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sportscarpros Baby You Can Drive My Car

What we drive, where we drive, why we drive and other observations
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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 3.0TDI.

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 suspension is.

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