Audi S8 - Part Two
Sant'Agata Bolognese is under thick fog; the narrow highways disappear into the early morning light as I reach Automobili Lamborghini. Men in black examine me critically. I am here to deliver a challenge, a family duel: Audi versus Lamborghini, technology versus temperament. I’ve come more than 700km over the Alps in the Audi S8 from Ingolstadt, pushing the chassis and brakes to the limit in the tight curves of the Malojapass.
Now it’s the turn of the yellow Lamborghini Gallardo. What I hadn’t counted on was that I would be exchanging weapons with legendary Lamborghini test driver Valentino Balboni, who now takes the wheel of the Audi S8 with a friendly smile. As soon as I press the Gallardo’s starter, the engine responds with a hoarse bark. With two fingers I pull the right gearshift paddle towards me, selecting first, and squeeze the throttle with caution. Valentino seems to need no time to acclimatise to the Audi, and is already some hundred metres ahead as I chase the rev-counter up the dial and shoot away in hot pursuit.
Balboni has a clear home advantage – since 1968 he’s been a test driver on the highways around Sant'Agata. Here he tested the revolutionary mid-engined Miura, examined the first futuristic Countach prototypes and helped develop the new Gallardo. A private test track is not the Lamborghini way. Valentino knows each curve, each bump of the road – and is fearless in his handling of the Audi S8, accelerating and braking in a staccato rhythm. The 5-litre V10 of the Gallardo, on which the engine of the Audi S8 is based, produces 520bhp and 510Nm of torque and catapults the experienced driver in to 100km/h in four seconds. The Audi S8 is leisurely by comparison; with 450bhp and 1940kg it needs a good second more to reach 100 km/h. Nevertheless it demands my full concentration to keep up with Balboni in his silver saloon.
The Lamborghini is from another world. It is harder, more hostile, and accepts no compromises. The gearbox whips through the ratios, like a bull chasing hard on the tail of the V10. But the Audi’s extra 30Nm of torque gives it a sporting nature of a different sort. Valentino smiles, he’s in his element: “Torque! Molto buono!” He tears through the industrial landscape of northern Italy with me, in the Gallardo, hard on his heels. A pursuit worthy of Hollywood. In this homeland of the supercars, with Ferrari, Maserati and Pagani just a few kilometres away, roaring engines are simply a part of everyday life.
At the side of the road a sign comes into view, announcing that we’ve returned to Sant'Agata Bolognese. Balboni seems to have finished his personal route, and steers the Audi off the road. I roll after him, hands still glued rigidly to the steering wheel. When I peel myself free of the deep cockpit, I see the S8 being welcomed with interest by the young men who work there. The Gallardo and Murciélago are a common sight to them, but the high-performance saloon from Germany is rarer. Balboni comes over to me, smiling. Actually, he does a lot of smiling – perhaps because of his job? “What next?” he asks with the charm of a host. “Something relaxing,” I suggest. "Perhaps a ride in a classic?"
Ten minutes later I find myself wedged into the passenger seat of a Lamborghini Countach. The twelve-cylinder engine roars like a pack of wild dogs. Valentino shows no mercy, driving hard despite desperately poor visibility. In the rear-view mirror I think I can make out, far in the distance, the silver front of the Audi S8 with our photographer Miguel Martinez at the wheel, trying hard to keep up. I sneak a glimpse at the speedo, and see the orange needle twitching between 240 km/h and 260 km/h – and yes, we’re still on the public road. A blue Lamborghini Gallardo with ‘Polizia’ on the side appears, the officers giving us a friendly wave. "The Countach was developed on this road," explains Balboni. There is obviously strong local feeling for such a car. But what does the famous Lamborghini test driver choose as his everyday transport? Valentino smiles, and answers: “A beautiful Audi!” We might have guessed.
Audi S8 - Pilgrimage to Sant'Agata_UK Part 1
The new Audi S8 is the first fruit of a significant harvest. Since 1998, the Lamborghini brand has – with Audi’s influence – undergone a transformation from exotic rarity to internationally successful supercar. Now it’s Audi’s turn to benefit from the fighting bull’s finer traits... read more...
Text: Jan Baedeker
Photo: Jan Baedeker / Miguel Martinez
Video: Jan Baedeker / Miguel Martinez (Kamera) / Maike Möller (Schnitt)
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