Audi R8 Quattro Final Drive: A fast farewell to an overlooked supercar

Audi R8 Quattro Final Drive: A fast farewell to an overlooked supercar

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MONTEREY, Calif. – When I decided I wanted to get into the car journalism business, one of the prime reasons for it – besides driving lots of neat cars, obviously – was wanting to be present for big moments in car history. I'd see photos from auto shows and car reveals from decades past and think, "How cool would it have been to be there?" And realizing all that had passed was new once, I didn't want to miss the next historic event. Of course, I was thinking about the big reveals. What I wasn't expecting, probably naively, were the big farewells, particularly as we move into the EV era. And one of those is for the Audi R8, which will depart after this 2023 model year.

To bid it farewell, Audi brought us and other journalists, along with nine-time Le Mans-winning driver Tom Kristensen (who drove the R8 and later Audi prototype race cars) and the designer of the original R8 concept and road car, Frank Lamberty, to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for a final spin in it.


I'm one of the younger staffers at Autoblog, so the R8 has been around long enough that it was easy for me to take it for granted, but Lamberty and other Audi representatives helped explain how special it was considering most of Audi's history. The brand mostly did upscale sedans, wagons and coupes for decades, and around the turn of the millennium, something above six figures was a stretch. But a number of factors came together to make the R8 a reality. One of the big ones was Audi's successes with the R8 Le Mans prototype race car, which scored its first victory in 2000 and would go on to win in 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2005. Audi wanted to celebrate the wins and prompted the design department to pen a concept; Lamberty managed to create the winning design within the department.

The concept went over well when it was revealed in 2003, and with the recent acquisition of Lamborghini, which was looking to create an entry-level mid-engine vehicle (the eventual Gallardo), the R8 was green-lit. The production car would launch in Europe in 2006, and the United States in 2008.

At the time, it had "just" a 420-horsepower V8 (and Quattro all-wheel-drive of course), but a V10 option from the Gallardo was added in 2010. The V10 would become the sole option for the second-generation car, and a unique rear-drive version would be offered a number of years into that generation. For much of the time, Audi continued to be the dominant force at Le Mans with the R10 diesel prototype racer, and then the hybrid diesel R18, frequently with Kristensen as one of the drivers. The road-going R8 also spawned GT3-class race cars, too, and it has its own impressive racing record with six wins at the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring and two class wins at the 24 Hours of Daytona.

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Things are different today. Audi left the top tier of prototype endurance racing after 2016, though the GT3 car stuck around for customer teams. And instead of looking at rally or closed-wheel road racing as it has in the past, Audi has been experimenting with open-wheel racing. It had a brief run in Formula E, and has announced its intent to enter Formula 1. And in the powertrain world, fewer cylinders and more turbos have become the norm, with hybrids and full electrics right around the corner. Audi itself has multiple EVs on sale with 10 more coming by 2026. So with a direct lineage to Audi's endurance racing era, and packing a naturally aspirated V10, the R8 is the very end of an era for both Audi's motorsports and road car history.

That brings us to my day at Laguna Seca. The farewell experience came about during Monterey Car Week, and the highlight would be taking two laps of Laguna Seca in the midst of the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. The setting could hardly be better, especially as a collector had brought an endurance-spec R8 race car out to compete. It took the track a little before our briefing for the press laps. Lamberty helped give the presentation, and not long after he finished his part, he vanished. We suspect he slipped back out to the pit road to keep watching the race car. We don't blame him in the slightest.

Making a memory