Going into the Castrol Syntec Top Car Challenge, we had everything going for us. Our fearless combatant was Mike Ghaemi, a passionate Audi enthusiast and speed demon from Van Nuys, CA; his weapon - an all-wheel drive 700whp '01 Audi S4. The car was ready for war with its 2.7 liter bored to 2.8 using JE pistons and Cunningham rods. It also had ported and polished heads, upgraded cams and larger Garrett GT28RS turbos from Autospeed Performance. Even the suspension and brakes was dialed-in by Stasis Engineering, while the tires were the stickiest around thanks to Nitto's NT01s.
But every battle has its casualties. When high performance cars are tested to the max, things don't always go according to plan. Out of the nine scored competitions, Mike's Audi finished only seven, handicapped by a fueling problem. Although injured, it fought a valiant fight and beat several other competitors.
With the prospect of more than 700hp, we were cross-legged with excitement when Mike pulled his S4 onto the K&N dyno for the first of his three allotted runs.
Giving the engine a gentle warm-up on the first run, the 2.8 V6 was running the softest of its three maps, limiting it to just 22psi for the 91-octane settings. However, the engine started misbehaving almost immediately, and with limited time as well as tools, Mike tried to diagnose the problem. With a misfire, he inspected the spark plugs and discovered two were damaged on cylinders one and four. He initially thought this was caused by turbulence from the dyno fans, but later found a cracked fuel line. It had caused the two front cylinders to run lean and subsequently blew a head gasket.
Despite its problems, the S4 had recorded 578hp at the wheels and 539 lb-ft of torque, which was among the highest in the competition. We were obviously curious to discover what it would put down on the 40psi 109-octane ECU map, but Mike wisely withdrew from his remaining dyno pulls to make repairs and come back fighting in the other disciplines. "The imports got lucky, I was only on four cylinders!" Mike laughed at the end of the first day.
After a strategic weight loss program, Mike was confident his 3400 lb S4 would float onto the scales. With its carbon hood and stripped interior, etc, the Audi had dropped to a respectable 3176 lb - a reduction of around 200 lb, which would definitely help on the performance tests and put it among the top competitors in the power-to-weight calculation.
An emissions test was also conducted; awarding points according to how close each competitor was to the greenest car. They looked at hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, devising a formula to account for the percentage difference of all three tests against its rivals. Unfortunately, we didn't fare too well in this area since there were fuelling and ignition problems.
Equipped with 328mm (13") Alcon brakes up front, Mike was confident about the stopping test. The six-piston calipers bit hard, stopping the car in 182ft from 80mph. The vehicle's lighter weight and race-ready Nitto NT01 tires helped immensely.
Acceleration was equally impressive. Mike credits the tires and the twin-turbo torque for its incredible 2.85sec 0-06mph launch time. "The low weight and launching the car aggressively helped us, even though we were limited up top," he explained. The Audi shot off the line like a bullet, but this would eventually lead to its downfall on the quarter-mile test.
It was apparent Mike's S4 wasn't running right. The motor's boost was limited and Mike was struggling to hold everything together when the quarter-mile competition came around. With a decent 11.44sec on his second run, he deflated the tire pressures to give it one last shot. "The car was hurt and maxed out, especially at the top-end," he told us. "I wanted to put on a good show. If my car was at full power, I would have taken off more gently, but I was desperate..."
The violent launch grenaded the rear differential. "The rear diff is one of the weakest links on these cars, especially with sticky tires and lots of power," he explained. Mike was unable to fix the car in time for the road course event, so he retired early on the second day with a broken diff, damaged fuel line and blown head gasket. According to Mike, with the car healthy it should have easily accomplished 10sec passes.
"What really put us back was the dyno day. If I wasn't so determined to pass emissions and had checked my fuel lines, it would have been good. The engine was bulletproof. So we knew if anything let go, it was going to be something really basic. Yet the car ran through the event on four or five cylinders at 20psi," Mike concluded.
In spite of the obstacles, the S4 put on a great show and demonstrated it had the potential to exceed expectations if it were healthy. But that's racing...
As for Mike, you won't be seeing the last of him. He plans to make a comeback at this year's eurotuner GP. Look out for the exclusive coverage in our January issue. Log on to www.SyntecTopCarChallenge.com for results from the Castrol Syntec Top Car Challenge, which will also appear in next month's issue to see how he fared against the import opposition - and we weren't last.