Call me naïve but I didn’t think driving a bright blue Audi R8 across Europe would create such a stir. I should have known better, especially when my destination was the famous Spa motor racing circuit in Belgium.
The car was part of a bigger deal; go watch a 24 hour endurance race and shadow a team running a trio of R8 race cars. My transport, an R8 road car, was the link between the two activities.
If I’m completely honest I’m more of a Porsche man. Although hardly an original statement, the fact that you can trundle around in a 911 without raising an eyebrow is as much to do with the fact that it’s not a flashy car as it is that every man and his dog owns one.
The R8, on the other hand, is still something of a rarity. Well, outside of London anyway. Which made the sight of grown men in repmobile specials risking life and limb to take pictures and video of ‘my’ R8 as I made my way to Spa something of a surprise. Oh yes, I witnessed the whole hands-off-the-steering-wheel deal on the various motorways on my trip. And questionable lane discipline too, all in the name of getting that shot to show friends and family. Seriously, have you not seen an R8 before? On reflection the answer was probably no.
Still, I suppose I shouldn’t have expected anything less. The same thing happened on the original R8 product launch – cars drew alongside on motorways and out popped the mobile phones on outstretched arms. The universal hand signal for “speed up!” was seen many times but, as I was in France, I wasn’t going to play ball and lose all my money and potentially my driving licence into the bargain.
Back at Spa I saw plenty of the same en route to the circuit each day. Again, I wasn’t going to bite because the Belgian plod I saw looked like a pretty humourless bunch. Still, I had to admire the persistence of one particular car park marshal I passed every day. Without fail he would, upon hearing the car, swing around and smile as I passed him. And I must admit to holding each gear longer as I drove up the hill to the circuit. Sometimes even a hardened cynic like me has to bend a little.
And if he were completely honest, that same cynic did take some delight in firing up a stone cold R8 in the hotel’s underground car park every morning. Now, I thought AMG cars had the edge when it came to noise but this R8 – a V10 for good measure – easily trumped anything from the Mercedes catalogue, and was a darn sight more cultured than Porsche’s trademark ‘gravel in a cement mixer’ experience.
After five days and 900 hard miles I was ready to hand the car back, though. It was surprisingly refined on the motorways yet was sophisticated enough to thrill on twisty country roads. The four-wheel drive system proved its worth in the rain and there was enough space for all my clobber. Given the choice I’d still opt for a 911 as a daily driver but, for the story, the R8 was a fitting companion. The public’s reaction to the car was proof that if something sounds good you’ll never be short of friends on an otherwise solitary journey.
Contrast that with four days living with a Rolls-Royce Ghost. After a few hundred miles of mixed motoring – urban, country roads and motorways – it prompted barely a sideways look from fellow road users and pedestrians. It’s not what you drive but how loud it is that counts.
By Iain Dooley