravity, though weirdly it retains the gas struts
    for holding it open, which surely would have shaved a few more grams.

    The rear
    bumper and sideblades are also CFRP, contributing a saving of 6.7kg and the
    fixed, full carbon rear wing (the standard R8 has a speed-dependent pop-up
    aerofoil with electric motors) drops another 1.2. The bonnet is made of
    aluminium and much skinnier than before - beware when you slam it because you
    might just leave a handprint in the metal - and saves 2.6kg.

  13. The wheels are forged and lightweight, the windscreen is now
    thinner, and the rear windows are made of lightweight polycarbonate, while the
    distance-unfriendly bucket seats are manually operated and much lighter.

    The
    carbon-ceramic braking system has been lightly mass-decontented, there’s a
    lighter battery and most of the car’s sound-deadening has been removed, all
    which contributes to a further 20-ish kg of lard reduction. Legend has it that
    the removal of the carpetry alone resulted in a saving of some 8kg, though one
    suspects that someone is using unusually heavy-duty mats in the standard R8 if
    that really is the case. Possibly something woven from woolly mercury. Total?
    The GT ekes out a saving of roughly 100kg over the standard R8 V10, bringing
    the total down to 1,525kg and bumping the power-to-weight up from a smidge over
    300bhp/tonne to just over 360bhp/tonne. All very nice, but not exactly the end
    of all things when it comes to power-to-weight.

  14. The reason we’re so excited is because the standard R8 is
    such a joy, the GT should be joy2. It looks promising from the get-go: fire it
    up and there’s a pleasing, mechanical yowl that erupts from behind your head.
    The R8 GT doesn’t seem to be all that much noisier than a stock car if you’re
    outside, but the loss of all that sound insulation certainly ups the audio
    drama for the occupants. Wrestle for a while with the harnesses, grip the
    Alcantara wheel, engage first, and we’re away, my head immediately starting the
    incessant nodding in time with the short damper stroke. We leave the village
    and scooch towards a loch. We arrived at night, I realise I may have missed
    some scenery.

    Photo: external kill switch is located top left corner of the bonnet

  15. This part of western Scotland, just south of Mallaig and
    around Glencoe, is what my dad would call ‘Big Country’. Great dollops of hill
    shrouded in the oranges and browns of bracken and heather, isolated huddles of
    humanity’s houses peeping from their lee, or crouching on the margins of the
    deep-water lochs. The vista is enormous, incredibly moody and makes you feel
    about as significant as a doorknob. And the roads… The roads swoop and dip
    with the landscape like 3D ordnance survey, some sections smoothed by EU
    funding, other bits raddled with potholes.

  16. I up the pace in time with the expanding countryside off
    toward Skye. And the R8 starts to make a whole lot more sense. The R8 GT is
    only really, properly happy when you treat it incredibly aggressively. The
    suspension trade-offs suddenly become stark; you give up absorbency over bumps
    for a car that changes direction immediately and settles into a corner
    instantly. The GT never gets kicked off-line and, tellingly, the nose never
    grounds out over even quite prodigious bulges.

  17. The steering - although it has a very odd dead patch
    half-an-inch either side of top-dead-centre - shoves the nose anywhere you
    point it, at which point there’s grip to spare. Even with a driveline bias of
    15/85 front-to-rear, the GT never, ever seems to want to abandon neutrality in
    the dry. Indeed, the only time it ever showed oversteery teeth was when we hit
    a section of recently laid gravelly top coat, at which point the ensuing swing
    was easily countered with deft use of a panicky jab at the wheel. You don’t
    have to be a hero to go fast. In fact, you don’t even need to be very good. You
    just wring the V10 to 8,000rpm, revel in the noise and keep looking where you
    want to go - if you have faith, the R8 GT will put you there.

  18. In fact, the only real fly in the R8’s ointment is the
    rubbish R-Tronic gearbox. Quite why this most enthusiast-targeted version has a
    such a slow and irritating ‘box is a mystery. Light load changes result in
    massive head-nods, and full-throttle batterings, although better, still feel
    cumbersome. If it had a manual, I sincerely think I’d have fallen for it. But
    it hasn’t, and I can’t. It’s like dating a person with a deeply irritating
    accent; no matter how much you like the package, every interaction is coloured
    with annoyance. It grates.

  19. After a while we soar over the Skye Bridge and onto the
    island. Despite the obvious gearbox fail, it’s really very good, this Audi. I
    think I’m keeping fairly cool about it, until I realise I’ve just done a little
    ‘pistol fingers’ greeting to the chase car and caught myself mid fist-pump. I
    look back, and up and down at the hugeness of Skye’s Wednesday morning, and
    realise that while I have had a sort of grey-day epiphany, while my planets
    have become aligned in a big four-ringed magic trick, absolutely nobody else
     cares.

  20. And while I wish the R8 had a more appropriate ‘box to give it a vital edge, I realise it probably doesn’t matter. All 33 of the cars bound for the UK are sold, and it commands a near £40k premium over a stock V10 - given the brilliance of the standard car, that’s blatantly too much. So, a toy then. A glorious irrelevance? Yes. But like the Highlands of Scotland that I leave slowly shrouding themselves in grey mist, the R8 GT is epic in its own very specific way. I might not want to live there, but it’s one hell of a place to visit.

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