evo races an Audi R8 LMS at the Nurburgring

John Barker is racing at the Nurburgring 24 hours again. This time in one of the race's quickest cars, the Audi R8 LMS

It feels like I have wandered onto the set of the latest Carlsberg commercial. I keep expecting a voice as deep and rich as pipe tobacco to say ‘Carlsberg don’t do customer drives at the Nurburgring 24 hours, but if they did, they’d probably look like this…’

'This' being an immaculate truck with an awning shading a pair of mean-looking matt black Audi R8 LMS race cars (and a spare one sat outside), six road-going R8 V10s, and coaching staff including the exceptionally talented Marco Werner (three-times Le Mans 24h winner), Sepp Haider, Frank Schmickler and Florian Gruber. Oh, and the boss who’ll be in charge of the two-car team come June 23-26 is none other than Manfred Jantke who ran Porsche Motorsport during its incredibly diverse and successful period, from ’72-’91. Anything else? Well, pavement splitting sunshine, natch. All this for six customers who want to do the Nurburgring 24 hours, big time.  ‘I don’t think there’s another company in the world that offers anything like this,’ says Rainer Kammerbauer, representative of the Audi Race Experience team. I can’t think of anyone who offers a seat in a competitive, top class car for one of the world’s greatest races. Normally, that would require a vast amount of cash, either to buy a place or create your own team. Yet for what sounds like a bargain price (19,500 euros each), six of us will be racing in the pair of R8 LMSs that scored a 1-2 finish at the Bathurst 12 hours in February.  The Race Experience team was formed last year and ran customers in four and six-hour VLN races at the Nurburgring but this year is the first time it will run at the 24-hours. In each car there will be four drivers, three customers and a professional, in one Frank Schmickler (a previous 24h winner) and in the other Florian Gruber (road car lap record holder, in a Gumpert). We’ll be in the premier class, SP9, the one that usually delivers the overall winner, alongside the Abt and Pheonix and other Audi R8 LMSs, the Manthey Porsches and Mercedes SLSs. Lordy. Makes my tongue tingle just thinking about it.  The SP9 cars are the fastest and most demanding in the race, with the potential to lap the 24-plus kilometres of the combined GP and Northern loop in around 8min 30, at an average speed of approaching 175kmh (108mph). Naturally, the team wants to know that we can handle the car, and we want to know we can too, so our first experience is not at the Ring but on a fiddly, twisty-turny little track built at Gross Dolln, near Berlin. It’s a fascinating place; before the wall came down there were 10,000 Russians based here and a MIG scrambled from one of the hangers could be over London in an hour… As expected, there’s a decent amount of Nurburgring experience among the five drivers (all German) signed up for the Ring; most have raced in the 24h a few times, but only a couple have raced anything like the R8. ‘We have said to people who have come on the course, “Sorry, we don’t think you are ready for the Nurburgring yet,”’ says Klaus Demel, head of the Audi Race Experience. Oh. Right.  The first part of the two-day course (which you can do if you simply want to experience an R8 LMS), is laps in the R8 V10 road car behind an instructor (Schmickler, in my case). He manages to drive ever faster while watching my progress in the rear view mirror and calmly giving feedback on my lines and commitment and car control via the two-way radio. It’s a little humbling but the way the road car moves around, the effect its mid-mounted V10 has on the car’s behaviour, sets you up nicely for stage two - a drive in the two-seat R8 LMS alongside Sepp Haider. He has been warming it up and it sounds fabulous, the V10 smooth, rhythmic, potent. A little more muted than I’d expected, though. ‘There is a department in Audi that determines how things should sound, including race cars,’ explains Kammerbauer.  First of us to clamber in over the LMS’s cage and into the embrace of the deep-bolstered race seat to experience its abilities is Christian Bollrath, CEO of a US-based lighting company. He looks flushed when he emerges after a few laps: ‘Oh, yeah,’ he says emphatically.  I’m last to go in the two-seat race car alongside Haider. The R8 is as purposeful on the inside as out, and as unlike the stock R8, too. It’s got less power – about 500bhp versus 518, thanks to GT3-class air restrictors, and it’s rear-drive rather than four-wheel drive, also to meet GT3 regs. The gearbox is a paddle-shift type but unlike the road car there are three pedals in the footwell: you use the clutch to get going and after that you can rest your left leg, unless you left-foot brake. I don’t. Haider seems a little disappointed.  I am in love with the R8 LMS after one minute. All those laps in the R8 V10 road car, trying to get it stopped and turned in, trying to get the nose to the apex quickly and sweetly and be on the power as early as possible but without causing the front tyres to push wide or provoke the rear into a slide... The LMS feels absolutely brilliant because right from the off I can find precisely the lines I was looking for. I feel like a hero. The much lighter R8 LMS goes light years faster, stops like it’s hit a wall and turns like a slot car. I feel like I can do no wrong. Of course, I’m driving the LMS probably 10 seconds off the pace but, damn, this is great place to start.  A couple of laps in, out of a late apex left I get on the power, run to the outer edge of the track and the R8’s right rear slick rides the tall kerb slightly. In a moment the car snaps out of line. I find the right amount of opposite lock and steady things, but it’s a shock and a warning.  After lunch, we go solo, both cars running once they’ve been warmed up by Werner and Gruber, each of us then making 10-lap runs. Interestingly, we haven’t been shown what the car can do or even advised what gears to use where. It’s up to us to work the car and the track out, make progress. It’s fascinating and demanding once you’re at the pace you think the car can do, because you then realise there’s much more to come. The car still feels fantastic, it’s simply a process of feeling what the thing is telling you – the light, fast steering has surprisingly good feel and you can sense the loading at the rear and how close to the limit of traction it is. Well, in the slower corners, at least. There is one fast sweep where you have to take the speed in and trust the aero.  There is anti-lock and ESP/traction control, both adjustable, and as your confidence grows, both get wound back. As the pace picks up you realise that those laps in the road car show you the subtlety needed to get the best out of the racer in certain places on this funny, neck-straining little track. It’s not all about flat on the throttle or hard on the brake; a little soft-pedal to prevent triggering the traction control can get more power to the road sooner, while one braking area requires modulation of pressure into the gradient and then over it.  The day ends too soon. That evening there are discussions within the Audi Race Experience team and before dinner we are gathered into a lecture theatre at the hotel. Manfred Jantke explains with level-headed passion that our two-car squad is works supported and describes the philosophy of Porsche to 24-hours races when he was there. ‘We would run a few second a lap off our qualifying time for 15 hours and then see if it was worth pushing for a result.’ Then we are told the team line-up for each car. I’m in Schmickler’s squad, along with Christian Bollrath and Rudi Speich, a nine-time 24h racer and class winner in an Audi A3.  Next morning there are two more ten-lap runs each. Early in my first session I manage a fourth gear spin – that’ll be the limit there, then! – and take things a bit too easy in the second. Well, until my mentor, Schmickler, standing on the infield, twirls an arm - the time-honoured get-your-foot-down! sign. Back in the paddock he wanders up. ‘It’s all up here. Everything is good, forget the spin. You went two seconds faster after I gave you the hurry up’.  Marco Werner says the same: ‘So you had a spin. Forget it.’ Werner also offers advice for the Nordschleife: ‘You tread gently on the brakes here but you really have to stand on them at the Ring, and while you use the pitch to get the car turned in here, you don’t do that at the Ring or you’ll destroy the aero, lose the downforce. The car won’t feel great around the GP circuit, too much roll and pitch, but once you’ve turned left on to the Nordschleife…’  My teammates in the ‘Top Service’ liveried R8 LMS are in different moods. Christian is happy to have found a good, consistent and quick pace, whereas Rudi is a bit frustrated. ‘I thought I’d improved my times in the last session…’ I suspect all three of us will be doing plenty of thinking between now and the end of June.  It’s possible to race the R8 in one of the VLN rounds before the big race but the next time I’ll be in the car will be in qualifying for the 24 hours. It’s going to be a steep learning curve but I am very, very excited.

Several evo writers are racing at the 2011 Nurburgring 24 hours, and you can follow all of their progress on evo.co.uk, including race coverage on June 25-26

John races a Volkswagen Scirocco at the Ring 24 hours

Read about the 2010 Nurburgring 24 hour race

Join evo's Twitter, Facebook and YouTube pages

Most Popular

New 992 Porsche 911 GT3 Touring revealed – now available in manual and PDK
Porsche 911 GT3 Touring – rear profile
Porsche 911 GT3

New 992 Porsche 911 GT3 Touring revealed – now available in manual and PDK

The Touring pack has returned, combining the 992 GT3’s set-up with more understated looks
15 Jun 2021
The reluctant LaFerrari driver – evo archive
evo archive – LaFerrari truck extraction – stop!
Ferrari

The reluctant LaFerrari driver – evo archive

How do you get a £1million hypercar out of the back of a delivery truck? Very, very, slowly…
15 Jun 2021
BMW M5 CS 2021 review – a class act that reaffirms the M division’s brilliance
BMW M5 CS – front cornering
BMW M5 saloon

BMW M5 CS 2021 review – a class act that reaffirms the M division’s brilliance

Nonsensical on paper, but sublime in practice. Never has a modern supersaloon been more tactile or more engaging
14 Jun 2021
Ford Mustang Steve McQueen Bullitt Edition 2021 review – a 720bhp tribute act
Ford Mustang Steve McQueen Bullitt Edition – slide
Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang Steve McQueen Bullitt Edition 2021 review – a 720bhp tribute act

Immense performance from about the coolest modern muscle car out there. It’s expensive, but there’s nothing else quite like it
12 Jun 2021
Updated in-line six Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door revealed – hybrid V8s still to come
Mercedes-AMG GT53 MY22 – front tracking
Mercedes

Updated in-line six Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door revealed – hybrid V8s still to come

GT43 and GT53 4-Doors receive a refresh while we await the arrival of the V8 hybrid GT73
14 Jun 2021
MAT Stratos 2021 review – Lancia’s iconic Stratos reborn
MAT Stratos – front tracking
Lancia

MAT Stratos 2021 review – Lancia’s iconic Stratos reborn

It’s been a long time coming, but this Ferrari F430-based reimagining of the Lancia Stratos is finally here
11 Jun 2021
Next generation BMW 7-series spied – flagship saloon to once again set the tone for future models
Next generation BMW 7-series spied – front quarter
BMW 7 Series

Next generation BMW 7-series spied – flagship saloon to once again set the tone for future models

All-new saloon to feature IC and EV powertrains, but once again it’ll also lead the way aesthetically
16 Jun 2021
2021 Audi RS3 Sportback and saloon previewed – will it finally match Mercedes-AMG A45 S?
Audi RS3 manufacturer spy 1
Audi RS3

2021 Audi RS3 Sportback and saloon previewed – will it finally match Mercedes-AMG A45 S?

Audi Sport is putting the final touches on its new RS3 hot hatch and saloon
10 Jun 2021
Tesla Model S Plaid deliveries begin – 1006bhp super saloon now reaching customers
Tesla Model S Plaid
Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S Plaid deliveries begin – 1006bhp super saloon now reaching customers

The long-awaited Tesla Model S Plaid has finally come to fruition, with first US examples hitting the road
11 Jun 2021
Posaidon’s 217mph Mercedes-AMG E63 RS is faster than a Porsche 918 Spyder
Posaidon Mercedes-AMG E63
Mercedes E63 AMG

Posaidon’s 217mph Mercedes-AMG E63 RS is faster than a Porsche 918 Spyder

Three new Posaidon power upgrades are now available for Mercedes-AMG’s E63 S, bringing hypercar numbers to the four door supersaloon
9 Jun 2021
GTO Engineering Squalo interior sketches revealed – new-build Ferrari 250 GTO hommage draws closer
GTO Engineering interior
Ferrari

GTO Engineering Squalo interior sketches revealed – new-build Ferrari 250 GTO hommage draws closer

New details, including the interior, have been revealed about the GTO Engineering Squalo
15 Jun 2021
Used car deals of the week
Used car deals 11 June 21
used cars

Used car deals of the week

Here's what caught evo’s fancy this week on the second hand car market
11 Jun 2021
Can the Renault Clio Trophy beat a modern supersaloon for daily transport?
Jethro opinion header
Opinion

Can the Renault Clio Trophy beat a modern supersaloon for daily transport?

The boot struts have gone saggy and the hatch slams onto my head three times a week, but the Clio Trophy is hard to resist
8 Jun 2021
Forza Horizon 5 confirmed for November 2021 – open-world driving game heads to Mexico
Forza Horizon 5
videogames

Forza Horizon 5 confirmed for November 2021 – open-world driving game heads to Mexico

The open-world Forza Horizon series has become a go-to for car fans, and its fifth installment is just around the corner
15 Jun 2021