The thing about a car spinning at 260km/h is that it happens rather quickly. There I was, minding my own business and seeming to have a handle on a somewhat tail-happy car on a loose surface, when bang: a slippery patch sent the Audi R8 Plus into a very sudden sideways slide and pointing the wrong way.
Thankfully there was no actual bang as I wasn’t anywhere near a public road, nor any obstacles. Team Motoring, comprising myself and fellow journalist Jesse Adams, were on Hakskeenpan in the Northern Cape competing in the Kalahari SpeedWeek event, joining other petrolheads from around the country in this annual go-fast fest.
There’s nothing to hit or to make a car roll on the dead-flat clay surface which stretches for kilometres in every direction, so you simply wait for the car to finish its slippy-slide, bring it under control, and be on your merry way again.
Even though there was a brief sphincter-tightening moment when the car went sideways at 260, we weren’t going to let a little spin dampen our enthusiasm. Line up at the start again, choose a different (and hopefully less slippery) path towards the finish line 5km away, and give it stick. After finding a grippier line, the R8 romped to a true top speed of 271km/h.
That made it the third fastest car of the few hundred entered, behind a Lamborghini Aventador (303km/h) and a modified Nissan 370Z twin turbo (272km/h). For all the results visit www.speedweeksa.com.
SPEED & ADVENTURE
But Kalahari Speedweek isn’t just about exotic supercars. It’s for everyone with a hankering for speed and adventure, and if it has wheels and moves under its own power, you can enter it.
Just as in the inaugural event last year, this year’s SpeedWeek, which ran from September 14 to 23, drew a motley mob of entrants. With machines old and new in an eclectic range of shapes and sizes, competitors come from all over South Africa in humble commuters, modified racecars, rat-rods, motorcycles, American muscle cars, and even a peewee pit bike – all in the quest to see how fast they could go across the desert plain.
The drivers of these machines come in just as many flavours, and everyone has their own story: from the Aventador driver looking to better his 308km/h record from last year, to the bloke in the ratty-looking classic bakkie gunning for 100km/h. Although the speeds are so varied, everyone out there leaving a big plume of dust in their wake is equal in one sense: they all have petrol running through their veins and an adventurous streak.
“This event is like the petrolhead’s Woodstock,” says Kalahari Speedweek organiser Jan Els, a former motoring journalist and full-time motoring buff. He’s right; it’s just that the sounds are revving engines instead of rock guitars.
There’s a festival atmosphere in the tented camp where the competitors and spectators are accommodated on the pan, which is almost literally in the middle of nowhere – Hakskeenpan’s located in the Northern Cape a few kilometres from the Namibian border and Upington is the closest major town 250km away.
In-between their speed-chasing, the tent-town folk gather in a communal marquee tent for meals and drinks, to watch video feeds from the day’s velocity-chasing, and to swop stories of derring-do.
In the quest for speed there were several spectacular spins as road tyres lost the battle for traction on the dried clay – the surface may be hard but it’s still a lot slipperier than tar. Thankfully all the spins were harmless; as mentioned there’s nothing to hit out here and not even tumbleweeds venture out onto this dead, Martian-like surface. The only damage done was to the occasional ego, and then only briefly because you shake it off and line up back at the start for the next run. Then you slit your eyes, aim at the horizon, and hit the gas.
That’s how they roll in the Kalahari.
lApart from being the venue for Kalahari Speedweek, Hakskeenpan is where the British-built Bloodhound rocket-powered car will attempt to set the world land-speed record of 1 610km/h in 2015.
R8 FLAGSHIP IS A REAL ‘PLUS’
Our weapon of choice for SpeedWeek, the R8 Plus, was the recently-introduced flagship version of Audi’s mid-engined sportscar.
Like the rest of the range it’s built on an aluminium space frame but is 50kg lighter than the standard R8 V10 coupé. The sideblades are carbonfibre, while the same material’s also used in the side mirror housings, the front spoiler and diffuser, and in the cabin.
Ceramic brakes come standard in the V10 Plus, and the 5.2-litre V10 engine gets a power boost to 404kW and 540Nm – compared to the standard V10’s 386kW and 530Nm – which raises top speed to a claimed 317km/h (R8s aren’t party to the gentleman’s agreement limiting cars to 250km/h).
Although such a speed isn’t possible on clay, the 271km/h the R8 achieved on the slippery surface was pretty impressive. Apart from the one spin on loose “marbles” (mentioned in the story alongside), the quattro all-wheel drive claws and electronic stability control delivered the necessary adhesion to chase Kalahari speed records, and kept the car German supercar pointed straight in all the other runs we attempted.
Back on tar the R8 Plus displayed impeccable high-speed stability and cornering manners. The acceleration is hard-hitting, and before heading off for the desert we took the car to Gerotek for performance-testing where we clocked a highveld altitude sprint time of 0-100km/h in just 4.1 seconds (at sea level the normally-aspirated car should achieve 3.5 seconds).
The high-revving engine redlines at 8700rpm and when awakened it makes a throaty holler, but without droning noisily on a long cruise. There’s quite a noisy whoosh from the super-wide 19” tyres (235s in front and 305s in the back), however.
Back in the real world of traffic jams the R8 is surprisingly accessible and user-friendly. The new seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch gearbox, which is a change across the R8 range, shifts more smoothly than the old R-tronic.
The German two-seater also has decent visibility, all the luxury bells and whistles, and all-round Teutonic efficiency. There’s even space behind the seats for a golf bag, and a receptacle in the nose big enough for a couple of overnight bags.
The R8 was launched in 2007 but six years have done little to dim this Audi’s visual appeal. Like Sophia Loren, the low slung coupé’s aged very well and still has cellphone cameras snapping away at it wherever it goes.
Much of the attention centres on the carbonfibre-plated V10 on display under the rear glass cover, while the way the LED indicators “swipe” when you lock the car is uber cool. Yours for R2 365 500. -Star Motoring