The fascination of perfection - Audi driving experience
Dynamism has its fascination, but it needs perfection to ensure safety. It was over 30 years ago that Audi first began to explore the handling limits with its customers. Today, Audi driving experience offers them a successful program with a wide selection of courses, organizing up to 700 events in 20 countries each year, with about 20,000 drivers participating. This makes it the international leader in the winter driver training area.
The cones are still standing neatly where they are supposed to be. At more than 80 km/h (50 mph), the Audi A8 4.2 TDI quattro plunges into this narrow lane, with red-and-white striped cones marking its end. Shortly before reaching this point the driver rams the brake pedal down at full force – just as the instructor called for. The upper body and arms must remain relaxed, since only with full control of the steering will the driver be able to turn into the lane that leads out to the left.
With a smoothly executed maneuver – left, right and left again – the A8 avoids the obstacle and comes to a halt after a further three meters. There’s a big grin on the driver’s face. He didn’t master this maneuver first time through: he hit the brake pedal too hesitantly and jerked the steering wheel too violently. This time the instructor gives him a friendly clap on the shoulder and says a few words of praise through the open driver’s window – without forgetting to explain what he could do even better on the next run.
At the other end of the cordoned-off, water-covered track, the other half of this group of 20 drivers is ‘going round in circles’! This is the scenario: if a car enters a corner too fast, it will try to run wide, because the speed, steering angle and curve radius can’t be harmonized. ESP is switched off to improve the learning effect.
At first the drivers find it difficult to stay on the circular track: the cones they hit fly off in all directions. But after each attempt and each discussion with the instructor they keep the A8 4.2 quattro on the desired course more accurately. The secret is to ease back the accelerator pedal and reduce the steering angle. Then the sedan obligingly returns to the safe curve radius and all is well.
Many participants’ instincts prevent them from turning the steering wheel back in what seems to be the wrong direction. But practicing proves to them that what they learned in theory that morning is correct. Reducing the steering angle allows the front tires to grip again instead of trying to skid outwards. Then the car responds to the steering again and doesn’t run wide and hit the cones that represent the edge of the road.
Even after this exercise, the participants still have a mixture of pride and amazement on their faces. Pride because they have mastered a potentially hazardous situation, and amazement because their initial fear of a skidding car has given way to a new level of confidence not only in what the car can do but also in what they are capable of themselves, based on knowledge and practice.
The Audi driving experience philosophy is that training should combine the fun of dynamic driving, the fascination of modern technology and the most important lessons to be learned when a panic situation arises. When the course has been completed, the driver has these new skills in reserve if a serious situation should arise.
Audi driving experience: the motor sport department’s idea
1980 was the year when what is now the Audi driving experience began. Count Freddy Kottulinsky hit on the idea of driver training for the motor sport department’s technical staff. The ‘high-speed aristocrat’ was a leading race driver who had won three European touring car and Formula 3 championship titles and also the Paris-Dakar long-distance rally in 1980.
At that time, Kottulinsky was one of the people responsible for developing the cars entered for world rally championship events. His idea was that driver training would help employees to avoid accidents on their many, often strenuous journeys to the areas where testing was to take place. The first training sessions were held near Ingolstadt, using the department’s own cars.
The Audi Board of Management approved this initiative and suggested making the training courses available to a larger group of potential participants. From 1981 on, Kottulinsky and other motor sport experts therefore began to hold courses for dealers and selected customers. For exercises that involved severe tire wear, the cars provided by the company’s technical development department included three Audi quattro models with 147 kW (200 hp) engine. For all the other training tasks, the participants drove their own cars.
The concept soon developed dynamism of its own. Kottulinsky extended the course program regularly and added other instructors to his team, for instance ex-European rally champion Jochi Kleint. By 1983, Audi was offering almost 50 events, including winter training for the first time. Since then, these excursions onto ice and snow have been a firm and especially popular item in the program.
The number of people signing up for classic winter training rose rapidly. In the early years these courses were held in Seefeld (Tyrol), moving in 2001 to Saalbach in the Salzburg region of Austria. Among Audi drivers the word spread quickly that dynamic exercises on an icy surface, and better still at the wheel of an Audi quattro, were about the finest form of driving fun to be had anywhere.
“However good you are – we’ll make you better!"
The best motor sport drivers in the world confirm the importance of these training courses. Such as Emanuele Pirro, five times winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours for Audi, who said: “However good you are, an Audi winter training course will make you a better driver still.” And Walter Röhrl, the ultimate rally legend with two championship titles, commented: “Driver training makes sense for everyone. At the Audi courses in Scandinavia, participants can train in conditions similar to motor sport, with expert instructors on hand to improve their skills.”
In 1993 Audi added adventure courses with an attractive fringe program to its winter training. Small groups traveled to Sweden, Finland or Karelia for several days, to tackle circuits up to seven kilometers (nearly four and a half miles) long marked out by the accompanying instructors on frozen lakes.
The summer training program too became more and more extensive. In 1990 the first events were held at the Nürburgring racetrack. The response was so favorable that Audi decided to organize these sport-oriented events on other racetracks too.
Attractive and wide-ranging – the current program
In 1999 Audi grouped all these activities together as the ‘Audi driving experience’. Today, nine years later, the event program is varied, wide-ranging and attractive.
Classic Audi driver and safety training, now offered under the new name Audi training experience, is still the focal point of the program. Winter and summer courses are available. Audi uses special training grounds in Gross Dölln south of Berlin, Mendig in the Eifel region and in Seefeld (Tyrol). Drift training in winter is held in Seefeld or Saalbach (Tyrol).
There are various grades of difficulty, geared to the participant’s existing skills. Compact Advanced training for first-time participants is followed by Advanced Plus training as a second stage. Intensive training is an alternative – these groups are smaller and the speed higher. The Executive Driver training and a course exclusively for women are geared in a targeted way towards special interest groups.
The Audi sports car experience program, held only in summer, is for advanced drivers, and is held in Gross Dölln, at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg (Austria), in Barcelona, at the Nürburgring, the EuroSpeedway Lausitz, the Sachsenring, the Salzburgring and at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.
Participants drive the Audi R8 V10 high-performance sports car. Those who complete two of these events successfully can join a ‘Racetrack pro experience’ intensive training course.
For drivers with sporting ambitions and experienced racers the Audi race experience, also held in the summer, offers the opportunity to participate in licence training, adventure training or the Audi R8 LMS individual training with the customer-racing version of the R8 LMS, or to take part in professional races in the context of the VLN Endurance Championship.
Another Audi driving experience specialty is the Audi individual experience. These training sessions are held in summer and in winter, on racetracks and frozen lakes. Audi organizes them entirely in accordance with the customer’s wishes. He or she can for instance receive coaching from a personal instructor. In most cases this individual training is offered as an incentive for private persons or businesses, with the content matched to the participants’ driving skills.
The Audi ice experience is specifically a winter course. Drifting is practiced on frozen lakes in Sweden and Finland, at three different levels of difficulty. The highest level, the Finland Pro Exclusive course, is aimed at genuinely capable drivers with motor sport experience. It has a strongly competitive character and calls for the participant to be a very skilled driver.
For sheer pleasure: the ‘Audi tour experience’ program
For those with less dynamic ambitions but more time to spare, the Audi tour experience program offers pleasant touring in a particularly top-class current Audi model. The wintry North Cape tour leads from Muonio to the most northerly point of the European continent. Alongside the Audi Q7 V12, the Audi Q5 hybrid also serves as a means of transport. The summer tours lead through southern scenery with the Tuscany tour, the Dolce Vita tour and the Alpine tour.
Here, it is exclusively the Audi R8 Spyder V10 that is driven. Shorter tours, which can be booked individually, are the Altmühl Valley tour, the Gourmet tour as well as the South Tyrol tour (summer) and the St. Anton tour (winter).
More than 300,000 participants – a success story
More than 30 years since the first driver training course, Audi driving experience can look back on a most successful pattern of results. More than 300,000 drivers have taken up one of its offers, including 20,000 at some 700 courses in 2011. About 4,800 drivers attended the 220 winter events last season, confirming the leading worldwide position occupied by Audi driving experience as an organizer of winter training.
Approximately 60 employees across different departments are involved in the Audi driving experience, 25 of which instruct on the courses. The participants train using vehicles provided by Audi. There are currently around 150 cars in use of the following models: R8 V10, S5 Sportback, A8 4.2 TDI, R8 LMS as well as the R8 V10 Spyder, Q7 V12 and Q5 hybrid for the Audi tour experience.
Driver training takes place in about 40 other countries as well as Germany. Austria and Switzerland joined the program back in the 1980s, followed by Sweden, Italy, Finland and Norway in the 1990s. As a global corporation, Audi can now respond to customers’ requests for training courses in countries such as the UK, Russia, Japan, China, Argentina, Mexico and South Africa.
Although capacity is constantly being extended, many of the courses are fully booked for a long time ahead, especially because the proportion of repeat participants and those moving up to more advanced courses continues to increase. Audi will therefore be expanding its program further. The current Audi driving experience program can be seen on the Internet at www.audi.de/driving or www.audi.com/driving. Application forms can also be downloaded there.
The equipment, data and prices specified in this document refer to the model range offered in Germany. Subject to change without notice; errors and omissions excepted.