Minnie the Moocher
Back in the mid 1990s I was covering the British Formula Three
Championship and regularly attending race meetings in between lectures at
University. Perhaps it should be the other way around; I was attending
lectures at University between British Formula Three Championship races
and working for Tim Collings’ sports agency in Hitchin. Every weekend, it
seemed, I would head off to a different race meeting, and almost every
weekend I would get within a mile of my own house, and need to stop to
make sure I was going to the right track.
Now, usually I get within a mile of my house and have to figure out which
airport I am going to which is bloody annoying when it is still dark and I am
heading for a Ryanair flight from Stansted, (or is it Luton?). The ferry is the
only easy option. I know where Dover is and this forms part of the logic of
driving to most races this year. That plan included Monza for the second race
of the 2008 Le Mans Series and it was for this reason that, early in April, I
was headed for the south eastern coast of England accompanied by Radio
Le Mans commentators John Hindhaugh and Graham Tyler in an Audi A4
The ritual for almost every race is a journey at the crack of dawn to an airport,
to get strip-searched before boarding a Ryanair, Easyjet or British Airways
flight to some airfield. Then, it is straight to the track, the hotel and the circuit
before a mad dash home again. The start out for Monza was still shortly
before dawn, but the sense of adventure and apprehension was there. OK, we
had a hotel booked so it was hardly a wild man’s holiday, but there was still
this fear, a mile from my house; had I booked the right hotel?
I got within a mile of my house and realised I had forgotten a camera.
Therefore, there are no images to accompany this story. Sorry about that.
Trust me, the scenery was spectacular.
Somewhere near Folkstone I also realised that I had forgotten a coat. Never
mind; it doesn’t get cold in the French Alps, does it?
The three of us headed through France to a stop at the foot of the Alps, the
Hotel Adelphia in Aix Les Bains. With Hindhaugh suffering a chest infection
and therefore off the alcohol, it was less Wild Hogs than three Vietnamese
pot bellied pigs.
The drive through the Alps on Friday morning, along the shore of Lac
d’Annecy just north of Chambery fell, as Taylor commented, into the ‘does
not suck’ category. Through the mountain passes we drove, past the herd of
cows which normally you wouldn’t see on a race weekend unless you got
really lost, and on to Turin, Milan and finally to Monza in time for second
practice on Friday afternoon.
It was a magnificent journey, one that will be repeated next year if Audi is still
friendly with us. We put more than 1700 miles on to the clock, and averaged
only marginally less than 40mpg, even with enthusiastic motoring through the
Alps. As we pulled up to the Channel Tunnel on Monday afternoon, the only
thing that we could criticise was that the lack of cruise control, which left me
practically unable to walk to the toilet and only a very pressing need got me
there in time.
This was not the new Avant – that is being launched this month. Even given
the comfort, speed and economy of our test car, the new A4 has taken
several steps forward. More cabin space and a better ride, along with a
refined dash and better gear change are features. Not that there was anything
wrong with the ride in our A4 on the European roads. On smooth roads, the
car is fine – take it to the UK, and you can book an appointment with your
dentist. The British cannot build roads, and Audi as yet have not managed to
build a car to cope with our construction failures.
They are taking steps to improve it, and while we were touring France, senior
figures of Audi UK were busy hosting German engineers, who are getting
weary of the constant criticism from the British press about how bad their
This year, Audi will begin to roll out its diesel fleet to the US, starting with the
Q7 in September. The American market will never see the car that we took to
Italy – you guys can look forward to its successor. The A4 is not the
sportiest model in Audi’s range, but with the Sportsline body kit will be at
home cruising the shores in California and in Quattro guise will be able to pull
you out of a snowdrift in Minneapolis.
Audi sold more than 220,000 A4s in the first 11 months of 2007, ahead of the
face lift which will boost figures closer to BMW’s nearly 300,000 3-series sold
in the same period. Audi considers the ALMS campaign to be a success,
which is why it is still racing the R10 TDI on American soil. To continue next
year, it needs to build a new car, and for that, it needs rules from the ACO in
June and a positive decision from the board by November.
Some say that the decision will come long before then and if Audi is already
working on a new prototype behind closed doors in Ingolstadt, the decision is
already taken. In which case, next year’s test will hopefully be with the new
Quattro. And by then, I’ll have made a note to remember my camera.
Andrew Cotton, May 2008