Times like these probably make Mike McGovern hate his job. For all he knew, it could've been my first time on a track. Or my first time at the helm of a 630-hp twin-turbocharged V8, which it was. As chief instructor at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, he's probably seen his fair share of overinflated egos who, for some reason or another, thought they could drive. He's had the misfortune of riding shotgun with the ham-fisted, the apex-ignorant, the overzealous, and he probably didn't get paid enough to do so.
We were hurtling down the front straight of the Bondurant track, into Fourth gear for a few seconds, nearly touching 100 mph, before the braking markers appeared. McGovern's feet went instinctively to the carpet, pounding up and down, hard on the brakes, the imaginary pedals on the front passenger side that all driving instructors pump when approaching a tight right-hand chicane at 100 mph. "Brake, brake, brake," he said as the braking markers "4" and "3" flashed by. I held off until we hit the number "2" marker, then laid into the brakes and turned in while trailing off.
I left the braking late not to make the instructor's life flash before his eyes but to test the limits of an Audi R8 that had recently been fortified by an Evolution Motorsports twin-turbocharger system. While probing its limits and looking for flaws or limitations, I failed to find any weaknesses. Those limits are lofty yet approachable thanks to a chassis that stayed composed, communicative, forgiving, and obedient. The many accolades the R8 has garnered since its release are definitely well deserved.
Perhaps the only knock against the R8, at least in eight-cylinder form, is that it lacks the kind of power to put it in the same conversation as comparable offerings from Porsche and Ferrari. Audi addressed that by dropping in a slightly detuned version of the V10 from the Lamborghini Gallardo, but where does that leave the owners with the V8?
Todd Zuccone of Evolution Motorsports, (EVOMS) in Tempe, Ariz., saw both the deficiencies and the potential in the V8 R8 and figured he'd fill that void. EVOMS is best known for taking Porsche Turbos to the edge and living to tell about it. The company's 996 TT put them on the map when it hit 231 mph in the standing mile, and while I was in the shop, there were several 1,100-hp Turbos in for service or waiting to be picked up by their owners. Suffice it to say Zuccone and his crew have forced induction down cold.
For the R8, they started by taking apart the engine to look for weak links or areas of concern. Satisfied, they decided that the stock engine would be able to handle a fair amount of boost, around 8 psi, without breaking.
Zuccone went with large turbos instead of smaller, quicker-spooling units because the less restrictive, larger turbos wouldn't generate as much heat. For this setup, he chose Garrett GT35 dual ball bearing turbos with upgraded Tial billet compressor wheels. The wastegates and blow-off valves are also by Tial. All the extra piping, plumbing, and exhaust works were designed and fabricated in-house, with an emphasis on OEM-level fit and compatibility with actual OEM pieces. The ECU is the factory Bosch unit, reprogrammed by EVOMS.
Heat became the main issue during development and to combat it, just about everything received a coating of Jet-Hot 2000. All of the original heat shields are used and a few new ones were fabricated. EVOMS also created new air ducting to feed the intercooler's heat exchanger, which sits behind the air duct "blade" in front of the rear wheel.
As for the intercooler itself, it's a liquid cooled unit utilizing four Laminova cores. EVOMS designed it to fit between the intake runners and the intake manifold. According to their tests, this configuration provided lower intake air temperatures and pressure drop than an intercooler placed between the turbos and the intake runners.
At 8 psi of boost, on a cool day, using pump gas, Zuccone estimates the engine will put out between 630 to 650 hp. Either figure trumps the 525 hp of the 5.2-liter V10 and the 560 hp in the upcoming R8 GT.
It was 113 degrees when I drove it on the Bondurant track, with the track temperature above 150 degrees. EVOMS decided to dial it back from 8 to 6 psi of boost to play it safe but the car didn't lack for velocity. If anything, the engine catapulted the car soo quickly through the gears that I found myself into the rev limiter sooner than expected. The power forces you to stay on your toes and ready for the next upshift, but it's not the kind of power that slams the back of your head against the headrests. Instead, the power delivery has the linear, forceful surge of a jet during takeoff-the build-up, the stored energy, the release.
Combine that surge with an exhaust soundtrack that's raucous and raw enough to boil your blood. This may sound heretical, but its deep, burbling baritone is not unlike an American muscle car, albeit one with a more insistent, higher-strung tone.
There was some noticeable, but not debilitating, turbo lag coming out of slow Second-gear corners. It lasted only a split second before increased revs got the turbos to spin again, but it felt far from feeling like an "on-off" switch, a malady that plagues many large-turbo setups. And because it retains the stock engine's high compression ratio, drivability around town is practically the same as stock.
That day, the car was passed around among four drivers: Bob Bondurant; chief instructor Mike McGovern; the car's owner, Dan Withers; and myself. Despite being run hard in the searing temperatures, the water temperature gauge never moved from center, a testament to how thoroughly EVOMS sorted the cooling systems. Both Bondurant and McGovern gave the car high marks for power, handling, and brakes. Bondurant also noted the hint of turbo lag at low revs.
Props have to be given to the factory suspension and brake setups. As mentioned earlier, the brakes never faded throughout the afternoon. The suspension, set on Sport for the most part, handled the extra power well. If I had nits to pick, I'd say the rear springs/shocks could be a little stiffer to reduce the squat under hard acceleration, but it wasn't something that diluted the experience. EVOMS changed the stock tires to Michelin Pilot Sport Cups and they held up admirably, offering neck-straining levels of grip and a hard-wired connection of feedback through the steering wheel.
Zuccone says that by the time you read this, the kit will be ready to go. And if 630 hp isn't enough, they're also working on a fully built engine with new rods and pistons to withstand more boost. Zuccone expects to see 900 hp from that engine. With a larger intercooler, this kit can also be easily adapted to the 5.2-liter V10 engine. And it wouldn't be a surprise if EVOMS went all out with a fully built 1,000-plus V10 as well.
With this twin-turbo R8, EVOMS created something that not only gets it into the conversation with Porsche 911 Turbos and Ferrari F430s, it moves up a class into GT2 and Scuderia territory. Not bad company and probably where it should've been had Audi really wanted to build a halo car. EVOMS, however, is glad Audi saved some room for dessert. Special thanks to the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving for letting us use the track.
EvoMs Twin-Turbo Audi R8
Longitudinal mid engine, all-wheel drive
4.2-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve.
Evolution Motorsport twin-turbo kit, liquid intercooled
Six-speed R tronic automated manual
Aluminum double wishbones, Audi Magnetic Ride shock absorbers
Eight-piston calipers and 14.4-inch ventilated rotors (f); Four-piston calipers and 14-inch ventilated rotors (r)
Wheels and Tires
OEM alloys, 19-inchMichelin Pilot Sport Cup
Peak Power: 630 hp (est.)