Last lap? But that means…
Look, I don’t want to type it just as much as you don’t want to read it, so let’s just take a deep breath and face this one together: the Audi R8 is no more. Sigh. RIP.
Then again, this isn’t news. Audi sent the R8 off with a bang in the form of the winged-and-canarded R8 GT last year. This is just the last time I’ll ever drive one in would-you-like-another-sandwich press launch format.
And it’s for sure the last time I’ll get to drive one while chasing nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen around Laguna Seca – or WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, for you marketing majors.
Okay, that sounds like fun.
Friend-o, you have no idea. Laguna Seca on its own is a venerable thrill ride of a circuit – a rollercoaster of undulations and varying radii corners, and that’s before you get to the infamous Corkscrew, a turn that’s super easy to get wrong but so, so amazing when you get it right. Perhaps you’ve given it a go on a PlayStation.
Tom set the pace from behind the wheel of a 590hp Audi RS e-tron GT sedan while I trailed in the 602hp R8 Quattro. I could’ve run the track in the 562hp rear-wheel-drive R8 – a version I’ve always found to be more entertaining – but considering Audi’s synonymousness with Quattro, picking the all-wheel-drive car just felt right. Historical accuracy and all that.
So, how’d it go?
Fabulously; the R8 was an absolute peach. I’ve always loved this supercar for its approachable nature – it’s easy to get in, you can see out of it without having to crane your neck, and the interior isn’t some kind of wannabe-Boeing-cockpit mess of controls.
But the second you break through the R8’s good-daily-driver threshold and start giving it hell, it responds beautifully. The quick steering gives the R8 a flickable nature while the well-sorted chassis keeps the coupe balanced and stable – even over the parts of Laguna Seca where a car can feel unexpectedly light. The free-breathing 5.2-liter V10 nestled behind you is like a torch and the throttle is a mouthful of gas fumes – flex your toe into the accelerator and the engine responds with a punch and a roar. Credit also goes to the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, which is so brilliantly behaved I never once think to take matters into my own hands – which is a good thing, since the R8’s little cheap-o plastic shift paddles truly suck.
Tom obviously wasn’t fully gunning the e-tron GT, but this wasn’t exactly a parade lap, either. He’d call out little comments about where to place the car coming into each of Laguna Seca’s 11 turns, but I couldn’t hear most of them over the shouty V10 behind my ears. We did two laps total – not much in the grand scheme of things – but it was an absolute riot. My tummy went all topsy-turvy in the best way when I dove hard into the Corkscrew, and the whole experience reminded me just how freaking good the R8’s always been.
But it’s changed over the years, hasn’t it?
Hey, haven’t we all? The original R8 was – and still is – a dream car, with its iconic side blade and classic mid-engine proportions. Audi wanted to make something that differed from the mid-engine supercars coming out of the UK and Italy, and the R8 certainly marched to the beat of its own drum. It also launched with one of the single greatest powertrain packages ever offered: a 4.2-liter V8 engine and 6-speed manual transmission with a gated shifter. I can still remember the overwhelming sensory satisfaction of launching an original R8 down the highway on-ramp near my old magazine’s headquarters in Ann Arbor, Michigan – the V8 revving high and the precise movement of the metallic shifter clicking into second gear.
Audi offered a number of R8 variants over its 17-year, 2-generation run – coupes and convertibles, race cars and prototypes. There was even an insanely cool V12 diesel-powered R8 concept, created back during a time when, you know, you could say “Audi” and “diesel” in the same sentence without needing to consult a lawyer.
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Will there ever be another R8?
Maybe. Probably. But it won’t be like the R8 you know. Audi has very clearly committed to a fully electric future, and that includes performance cars, too. But come on: how weird would it be if Audi entered Formula 1 with a hybrid race car in 2026 and didn’t somehow tie it to a road car? Based on what I’ve heard in the rumormill, some kind of EV supercar should arrive before the end of the decade.
If and when that comes to fruition, I have one request: please, Audi, give it a different name. (While you’re at it, please also capitalize E-Tron, since it’s a proper noun and all.) The R8 deserves to stand alone in Audi’s history, marking a time when the company redefined what a gas-powered supercar could be.
Beautiful and functional, amazing to drive and endlessly appealing, the R8 is a car I will always remember. Two laps around Laguna Seca simply wasn’t a long enough goodbye.