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The Audi S5, with Frank Sprongl, was the star of the day, with the best handling of the trio of cars. (Audi Driver Experience)
The Audi S5, with Frank Sprongl, was the star of the day, with the best handling of the trio of cars. (Audi Driver Experience)

experiences

Audi’s driving course offers top-level instructors, high-speed test drives Add to ...

Scott Goodyear stood up and started the introduction to the Audi Driving Experience. Yes, that Scott Goodyear – the Canadian-born former racer best known for almost winning the Indy 500 multiple times, including its closest-ever finish in 1992, when the nose cone of his Mackenzie Financial-sponsored Indy car crossed the finish line of the 500-mile (800-km) race at the same time as the back of Al Unser Jr.’s front tires. With the last lap duel rocketing down the final straight at more than 250 km/h, that quarter of a car length translated to finishing 43 thousandths of a second behind Unser Jr.

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For the entire crash-strewn four-plus hour race, the Newmarket, Ont., native averaged 134.476 mph (216.4181 km/h), compared to the winner’s 134.477 mph (216.4197 km/h). Goodyear is now an IndyCar race analyst for ABC and ESPN. And he is the lead instructor for the final two Audi Driving Experiences (ADE) in Canada this year, this past week at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (formerly Mosport) as well as for the final 2013 ADE near Vancouver from Nov. 7 to 10.

It’s not only the high-end food, cars and leather seats that exude quality at the ADE, it’s the instructors as well.

Goodyear explained how he normally starts both the half-day ($380) or full-day ($795) ADE training with a discussion of finding the ideal seating position (legs slightly bent with foot under brake, head restraint up high, elbows slightly bent with hands at 12 o’clock on the wheel), as well as the importance of keeping your eyes up, on the track and the street. Participants drive three Audis: the mid-size A6 TDI diesel sedan, the four-cylinder TT-S coupe and the more powerful S5 coupe with a supercharged V-6.

“We’re hoping to make people better drivers, as well as enjoy the cars,” said Goodyear, admitting that yes, there was a little selling happening here, as folks take a faster-and-pricier test drive than anything offered by a dealer. But he also noted that participants are e-mailed a video of themselves behind the wheel afterward, taken with interior and exterior GoPro cameras. For 2014, there’s talk about bringing over Audi’s exotic R8 models as part of the program, as well as doing a winter driving school in Quebec, although details on either program have not yet been announced.

Other instructors include Richard Spenard, Goodyear’s former Rothman’s Porsche rival and long-time driving coach to the stars, as well as Frank Sprongl, six-time Canadian rally champion and four-time national rally champion, who also offered participants a fast-lap sideways thrill-ride around the big track with a monstrously loud early 1980s Group B Quattro rally car.

To Goodyear, the mid-size Audi A6 TDI sedan he was leading us around in likely seemed slow and silent. To the rest of us trying to keep up – or push him – in identical A6 TDIs, the roomy diesel luxury sedans were surprisingly adept on Mosport’s challenging big track. The car’s 3.0-litre V-6 engine’s 240 hp doesn’t sound like much from a turbocharged mill of that size. Yet the car’s beefy 428 lb-ft of torque available from as low as 1,750 rpm helps propel this comfortable four-door out of corners with a quietly surprising buoyancy.

Granted, as with all diesels, those super-low torque peaks are somewhat misleading, because its 1,750 rpm torque peak is on a powerplant that redlines at about 4,500 rpm. Nevertheless, though the A6 TDI’s electronically limited 209 km/h top speed and somewhat tipsy body control in corners tells the driver this is no sport sedan, its 0-100 km/h time of 5.7 seconds is only six-tenths of a second behind the two other sportier, but much less-practical, two-doors here.

And buyers are likely less interested in the A6 TDI’s track performance numbers than its fuel efficiency stats, which are impressive for a luxury sedan this large and heavy: 8.5 litres/100 km city and 5.3 highway, according to Natural Resources Canada figures, while the more realistic U.S. EPA ratings scoring it at a combined 8.1 litres/100 km.

The Audi TT-S never made it out onto the big track, but were used on twin-coned parking lot solo II-style courses, with one driver lining up against the other, and with a string of six or seven vehicles available to maximize drive time and minimize waiting times. A drag race-style tree between the two competitors was used to count down the start, while electronic timers as well as stop watches on each participant recorded the time it took to complete the course and emergency brake in time for the last cone.

This is where the electronics of the car come to the fore – for both good and bad. Different suspension and electronic stability control settings can be adjusted and made less sensitive, allowing a little bit of helpful wheelspin before dramatically cutting back the fun – and your time. But this TT also made clear that the six-speed Stronic automatic transmission didn’t like aggressive inputs on the throttle, either with brake torquing (holding the car still with the brake while feeding in some throttle) or even immediate stomps on the throttle.

Both of these acts caused the electronics to become befuddled and only gingerly creep forward for a lengthy moment, the brake-torquing confounded by a safety-conscious brake override system, while flooring the throttle brought a less extreme but still noticeable delay.

The quickest starts were made by gently, but increasingly quickly, putting one’s foot down, letting the computer’s brain keep up with your need for speed.

This made the S5 the performance star of the day, as it was the most responsive (especially upon braking), quickest, and best handling of the trio. The half-day course nets participants access to a portion of the circuit, while the full-day course is the one for those looking for top-speed thrills.

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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