To query people about their driving abilities is to invite a host of protestations about their skills, the discussion often ending up as a treatise on mastership of the road, comparable only to Juan Miguel Fangio's. This belief is cultivated because most driving is done in a straight line with few obstacles or surprises. To survive each day unscathed is often considered proof positive of one's abilities, and the techniques of defensive driving are widely held as being a sufficient method of operating a vehicle with the greatest degree of caution, which is then supposed to translate to trouble-free motoring. While defensive driving is good practice, it's not enough and doesn't take into account many of the factors that can get a driver in trouble.
Audi has a better idea. Along with other European car manufacturers, Audi has started to address this concern with dynamic courses--the Audi Quattro Challenge--designed to teach its customers to become better drivers and how to best exploit the capabilities of their own Audis.
The one-day course includes four lessons, is offered in a number of U.S. cities, and is open to Audi customers on a first-come, first-served basis.
Recently I had the opportunity to sit in on the Quattro Challenge at California Motor Speedway in beautiful (note: the author's use of sarcasm was missed by the ed) sunny Fontana, California. The first area of instruction is conducted on a wet skid pad, where drivers explore the capabilities of their quattros in a controlled environment under the watchful eyes of an instructor. For those of us who live in Southern California, the need to practice foul-weather driving is clearly evidenced by the multitude of pileups after even the mildest of rains. For those living in more hostile environs, it's often a matter of life and death.
While some of the students were on the course, a representative from Eagle One, a co-sponsor of the event and supplier of authorized Audi car car products, showed the owners how to clean and maintain their vehicles.
The next lesson was accident avoidance and skid recovery. This involved driving through a series of cones with sharp turns negotiated at speed. The hardest part of this lesson was the wet, hard right-hand turn after a straight that tested drivers to control their vehicles when one end or the other gives way.
The timed autocross wasn't so much a lesson as it was an opportunity for drivers to compete against each other through a series of cones laid out in the infield of California Motor Speedway. The speeds weren't all that great, but for those who have autocrossed, it's not the terminal speed that denotes the winner, it's the quickest, most-precise driver.
Finally, there are the speed laps, which are done in Audi's own cars. The speed laps are done in three phases. First the students ride along with a professional driver who explains the line through the course. The second time through, the students drive along with the instructor. Finally, the students are treated to fast laps through the course with the instructors behind the wheels. This nose-to-tail driving session is the most exciting part of the day.
Adjacent to the speed lap course, Pirelli, another co-sponsor, had a truck set up where the fast lap cars could be re-shod, and for the participants it was a chance to speak with a tire rep on the various types of tires fitted to their Audi cars.
The Audi Quattro Challenge is a great way for Audi owners to be introduced into the world of Audi and their car's capabilities. This is not a full-fledged driving course but rather a taste of what one can learn to make one a better and safer driver.
Readers are encouraged to log on to www.audiusa.com to learn about any Audi driving events scheduled in 2002.