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Mark One Off The Bucket List

After the ride. Dindo Capello, the author Jack Webster and Marcus Haselgrove pose by the awesome Audi R8 GT. [Photo by Eddie LePine]

I have been around racing a long time. I was actually thinking about it the other day and put a number on it – 42 years. It has been 42 years since I first covered auto racing back in 1972 at the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport as a photographer.

A lot of water has gone over the dam since then, and I have enjoyed a varied motorsports career, working on IndyCar teams, working on a Camel GT team as a crewman and most recently working as a photographer and writer, covering sports car racing. I have been to a lot of races, been a to a lot of neat places, met a lot of interesting people, and done a lot of cool things.

But I must say, taking a ride around the Circuit of the Americas as a passenger in an Audi R8 GT race car with legendary Audi driver Dindo Capello at the wheel just about tops everything else in racing to date.

The opportunity for the ride came courtesy of my fellow racingnation.com partner Eddie LePine, who made arrangements for my ride with Marcus Haselgrove of Audi Sport Customer Racing. I arrived at the pit lane as instructed at 8am sharp to wait for my ride. Everything this weekend in Austin is on an incredibly tight time schedule, and until I got the nod to don the Audi racing suit, I wasn’t sure if my ride was going to happen or not.

Now, I have been in race cars before, and have even had the opportunity to take laps around a few circuits. I did a lap of Road Atlanta in one of the race school’s Nissan 300 ZX Turbos, and I did laps around Mid-Ohio in a pace car during a race. My old friend Burt Levy took me around Virginia International in a Lotus Super 7 at a pretty good clip and I even got to ride in a vintage Ferrari around the old Watkins Glen street circuit. Hell, I even drove a Oldsmobile 88 station around Road America – but that was just to retrieve the nose piece from our Porsche Fabcar which our driver had deposited somewhere out on the circuit during the race.

But I can honestly tell you, nothing could have prepared me for what I was to experience with Audi and Dindo Capello.

Suited up and ready to go, I donned a helmet and climbed into the R8, where Dindo was already strapped in as he had just completed a lap with another lucky passenger. I was belted in and Dindo slowly began to exit the pit lane. Once hitting the exit of the pits, he was off the pit speed limiter and immediately accelerated the car up the hill toward turn one.

The acceleration was fantastic, and I was pressed deeply into the seat as we rapidly climbed the hill and approached the turn one hairpin at what seemed like an impossible speed – and then Dindo hit the brakes. Remember that scene in the movie Apollo 13 where Tom Hanks warns his fellow astronauts during launch that they were about to “feel a little jolt’? Well, I must tell you, that hardly compared to the jolt felt when the full braking power of the Audi R8 was applied. It felt literally like hitting a brick wall – all that forward momentum was abruptly halted and Dindo made the turn as though the car was on rails. He immediately accelerated toward turn 2 and we zipped quickly through the complex at turns 3, 4, 5 and 6 and the quick bits through turns 7, 8, 9 and 10. All the time, the Audi R8 felt like it was on rails, with Dindo driving the car aggressively, quickly shifting up and down though the gears, hitting the curbs at the apexes and flooring the accelerator between turns. We were quickly at the tight turn 11E and 11W, where once again Dindo demonstrated the incredible braking power of the Audi R8 GT. He applied the power upon exiting 11W, drifting out over the curbs and then accelerating down the long back straight toward turn 12.

While flying down the straight, Dindo had the time to give me a thumbs up, which I returned in kind, as I was certainly enjoying this incredible roller coaster ride. In addition to the thumbs up, he had the time to adjust the air vent on the dash so as to get better air flow into the car. It was all very casual, unhurried, and relaxed on his part. Later he told me we topped out at about 252 kph, or just over 150mph.

At the end of the straight, it was once again heavy on the binders as we lined up for the complex of turns leading to the iconic tower in the center of the circuit. It was here, as we passed through the multiple apex complex of turns 16, 17 and 18 that the grip and aerodynamics of the Audi R8 really shined. I could hardly believe how many lateral g’s the car was capable of handling as once again it felt like we were on rails.

Before I knew it, the lap was over and we rolled down pit lane. I was ecstatic about my lap with Dindo, but was about to get a bonus. As we rolled to a stop at the end of the pits, we were given the signal to take one more lap! I had the chance to get one more lap at speed in the Audi R8 and a better opportunity to concentrate on absorbing the experience in somewhat better detail so I could relate it more accurately here.

Afterwards, still grinning from ear to ear, I had a chance to sit down with Dindo and discuss our ride. The R8 GT we drove is very similar to the car Capello has been racing this season in Italy, so he has tons of experience driving this model. I asked him what percentage of maximum we were doing on our laps and he replied that since he didn’t know the circuit very well, we were perhaps doing about 90% of what the car was capable of doing. I can tell you, that 90% was quite exhilarating.

After a couple of laps with Dindo Capello in the Audi R8 GT, I have a much better appreation for what the drivers are experiencing during a race. Doing laps like we just did, lap after lap and in the heat of competition requires an incredible amount of fitness and mental concentration. Even with all my years of motorsports experience, I don’t think I will ever think of race driving the same again. Based on this singular experience, I can certainly understand how driving a race car can become a powerful addiction.

Again, a big thank you to Audi Sport Customer Racing, and in particular Marcus Haselgrove for arranging this ride for me. And an even bigger thank you to Dindo Capello, a legendary Audi driver and great guy.

It was a hell of a ride, Dindo.

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Jack Webster has been shooting motorsports since the early 1970’s, covering Formula One, CanAm, F5000, TransAm, GrandAm and American Le Mans races, among others. In addition to his photography, he has also worked on racing teams, both in IMSA and IndyCar, so has a complete knowledge of the inner workings of motorsport. Both his photography and writing can be seen here on racingnation.com