– Monterey County, California
Frank Lamberty might be the designer and OG of the Audi R8 but for me, the godfather was my buddy, Reilly Brennan. The editor of Winding Road magazine at the time, working under the great David E. Davis, Jr., Brennan called me on a random weekday afternoon to ask about getting some lunch. When the door buzzer rang at my apartment I walked out to see what could’ve been mistaken at the time for a wheeled spaceship in the parking lot.
In 2006, I of course knew what the R8 was. Audi’s knife-edged design graced the pages of every big motoring magazine around that era and found its way – in fewer pixels than you could imagine – onto the proto auto internet, too. But seeing the thing in person had me gobsmacked (especially being that we were in Ypsilanti, Michigan, at the time).
The 2008 Audi R8.
Despite not even getting behind the wheel, I remember that ride and day very well as it was one of those “Oh damn, I’m really doing this” moments in my journey of writing about cars for a living. The R8 and I both got started in the business at the same time, and it’s always had a special place in my heart as a result.
A Very Quick Goodbye
Audi invited me to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca last week amidst the Monterey Car Week festivities without knowing any of that. The 2023 model year marks the end of production for the machine, and the German brand wanted to celebrate what is arguably its most-important-ever vehicle with a big send-off.
A host of media was joined by the aforementioned Frank Lamberty, and racing legend Tom Kristensen, who won Le Mans in the original Audi R8 race car in 2000… and 2001… and 2002… and 2005 (dude is fast). Audi brought along two variants of the final iteration of the R8 road car, one boasting Quattro all-wheel drive as you’d expect, and one rear-drive coupe.
The logistics involved in getting three cars (the two R8s plus Kristensen’s RS E-Tron GT pace car), about a dozen journalists, and support staff to the trackside staging area during the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion is time-consuming. Given plenty of time to chat with the other writers, I was interested to learn that many of them had never been behind the wheel of an R8 before. For them, this lap and a half of lead-follow at Laguna was analogous to my lunch date 17 years earlier. Quite the come-up.
Gallery: Audi R8 Coupe V10 performance RWD at Laguna Seca
Side-Bladed Wayback Machine
I was a little shy about being the old guy in that company, but chatting with the journalists whose first time behind the wheel would be at R8’s “last lap” brought to mind all of my touchpoints with the car in the past. That exercise didn’t require a deep dive into my ever-worse memory banks, either, as any day or week with the R8 turns out to be pretty unforgettable.
Sometime in 2009 I commandeered an R8 4.2 for a long weekend and drove it across the state with my then-girlfriend to visit my family. The final destination was Muskegon, Michigan, yet another place on the Earth where the only “exotic” sports cars live on the local Chevy dealer lot and wear a Corvette badge.
2017 Audi R8 RWS
2010 Audi R8 Spyder.
I had the chance to take my Mom for a ride on a twisty backroad in what was, I’m fairly certain, her first mid-engine car experience. She’s always been a bit of a speed freak so I really wrung the thing out, laughing out loud and enjoying myself between swears at the clunky, single-clutch automated manual R Tronic gearbox.
That car was black over sliver side blades with the good wheels, and it broke necks everywhere we drove in the provincial western part of the state.
Sadly, it was also the only R8 I ever broke, on the day I was meant to hand the keys over. On my way into the office on that Monday morning, I couldn’t resist taking one more early morning drive along the Huron River. I saw but didn’t completely dodge a nasty pothole, hit hard, and busted the tire. My art director picked me up and could feel my shame as we waited for the flatbed, and one of our readers saw us on the side of the road and emailed later that day with a joke-y note about learning to drive.
Gallery: Audi R8 Through The Years
Next up was the launch of the 2011 R8 Spyder V10 in San Diego in 2010 – the First Drive of which was published almost exactly 13 years ago today. I cringe rereading that story because the prose is, well, pretty over the top. But I can close my eyes and remember how excited I was to write the piece after a day of open-top corner-crushing around the California coast and mountains.
I will never forget the “click-click” of slotting the gated six-speed shifter into gear; a treat for the fingertips and ears that every car nut owes themselves at some point. And, though it’s been a minute since I’ve heard the engine note, I described the sound as “...bassy, low-rev rumblings morphing into a strident, never strained, shouting mezzo-soprano at the top end.” which tracks with my memories.
There was another coupe that I can’t seem to dig up on Facebook (remember Facebook?). And another Spyder from the early days of Motor1 that I paired with my not-quite-restored Pontiac Fiero for a truly silly video (we did a real review, too). I drove an R8 to my 20-year high school reunion, where I blew out my knee playing basketball. And then a long gap before I stepped behind the wheel of my first-ever RWD R8 at the track last weekend.
Sweet See You Laters
I wish that I could say I developed some new and insightful driving impressions during that quick spin, but the truth is I was really just concentrating on enjoying the moment. For a more serious analysis of how the current and final R8 rear-drive car goes down the road, I’ll encourage you to reread our piece from Jonathon Ramsey or just watch Mr. Le Mans himself do the lap in the video above.
I can say that, with 562 horsepower delivered only to the rear wheels I was slightly more circumspect coming out of the faster corners at Laguna than I may have been in the Quattro. And I’m certain that, despite this last-drive branding, I’m going to be asking for a last set of R8 keys before this epically angled beastie is retired from the media car fleet.
The subtle steering, palpitating V10 soundtrack, and crazy grip of this send-off car all track with my fond memories of R8s past. And of course my smile after getting out of the car, 1.5 laps and half a career after that first ride, was as big as ever.
What’s the line? Let’s not say goodbye. Let’s say, until we meet again.