The thing about drag racing is everybody knows how to react to a green light - we do it multiple times daily on the drive to work and there's little confusion. However, a Nascar-style rolling start requires a little more concentration, especially when the car next to you has shorter gearing and a vastly different powerband.
Get the car rolling, shift into second, sit at about 30mph, pass the start cone and mash the pedal. It's harder than it sounds because you don't want to get a jump on the other car, but you also don't want to be off the gas before the start either.
With the seven-speed S tronic transmission in auto and the Sport button activated, the 2014 R8 V10 Plus took off like the proverbial scalded cat - but without the whiff of burning fur or a trace of wheelspin.
The R8 was so composed, I simply had to ensure I missed the helicopter and didn't get blown off line by its rotor wash.
With the car capable of 0-60 in 3.3sec, and this "Plus" model being a substantial 132 lb lighter than the "regular" R8 V10, this is an incredibly quick car. And mated to the lightning fast dual-clutch transmission, the thrust was unrelenting and uninterrupted. It physically pinned you to the seat, my crash helmet bouncing off the leather head restraint.
With nothing to do but flex my right leg and steer, I had time to observe my surroundings. I was craning my neck to find the car alongside me but the blindspot in the R8's mirrors is fairly substantial. However, I needn't have worried because at about 100mph I heard the telltale rush of pressurized air. It couldn't be me; the V10 was naturally aspirated...
The whoosh subsided briefly as another gear was grabbed. Just over my shoulder I heard the distinctive five-cylinder engine come under full load again and as the revs rose, the 1988 Audi 80 majestically sailed past me. It wasn't running away, but with my foot buried in the carpet, the R8 had nothing else to give. I crossed the line at 143mph in second place in a two-car race.
On the return road I saluted the driver with a single digit and returned to the impromptu pit area we'd established on the airport apron.
With our cameras reloaded, software checked and timing equipment reset, we returned to the bottom of the runway.
No Fly Zone
Airfield racing goes back to the dawn of the motorcar, when people were looking for places to compete. After creating purpose built facilities or converting airfields into racetracks in the middle of the last century, we now find ourselves returning to airports to get our speed thrills.
With relatively few quarter-mile tracks in Southern California, and many cars not getting into their stride over that distance, events like Shift-S3ctor's Airstrip Attack and Omega Motorsports' No Fly Zone have recently come to prominence.
As more of a variation on the standing-mile races, such as the famous Texas Mile, these airfield events again make use of what's available, since almost every city has a small airport, with some willing to allow organized speed events to take place. What's more, the events are generally relaxed and informal, with likeminded owners choosing whom to race and setting their own parameters.
So we spoke to Tony Lopez from Omega Motorsports (see sidebar) who was happy to help us obtain access to Minter Field in Shafter, CA. This is where he ran two No Fly Zone events that are designed to allow supercars to stretch their legs.
If you enjoy the speed and sound of modern sports cars, you should check out some of these emerging events because you can get close to the action, and taking part is generally cheaper than a formal track day. You get to have fun, meet some new friends and have cool video to take home with you.
For our next run in the R8, I'd put the S tronic into Manual mode and shift gears myself. That would surely make the difference and allow me to claw back the four or five car lengths I'd lost to the 034Motorsport 80 quattro!
Unfortunately, we weren't using a standing start because the R8's Launch Control function might have given it more of an advantage. So again, we rolled through the starting gate and punched it. The V10 lunged forward, punching through the air. In fact, it snapped through second gear so fast, it bounced off the rev limiter and lost precious time. I was cursing myself so badly I hit the limiter in the next gear as well, allowing the 25 year-old sedan to pass me again.
This was getting embarrassing. The script said that our $195000 supercar (as tested) would win the race. The next run would be better!
Sure enough, I nailed the gear shifts on the third run, flexing my fingers with perfect timing as the tacho needle approached its 8700rpm rev limit. Third and then fourth gears were selected in milliseconds and we raced for the stars. This time I wouldn't be beaten.
The howl of the V10 engine over my shoulder, heightened by less engine bay insulation to save weight on the "Plus" model, assured me that the 3660 lb sports car was going to take this win. We couldn't be stopped. The R8's distant relative would learn a harsh lesson in technological advancement.
With its awesome traction, stabilizing aerodynamics and gear shifts that are ten-times quicker than a manual change, I had little doubt about the outcome of this race. And then the red car passed me again before we crossed the half-mile marker...
This was getting stupid. It was time to pull over and put some sugar in his fuel tank.
To be fair to our supercar, the Audi 80 wasn't exactly outgunned. 034 Motorsport was aware of the challenge and brought a Desert Eagle .50 to our gentlemen's duel.
Based in Fremont, CA and led by Javad Shadzi, the company has been building some of the most powerful quattros in the world, and is the go-to resource for older Audi performance, particularly the five-cylinder 20v motor in this car.
Established in 2003, 034 can trace its roots directly back to Javad's purchase of this 1988 Audi 80 in 1998. It was his search for more power and frustration at the lack of suitable tuning parts that would eventually lead him to form his own company.
Back in 1998, a spotty-faced Shadzi had just graduated, got his first job in the VW/Audi aftermarket and was looking for a quattro platform to perform an engine swap. The Audi 80 was hugely unappreciated and he bought this car for a song, since performance enthusiasts were more interested in the C4 Audi S4, which would usually fit European RS2 upgrades.
Fitted with a naturally aspirated 2.3-liter five-cylinder 10v motor, Javad decided to fit a 20v engine from the Coupe quattro. He would port the head, fit forged internals and eventually turbocharge it until he met his goal of around 350hp at the crank.
With the internet blossoming in its early days, news about his engine swap and subsequent power hikes caused some interest, with people approaching Shadzi for parts and advice. The hobby became a business in 2003 and would become a fulltime job in '05.
The following year, he and customer-turned-employee and racecar-driver, Christian Miller, decided to run the Audi 80qt at Bonneville, both to publicize the business and to challenge themselves further.
The interior was stripped, rollcage fitted, exhaust removed, bigger turbo installed and 640hp found. They would pass tech inspection, sit on the Salt Flats but never race. Rain washed-out the event and 034 would never return to Bonneville.
The car's subsequent history has been inexorably tied to us: entering eurotuner Magazine's Tuner GP later in 2006, where it placed second overall with 750hp, and representing eurotuner in the Castrol Top Shop Challenge in 2007 with 848hp.
"The Castrol engine actually made 1000hp at the crank on 100-octane fuel," Shadzi admitted. "As a tuner we're always pushing ourselves to see what we can do and let the world know we're here. But it wasn't a one-tick pony. This car has competed on the dyno, drag strip and road course successfully."
Unfortunately, the 80 quattro would be sidelined by newer projects that included the company's legendary B5 Audi A4 and mid-engined Golf GTI, both of which won the eurotuner GP.
"The car sat for years until early 2013 when we had some time to dust it off. We always expected the five-cylinder business to start to fade away but it's actually got stronger as we've become a leader in 20v tuning and parts supply," explained Javad.
"We have everything from a 500hp bolt-on conversion for the C4 S4 up to 1000hp conversions for the Ur quattro. One of our customers even went to Bonneville with some of our parts and hit 270mph!" he said.
The first outing for the 80qt was No Fly Zone 2 at Minter Field, where it would beat all comers, only to succumb to a 1200hp Nissan GTR. "It was fun to get back behind the wheel," Javad smiled. "It was still in its Bonneville spec with the exhaust through the carbon fiber hood and covered in stickers, but we've made it more of a sleeper now. It was producing about 750hp on 120-octane fuel," he explained.
The car was also running a new Precision 6466 turbo that is newer and more efficient, spooling 2000rpm sooner and hitting 30psi full boost at 4500rpm, which wasn't possible a few years ago with the 2.3L engine.