I can’t say for certain what my expectations were when Scott first mentioned going to Sonoma for the R8 Sportscar experience. I was of course excited to go to Sonoma. Any excuse to get to California works for me – but racing cars, on a track? Not sure about that!
I am sure I can speak for most women when I say that to us Sonoma screams spas, relaxation and of course wine! And its true, it is all of those things, but it can also be way more than that!
Our trip started out like most others. It was a mad dash to the airport at 4:30 in the morning to catch the first flight to Sacramento. Why we chose to fly into Sacramento, I still can’t be certain but it turned out to be a great choice. The airport was small and lacks the congestion common to most airports and we were in and out with our car within 20 minutes. The day was not typical for California as you would think. Much like Portland the last few days, it was pouring! Luckily we are used to the down pour and felt right at home! Of course, my fingers were crossed that the sun would shine on the track for me the next day. I was already nervous about the track and adding rain to the mix had me envisioning myself careening into the sideboards!
Luckily, we woke to a gorgeous day and rushed out of our hotel with only minutes to spare. We arrived at Infineon Raceway to a line up of R8’s starring us down, waiting for us to charge on the track. Now, I have had no racing experience. I am sure I can speak for most people when I say that it is slightly intimidating to think of yourself racing at 100 mph on a track with a car that costs more than some houses – with little or no experience under your belt. Lucky for everyone, the instructors here know their stuff and are enthusiastic to help answer any questions you have and make the experience a memorable one.
The progression from the time you arrive to your last laps around the track is amazing. I personally would never have thought I would be careening around the track with everyone else, considering I had never actually done any driving like that before. But a big part of this whole experience is to think outside the box. Everyone really can do this sort of thing and it is really just about being okay with being outside of your comfort zone and letting it happen. And happen it does!
The track at Infineon is a technical one. I say that not just because it felt technical while I was trying to keep up with the instructor in front of me, but it really is one of the most difficult and technical tracks in North America. The turns are blunt and require a precise plan to execute them properly. And even when you think you have it – one wide angle or miscalculation of an “apex” will send you wildly off course. This is part of the learning experience though and trust me – it does get easier – and faster for that matter. But, first things first.
The day starts with a classroom period and introduction to your teammates as well as the instructors. We had a big group and I was happy to skip our own personal introductions. At this point you become familiar with the vehicle and some terminology you will be come very used to hearing by the end of the day. Also, this is the time where I am thinking – there is no way I am going to be able to do this! My biggest fear – aside from the speed at which I could potentially hit a wall, or another vehicle, was my very fragile motion sickness detector! I was mildly comforted by the fact that I was not alone in my fear. Seems there were a few others that had the same complication – I am pretty certain though I was the only one taking motion sickness pills twice daily almost a week before our arrival! I also did not participate in any food or drink at any time during the day – just one more precaution I was going to take!
After the brief introductions we headed out to the parking area where sat some of the most gorgeous cars, all waiting for us to start the day. At first we able to drive the TTS. Please remember that I am married to “Mr. Audi!” So not a day goes by that I don’t hear about Audi and its brand or impeccable ideas surrounding cars and every aspect of how Audi makes life better – but I have not driven too many of them. I happen to be first to go following a warning that if you were partial to motion sickness, not to sit as a passenger – ever. That was reassuring. So I took the advice and set upon the task at hand: drive as fast as you can around the pylons. So, for clarification, driving as fast as you can, does not mean as fast as you can in daily life on a residential street in the city. It means, drive as fast as you NEVER can. And for me, that means getting out of my comfort zone. It took a few tries, but before long I was screeching around those cones as if I had been practicing a long time. And, to my surprise – it was a blast! Now in all fairness, the cars themselves have a lot to do with being able to execute this task. You can surly see how trusting a car comes into play here. You actually have to believe and trust that it will stay on the road and not spin out of control, and before long, you realize, it really is sticking the corners and staying on the road.
Following that was an exercise in turning and breaking in the new V10 R8’s. Who knew there was such a science to this racing thing? I had no idea this was such a methodical and planned out process. We learned that the car really only follows one command at a time. That is break – turn – straighten. When a car is mid-turn, it is not ideal for it to break or slow down, though it is always in our nature to try to slow the vehicle down while we are in the turn. A bit of a learning curve, but even now, almost two weeks after, I am still breaking before I take a corner, though perhaps a little faster than before! This lesson was one that would stick with us the remainder of the day. We took to the track to learn the turns and twists in the car before we broke for lunch. At this point I had only a taste of how fast we would be going. My legs had stopped shaking but I still wasn’t confident enough to eat. Sadly, I missed out on what looked to be a fabulous Asian-inspired lunch with grilled vegetables and rice and some glazed meat for those of you that prefer! My small periodic sips of water seemed hardly satisfying, but I had other things on my mind. Not fear so much now , but a real curiosity as to how I was going to actually drive as fast as everyone else, and stay on the track. No sooner had I taken a few deep breaths, we were out the door, helmets on and starting our engines. From this point on, things seem to be pretty much a blur of excitement, speed and butterflies. I amazed myself at my ability to keep up and push a little harder each time to really exceed what I thought was possible for myself. There is a feeling that comes with doing something foreign to you that is hard to explain. A combination of pride and disbelief. What follows afterward though is the almost insatiable need for more. More speed. More laps. More time. Not surprising, but once that fear is gone something else entirely takes its place – I can’t say for certain what that something is, but it is much better than the fear.
The day passed quickly after the first laps. Scott was of course an old-pro in the car and amazed everyone in the group. Guys that had been racing for years were impressed with his skill and ability to throw the car through the curves within a foot of the person in front of him. On more than one occasion I took a deep breath and realized it was out of my hands if I was to find myself hitting the boards or car in front of me at 100 mph. Before we knew it it was 4:00 pm and we were bringing the cars back to the parking lot. The day was over and the racing was behind me and I started to feel the hunger of a whole day without food & slightly light headed with all the excitement of the day.
It didn’t take long for me to realize we should have taken another day at the course. Driving away I knew for sure we would be back sooner than I would have otherwise thought. It was a great day and far exceeded my expectations and of course, gave me one more reason to love California!