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How Audi can make you a better driver, without having to buy one

Audi Australia is planning to run 28 drive days at four racetracks in three states this year.

Hitting 250km/h down Phillip Island’s main straight with a 5.2-litre V10 screaming directly behind your head is a pretty convincing way to get people to buy an Audi R8.

The thrill of experiencing such a fast and exciting machine in a safe environment is a key sales tool for Audi, but it’s also a great safety tool and a way to teach drivers about just how capable the Audi Sport models are. 

Which is why the return of the Audi Driving Experience after a COVID-19 induced 12-month break is such big news for the four-ring brand.

The numbers behind the program are staggering - there’s a 23-car fleet (a combination of R8, RS6 Avant, RS5 Sportback, TT RS and even the RSQ8) that’s worth more than $5.5 million. 

The German giant employs 15 instructors (including champions in multiple categories, including a former Bathurst 1000 winner) to look after the cars and participants, under the leadership of the highly experienced driver trainer (and former Top Gear Australia host), Steve Pizzati.

Audi employs former Top Gear Australia host, Steve Pizzati. Audi employs former Top Gear Australia host, Steve Pizzati.

Audi Australia is planning to run 28 drive days at four racetracks in three states this year, and in a sign of how much pent-up demand there is, more than 90 per cent of the slots are already sold. 

That’s even more impressive when you find out how much it costs to attend one of the two programs the company offers. 

The Dynamic option costs $1250, while the more one-on-one focused Sport Pro day is $3500 - not cheap, but it does make a strong case it’s good bang-for-your-buck. 

Hitting 250km/h down Phillip Island’s main straight is a pretty convincing way to get people to buy an R8. Hitting 250km/h down Phillip Island’s main straight is a pretty convincing way to get people to buy an R8.

Even at $3500 a day spent on a quality track such as Phillip Island, The Bend and Sydney Motorsport Park in cars as exotic as the R8 and RS6 is good value.

The important thing to note is that the Audi Driving Experience isn’t restricted to Audi customers. Anyone interested in taking part (and willing to spend the money) can book a spot and experience the best Audi Sport has to offer. 

Obviously it’s heavily biased towards Audi owners and potential owners though, as dealers like to use the program to reward loyal customers or convince new ones to sign on the dotted line for a new model.

The program is made up of a 23-car fleet. The program is made up of a 23-car fleet.

Not that Audi Australia is struggling to sell Audi Sport models, reporting that RS and S variants accounted for up to 20 per cent of its total sales in 2020. 

That was, in large part, thanks to the return of many RS models last year after several months when none were in production for the local market. 

In 2020 Audi launched (or reintroduced) the RS3, RS4 Avant, RS5 Coupe and Sportback, RS6 Avant, RS7 Sportback, RSQ8 and R8 - so naturally there was excitement at all this new metal. 

20 per cent of Audi's sales are made up of RS and S models. 20 per cent of Audi's sales are made up of RS and S models.

But with the initial sales rush now over, the resumption of the Audi Driving Experience couldn’t come at a better time to help maintain interest in these expensive but engaging machines.

The beauty of the program is its simplicity, which seemingly comes from the experience Pizzati and his team have after running these events for Audi for the past decade (2021 is the 10th anniversary of Audi running the program as an official, manufacturer-backed initiative).

The Dynamic program involves a variety of exercises including a slalom, oversteer control, hot laps and a Motorkhana competition. The Sports Pro introduces the R8 (which isn’t used in the Dynamic program) and spends the entire day working on one-on-one track lapping.

The Audi Driving Experience isn’t restricted to Audi customers. The Audi Driving Experience isn’t restricted to Audi customers.

When it comes to the track laps Pizzati and his team use a ‘lead-follow’ set-up, where the instructor is in a separate car that acts as a guide to the participant in the car behind. 

While the experts do provide feedback over the radio while you lap, guiding you on racing lines and techniques you should use to get the best out of the car, it also forces you (as the driver) to think independently. 

It’s also more pandemic-friendly than having the instructor sit in the passenger seat, something Pizzati didn’t like doing before Covid hit because, as he puts it, it tends to turn the driver into a “puppet”, becoming too dependent on the instructor's influence.

The experts do provide feedback over the radio while you lap. The experts do provide feedback over the radio while you lap.

Instead the program allows participants to experience things they may have never done before - such as drifting and all-wheel drive car or lapping a track - at their own pace. 

The track laps are particularly educational for anyone looking to improve their driving, either on a circuit or on the road. By following the instructor and by limiting it to only the two cars, there’s no pressure to drive at any pace other than your own. 

You can take your time and build up confidence and speed, learning proper technique and lines, that you can then transfer into your everyday driving. 

It also helps get any eagerness to speed or push the car to the limits out of your system in a safe space and with the safety net of a team of highly-skilled instructors.

Audi isn’t the only car company offering these types of days, but the Audi Driving Experience is certainly one of the best this journalist has experienced. 

It may be used to help sell the brand’s performance cars, but if you listen to your teachers you’ll end the day a better driver than you started.