We’ve waited a long time for this. We’ve worked the phone endlessly, juggled schedules, pored over maps of several states, made plans and as they fell apart, we made some more. Getting our hands on an Audi R8 on a delicious piece of tarmac was proving to be harder than we thought. Why the frenzy to drive the R8? Well quite simply, in our books, the R8 is an icon. It is a fantastic supercar that marches to the beat of its own drum. Despite ample performance to keep hairy chested rivals worried, it was the R8’s low key and unfussy attitude that made it beguiling. More so, because the first generation of Audi’s R8 has been driven off into the sunset and we didn’t even get to say goodbye. The news made ACI staffers sad, especially those who had never driven one, and others because they had and knew what a special car it was. Now, it’s time to cheer up!
Imagine taking something as vicious and volatile as Lamborghini’s Gallardo and turning it into something robot-like. On most days, the R8 embodied the classically clichéd Germanic character – precise, orderly and very matter-of-fact. It made you wonder about its pedigree, given that it had none of the inherent fuss associated with supercars. But, when the road and mood were right, the experience at the wheel of the R8 was something that supercars are bought for, the joy of it. Brilliant and precise? Definitely. Then you pushed harder and realised that spine tingling, connected and intuitive were also applicable. After driving one of the last few R8s to go on sale in the world, I promise you, it took a long time for the buzz to die down.
Well, that isn’t surprising as the car in question here is Audi’s limited-edition R8 LMX. And you may have inferred from the religious ornaments tied on the front bumper that somebody has taken this LMX under his wing. That someone, Dibyalok Patnaik, very generously agreed to loan us his Rs 3-crore supercar. The only hitch? We had to come down to his hometown of Bhubaneshwar to drive it. Again, maps were pored over and frenzied calls were made to find the missing piece of the equation. With a nervous prayer on our lips and plenty of uncertainty in our minds, we found ourselves in Bhubaneshwar looking for the missing piece of our two-piece jigsaw. Just when finding a great road seemed to be out of our grasp, like a blessing from above, a little strip of heaven, right between the Sun Temple in Konark and the Jagannath Temple in Puri, opened up ahead of us.
While we took the more difficult route to this stretch of the NH203, it can easily be accessed by a newly built road that starts just outside of Puri. This elevated road circumvents the ancient city’s narrow and cramped streets before spitting you out just a few kilometres before the scenic route. Roughly, what you get is a 30km stretch of tarmac that’s wide, well marked, with plenty of straight stretches and a few fast corners to tease the LMX with. First time out, I was captivated by the changing scenery. The road tunnelled through dense groves of trees, small mounds of sand sat on the edges of the tarmac, a bright yellow carpet of flowers welcomed us somewhere and the ocean was never too far.
Once familiar with the road, my attention returned to the LMX, the most extreme R8 till date. Yes, it has laser lights, but even a 5am start doesn’t require the use of headlights on the east coast. For me, the focus is on that 5.2-litre V10 and its 562bhp. That makes the LMX the most powerful and fastest accelerating production R8 till date. As the name suggests, a racetrack is meant to be its natural home. The sporty bucket seats have me in a lock that’s threatening to crush my pelvis and as we trundle along, the suspension reminds me that the tarmac, although unbroken, is a bit lumpy. All checks done, I punched the gas.
The result was greed and grief. The greed was fuelled by every prod of the throttle and every twitch of the wheel as we aimed towards Puri. Was the R8’s engine so profoundly impressive at the top end of the rev-range? Was the steering always so meaty? Did the wail from the engine have more soul in it as it sprinted to 8500rpm? Could those little winglets on the front bumper really be developing enough downforce to help the R8 follow the crests and the dips so well? Could this suspension really be non-adaptive? How is it soaking up the tarmac so well?
As we soared through another bend, the road opened up to reveal a panoramic view of the Bay of Bengal. As I hit the brakes for the small speed breakers, the steering kicked in my hands, the R8 bobbed and jinked playfully. The dual-clutch gearbox flicked through the ratios ultra-efficiently and once more, the LMX gathered itself for the next charge. How much faster could it take the corner? How much did it have in reserve? It was the LMX that was being the tease.
Thus the greed and the grief. I wanted more time with the LMX, but not now. The first-generation R8 has already walked off into the sunset, and this LMX needs to go back to its very patient owner safe and sound. I know a new and more powerful car is waiting in the wings to inspire even greater admiration for the R8 name. And, I’d like to wish it the best of luck because it’s going to have to give me a bigger buzz, a wider grin and more goose bumps than the LMX did on our brief fling from Konark to Puri. And you can be sure, by the time it comes to India, we’ll hunt down a truly great road to let the new R8 loose on as it tries to better the LMX.
Accessing the konark–Puri Marine Drive is best done via 60km down the NH203 from Bhubaneshwar to Puri.
The highway is mostly a four-laner but certain sections are in final stages of readiness to smoothen the passage for millions of devotees and tourists expected for the Rath Yatra festival. Roughly 6km before Puri, the elevated Malatipura-Konark road spears off to the left. On this stretch, you’d be well advised
to exercise caution as wayward traffic and vehicles coming flat out down the wrong side
is all too common.
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