photo by Rick Quellette

ANN, MY WIFE, HAS AN INNER lead foot. A seat-ofyour-pants driver who cuts corners at high speed and hits the red line on the Autobahn. I guess that’s what happens when you put 610 horses under your right foot and a naturally aspirated V10 behind your head. In an R8, a beast is bound to emerge in anyone.

Our slalom course through the Bavarian Alps started innocently enough. She’s a car nut and owns a rare RS4 V8 convertible. She loves that car. Babies it with lots of TLC, and it shows. As part of her devotion to the brand, she joined Audi Club North America and signed up for quattro quarterly. That’s where the trouble started.

photo by Rick Quellette

In the fall of last year, she saw an ad in the magazine about the Audi Driving Experience through the Alps and into Italy. The trip began in Munich, and for four days you got to drive a new R8 V10 Plus Coupe through the mountains of Austria and Italy and on to Lake Garda, a gloriously beautiful place in Italy’s northern region, near Verona. It’s where the chase scenes for Quantum of Solace were filmed. A perfect place for a supercar to shine.
You’d be in a pack of ten other R8s and be led by Audi tour guides. An all-inclusive vacation in one of the best vehicles on the planet. A gearhead’s dream if there ever was one.

photo by Rick Quellette

That’s how I found myself being hurtled through Alpine corners while the newly minted lead foot beside me took her turn behind the wheel. As her racing genes started to emerge, the R8 kept up with her driving with precise, taut movements along the asphalt. No tire squeal or whining pistons. Just a full-throated baritone to propel us across the landscape.

Our adventure began a few days earlier when we arrived in Munich for the start of the tour. It was cold and rainy and the region had been inundated for weeks. The forecast for the next few days was equally gloomy, but as we settled into the time zone, our anticipation began to build. We were actually here and, rain or shine, the cars would soon be ours.

photo by Rick Quellette

With the tour starting on Tuesday, we found ourselves with a little extra time in Munich. But Audi helped us make the most of it. Our gang of 20 had connected on Facebook and been in touch throughout the early phases of the trip.

Now all in Munich, we planned to meet for dinner on Sunday night and then tour the Audi factory and museum in Ingolstadt on Monday. A week of Audi awesomeness was about to begin. Dinner was great fun and we all shared our love for the four rings, but the first treat of the trip would come on Monday at the museum, with its three-story carousel of vintage and VIP cars. The guide took us through the development of the brand and showed early examples from the original companies. Racers and one-offs. A six-wheeled hill climber that was a sight to behold.

Then it was on to the factory and assembly plant where a robotic ballet concluded with a fully assembled A3, S3 or, the clear favorite of our group, the RS3, emerging at the end of the line. No R8s on this line of production, but tomorrow we’d get our own.

​photo by Aaron Rath

And so it was that on a gray Tuesday morning under a heavy aluminum sky, we all piled into vans in front of the hotel for the trip to the Audi Forum and the introduction to our awaiting chariots. As we pulled into the complex near the airport, we could see them strung out along the curbside in front of us. Ten R8s all in a row. Even under cloudy skies they seemed to glow. Red dragons just waiting to breathe fire.

The 20 of us, giddy now in the presence of these beautiful works of art, ran from car to car deciding on which one to pick for the adventure. Favorites chosen and gear stowed, we prepared for a briefing from Markus Fiechtl, an imposing and impish character who would be our squad leader for the next four days.

After a quick tutorial through the dashboard, driving modes, road signs, GPS and passing protocol, we were all eager to get behind the wheel ourselves. Finally, the time had come.

photo by Aaron Rath

Heading out to the string of V10 jewels, we all got ready for the ride of our lives. Since the trip was her idea from the beginning, I offered the first shift to my wife. It would include a long stretch of Autobahn and some technical hill driving before our stop for lunch, where, as Markus had explained, our GPS units would be set up for the final stop of the day on the shores of Lake Garda, Italy. What wonders lay ahead we did not know, but we were eager to find out.

As an all-inclusive endeavor, the trip includes daily lunches at unique spots along the Alpine highway, incredible accommodations to rest your road-weary body at night, a support wagon to hold all your luggage (driven by the ever-intrepid Anita), insurance for the drive, gas, tolls and a chance to meet some of the nicest people you’ve ever traveled with.

Oh, and then there’s the car. The 610 horsepower, R8 V10 Plus Coupe. Complete with ceramic brakes. And did I say there were 10 of them. All red. Well, 11 of them if you count the bright yellow model that Markus used to lead us like a piper through some of the best roads in Bavaria.

photo by Aaron Rath

As she settled in behind the wheel, Ann, got her first view of the stunning dashboard and driver layout in the car. Suitably awed, she was ready. Foot on the brake. Gear shift in park. One push of the red button and the dragon sprang to life. We looked at each other with pure glee on our faces. As our compatriots left the parking area one by one, we slowly eased out of our space and followed the line of red racers onto the Autobahn.

Traffic moved along with predictable German precision and we soon found ourselves in the high-speed lane in an unrestricted zone. A flick of her right foot and my wife was soon pushing the R8 into the deep end of the speedometer. We overtook countless cars, some even of our compatriots, as we made our way towards lunch. Her racing genes were definitely starting to show.

Lunch was a magnificent treat. Nestled into the rolling Austrian hills,the restaurant and resort at our first stop offered breathtaking views and a menu filled with delicious delights. Before lunch, we gathered on the deck, sharing stories of the supercar’s prowess and precision and pure fun quotient.

photo by Aaron Rath

Among the 20 of us, there were two father and son teams, a pair of solo travelers, four couples, two brothers, and two sets of friends. Among the couples were a 79 year old and his wife. Henry was a proud Flint native who still worked 80 hours a week at his industrial coating company. And he was no slouch behind the wheel either. He and his cowboy boots kicked our butts across the tarmac as he pushed his car harder and faster than almost anyone.

Over the first of many multi-course meals, the anticipation built for the afternoon drivers. We’d soon get our chance to tame those 610 horses and pilot the car along the precipitous shoreline of Lake Garda. Dessert could not come fast enough.

Fully recharged and caffeinated, we left the stunning scenery for the depths of the garage. Getting behind the wheel for the first time was an intimidating endeavor. The morning drivers had shown their stuff and now it was up to the second shift to take the reins. With nervous anticipation, I pushed the start button and the car roared to life.

photo by Aaron Rath

Predictably, Markus was the first out of the chute as the rest of us queued up behind him. Experience levels varied among the drivers. A few had their own R8s at home, but for the rest of us, this supercar adventure was a first and as I waited my turn at the driveway, I tried to absorb every second of the experience. Soon, I was headed out into the sunshine.

Winding down the small roads away from the resort, we headed back to the autobahn. Traffic had picked up from the morning, but the left lane beckoned and as the speed limit seemed to disappear, my right foot punched the throttle and pushed the speedo. We stayed the course in the high-speed lane until we eventually found ourselves in Italy. With the road narrowing and the altitude climbing, the car seemed to come into its own.

It was incredibly flat through the now twisting roadway. Steering was precise and quick. And in sport mode, the sound of the engine downshifting every time I braked was music to my ears. The R8 felt alive and so did I.
Chewing up all those kilometers had made the cars rather thirsty and soon our group descended on, well, actually took over, a gas station for refueling. Our intrepid leader, Markus, was already orchestrating cars through the pumps when we arrived and as we sat in line, a crowd of admirers started to gather. They stopped in the street. Gawked from nearby windows. And scrambled out of the service bays to stare at our armada of R8s. They truly were a sight to behold. 

photo by Rick Quellette

And so it was for the next three days as we guided our cars from town to town, through twisty switchbacks and narrow tunnels, up picturesque inclines and down mountain roads. We would clump together in packs of three or six or eight, red dragons on parade turning heads wherever we went. At night, the five star accommodations became the perfect venue to relive the day’s events.

For Rick and Collin, one of the father and son teams, the trip was a bonding experience beyond compare: “The Audi R8 is an absolutely amazing vehicle. Whether driving it, or riding as a passenger, it was the most exhilarating and awe-inspiring vehicle I have ever been in. But the best and most meaningful part for me was enjoying all of that in the company of my son! Spending time together in that incredible car and beautiful country is certainly something I will never forget. I also felt that Audi and Audi Club North America did an absolutely top notch job arranging and orchestrating this trip—everything was first class!”

To Collin, who bought the adventure as a surprise for his Dad, “This trip was the perfect combination of excitement, relaxation and time with my Dad and new friends. It was certainly an experience of a lifetime.”

Drue has an R8 in the garage at home, but for him this was a chance to “drive through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world in one of the greatest cars in the world. What made the trip special in the end was meeting new friends along the way—people from all over the US, with different backgrounds, who share a common passion.”

photo by Collin Perry

And that common passion has four rings on the grille. Nowhere was that more evident than on our last stop of the trip. We were eating lunch at a fantastic hotel in Tegernsee, Austria. Nestled on the shoreline of yet another beautiful lake, the buildings surround a ringed motor court that sits like a piazza in the middle of the complex. On this day, that motor court was filled with an armada of R8s as our cars took over the entire area.

As we were eating, a Ferrari 458 made its way up the road next to the restaurant. All of us watched with mischievous mirth as the driver slowly circled the courtyard that had been overtaken by our cars. There was nowhere for him to park. 

Forced to drive through the ring of red dragons, the Ferrari made a hasty retreat back down the street past our tables. Not 10 minutes later, a Ferrari California had to endure the same ignominious fate as he too found no refuge in the Audi-filled piazza. Germany 2, Italy 0.

photo by Aaron Rath

Like most of the other teams, Ann and I had traded off driving, but among the four women on the tour, she was the only one to take the wheel. Just that morning, she stayed with Markus and the lead pack of other drivers for hours, never once letting the boys get away. She reluctantly gave up the keys as we finished our lunch by the lake and let me take the car back to the starting point at the Audi Forum in Munich.

As I settled in behind the wheel one last time, I was struck by the surreal nature of what we had justdone. The trip had started on a whim. A small ad that became a real adventure. What neither of us could expect when we made our plans is just how much of an adventure it would really be and what great fun we’d have with our traveling companions. We bonded over more than our love of Audis.

The R8 is a fantastic work of art and piloting it along the spine of the Alps was intoxicating. It moves with you and gives you a precise sense of control. And with so much power lurking under your right foot, it doesn’t disappoint when the twists turn into straight-aways and the Autobahn opens up. For the secret and not-so-secret lead foot in all of us, the R8 is a supercar with a sense of soul. A ride of a lifetime. And for these two travelers, it was the ultimate transportation through an experience we’ll never forget.