The Audi R8 is more than just another supercar. For any carmaker, even one as experienced as Audi, to get its first ever mid-engine supercar so right the first time out is a great achievement.
On that basis, the V10-powered version could only be better, and other than the extra weight in the back taking a smidgen out of the V8 version's fine balance on the bald limit, the extra horses and the offbeat scream of the Lamborghini-derived V10 motor have only added to the R8's legend in the making.
As always though, the hard-core enthusiasts want even more and it is down to companies like Abt and MTM to supercharge the V8, while giving it even more thrust than the detuned Gallardo V10 offers out of the box.
The Abt-fettled alternative for V10 junkies is the GTR, an unashamed lightweight road racer with a 620-hp motor that pushes the R8 concept to its cliff-hanging conclusion. The GTR is the closest thing to a track day special short of sticking license plates on an R8 GT3 LMS racer. From its mean stance to its stealthy mil-spec satin gray paint, this car is locked and loaded for action.
While Abt's GTR is the epitome of a speed freak's wet dream, the company's R8 V10 Spyder represents the other extreme of the R8 envelope. Take one R8 V10 Spyder, give it the visual works with Abt's latest alloy wheels and a carbon-fiber aero body kit and the result is a red-hot sun seeker. With 600 hp on tap this flashy roadster can also bare a set of pretty sharp teeth on demand.
To seriously explore the performance of either car on public roads would be a problem in more ways than one, so Abt arranged for playtime on the runway of a nearby Luftwaffe airbase. That would normally be a big favor, but as this former home to an F-104 Starfighter squadron is no longer operational, our request was granted by the commanding officer.
Our little convoy certainly raised a few eyebrows on the ground as we made our way to the airfield, and the sentries on the gate, who had been expecting us, were certainly impressed. In fact, had anyone wanted to attack the base at that very moment, they would not have been able to devise a more effective distraction than this.
As we drove through the camp towards the runway, all eyes followed our progress. Officers and enlisted men alike, used to fast jets with wings even bigger than the one on the GTR's engine cover, visibly swooned in admiration at these German wings. Ferrari has nothing on this pair.
Down on the main runway, I had the chance to speak with Abt's co-owner, Christian Abt, who looks after the technical and motorsport aspects of the firm, while his brother, Hans-Juergen oversees the administration.
"After we won the 2009 ADAC GT Masters with our R8 LMS, we thought of celebrating this with a fairly extreme road car using some of our race technology," Christian explains. "Bearing in mind that the LMS racer is restricted to 560 hp, the same as the Lamborghini Gallardo engine tune, we knew we could easily take the 525-hp V10 to this level, while reducing the car's weight.
"On the other hand, we also had the know-how to squeeze even more power from the engine. And once our development department confirmed that they could extract a reliable 620 hp within the road-legal emissions framework, we made the decision that this would be the output for the 25 Project GTR limited edition cars we would offer."
It is no secret that the 525-hp V10 motor in the R8 is detuned from 560 hp with an ECU remap. Even that is a conservative power level, and it's not a big task to restore Lamborghini levels of power and torque and eke out further gains from the four-cam motor.
Thus, the standard Abt motor upgrade package for this engine comes with 600 hp at 8000 rpm. Where the stock motor has 391 lb-ft of torque at 6500 rpm, the Abt version boasts 406 over a broader range, from 6400 to 7000 rpm. The zero to 62 mph time drops by 0.1 second to 3.8, and top speed goes up from 196 to 202 mph. The GTR uses this as a base and gains a further 20 hp with a bespoke stainless steel exhaust system to reduce backpressure, allowing the motor to breathe more freely at high revs. The big numbers are 620 hp at 8100 rpm and 413 lb-ft from 6400 to 7000 rpm.
There's an interesting story behind the exhaust system that needs to be told. Titanium may be the flavor of the month because of its ultra-lightweight properties and a material resonance frequency that produces a deeper exhaust note. However, there's a darker side to titanium. If you do not use titanium of sufficient thickness and construct the system to the highest possible standards, the system can fail after a year or so. Because these systems cost so much, they are very expensive to replace, resulting in one very unhappy customer.
Abt experimented with a hybrid system combining stainless steel with titanium parts to get the best of both worlds. However, the cost and complexity of this didn't add up, so they decided to stick with stainless steel, which has a long track record in performance, cost and reliability.
Thus, while 40 pounds might have been saved with a titanium exhaust, the 200 pounds actually saved by the GTR over the standard V10 coupe comes from the boot lid, fenders, front and rear bumpers, door mirrors, and the tailgate being molded from carbon fiber. Makrolon is used for the rear quarter lights and vented rear engine cover glazing, removing further weight motorsport style. The front splitter and rear wing are also made from carbon, and provide around half the downforce of Abt's LMS race car. Abt would not be drawn on an exact downforce number, but said that the car was perfectly stable at its top speed.
While the doors are the factory steel structures for safety reasons, their interior trim panels are made from carbon fiber. In fact, even the steering wheel is made from carbon fiber, resulting in lower inertia you can feel when you turn the wheel.
The lightweight Recaro seats are trimmed in leather and cross-stitched Alcantara, with Alcantara on the dashboard and headliner, and lightweight carpet on the floor and rear bulkhead. The matte carbon trim on the Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel is a nice touch. Normally I don't like shiny carbon or wood on steering wheels because of the drastic change of surface friction and temperature when your hands move from one material to the other, but the matte carbon offers good grip and looks purposeful. Four-point race harnesses supplement the normal seatbelts, which are more convenient to use on the street. Incidentally, I went looking for GTR logos all over the car and stopped counting at 21.
The 19-inch lightweight forged alloy wheels are wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup rubber. These wheels weigh just 18 and 22 pounds front and rear, respectively, and are specially made for the GTR. They cost a whopping €9,000 a set (about $12,000) because of the low volume. Abt worked with H&R to develop the height-adjustable coilover suspension for this car. As tested, it sits about 35mm lower than a stock R8 V10, but this can easily be altered to suit road or track work.
The lightweight rear engine cover, relative lack of soundproofing and the sports exhaust have a significant effect on the decibels reaching your ears. In this respect, I found that the stock Spyder suits my fun driving mood even better than the hardtop, but the GTR strikes a happy balance between the two.
On the airfield runway, the GTR left the line with a brief flurry of wheelspin from all four tires, followed by one long sustained blast of acceleration, punctuated by the upshifts prompted by my right fingers pulling the paddle.
The R tronic is of course the same manu-matic 'box used in the Gallardo and feels so last generation compared to the faster and smoother twin-clutch systems fitted to newer rivals like the Ferrari Italia and Porsche 911 Turbo-time to roll on the next-gen Lambo gearbox. That apart, the car is mechanically brilliant. Upshifting at 8000 rpm is sky-high by most road car standards. As the tach needle swings 'round the dial, the bass-rich warble of the quad-cam 5.2-liter V10 is overwhelmed by a rising noise a few octaves higher. As the decibel level rises, the soundtrack mutates into a sound like a swarm of demented wasps on sterno, overlaid by a Formula One race car scream, all aimed squarely at your eardrums.
The extra horses and less weight are telling, and if you know the stock R8 V10, you can instantly tell the difference. The engine revs more urgently, the mid-range thrust is greater, and the motor breathes noticeably better at the top end. It reaches redline faster in every gear and feels more willing every step of the way.
Turn the wheel and the response is better too. You can feel the carbon-fiber steering wheel takes less effort to move off center, and if you think about it, halving the weight of your point of contact with the road and shaving 9 pounds off each front wheel makes a difference to the speed with which your thoughts are translated into action at tarmac level. The uprated suspension cuts roll and the pointy front end now scythes into turns like a big go-kart. The back end is just as eager to leave the straight and narrow, but because it is always reading from the same hymn sheet as the front, the car feels perfectly poised.
Apply lots of power in a low gear and the big, sticky Cup tires will let go, but then keep some power on with the right amount of opposite lock dialed in and the differentials help you to maintain a nice stable power drift. This is so intuitive that you could probably keep it up until the rubber catches fire or your neck muscles give out.
On the road, the GTR is a paradigm of good behavior. The motor is as tractable as stock, but that awesome top end helps you monster three, four or more cars in one go when you are overtaking. The track-ready H&R suspension had been softened off for road use when I drove the car, and the secondary ride is more than acceptable on country roads, while maintaining iron-fisted control at speed. The factory ceramic brakes are pretty impressive out of the box, but need the uprated pads fitted to the GTR if they are to survive intense track work. They are incredibly effective yet allow perfect modulation on the road for jerk-free stops.
Incidentally, the Michelin Cup tires on the test car survived a full performance test at the Sachsenring track by a German magazine plus our test day, with tread to spare. Back at base, I noticed that they were evenly worn across their broad treads, which shows just how well balanced the car is.
Against the stopwatch, the GTR, as driven by Christian, proved just 5.0 seconds a lap slower than a full race 560-hp R8 LMS at the Sachsenring. Bear in mind that the race car is lighter, has suspension more than twice as stiff and runs slick racing tires.
The Abt R8 Spyder is dressed to kill with a new front grille, front spoiler lip, side skirts, rear valance and rear wing. Other than the grille, all these parts are made from carbon fiber. The ride height of our test car has been dropped 35mm with uprated springs designed to work with the stock dampers. This car was fitted with black-painted Abt BR-style alloys in a 20-inch diameter, with a red color-coded stripe on their flange. Lightweight forged wheel fanatics can opt for Abt's CR design, which comes in a 19-inch diameter only.
With 600 hp, but more weight to carry than the fixed-roof R8, the Spyder is slower against the clock. But 3.8 seconds to 62 mph and 199 mph flat out is still not too shabby, and I always maintain that open cars are for enjoying the scenery rather than trying to set outright lap records.
Abt has taken these two R8 V10s and turned them into polar extremes. The GTR is an ultimate hard-core track day car that remains civilized enough to be used as a daily driver, while the Spyder is one of the best cars of its type for enjoying an al fresco blast down Highway 1.
So which is better? This pair is so different in purpose and character that if you can't decide between them and you're an R8 addict, you really need to have both in your garage.
Longitudinal mid engine, all-wheel drive
5.2-liter V10, dohc, 40-valve; Abt exhaust and software remap
OEM carbon-ceramic assemblies
Wheels and Tires
Abt alloys, 8.0x19 (f), 11.0x19 (r); Michelin Pilot Sport Cup, 235/35 (f), 305/30 (r)
Carbon boot lid, front fenders, front and rear bumpers, front splitter, rear wing
Peak Power: 620 hp @ 8100 rpm
Peak Torque: 406 lb-ft @ 6400 rpm
0-62 mph: 3.2 sec.
Top Speed: 202 mph