I’m not an American, and I don’t call myself Alexander. But this weekend, I am both.
I didn’t poach some poor bloke’s social security either. But I am racing Audi TTs against the world, representing the U.S. of A., the country in which I live, and the birthplace of my children. Perhaps, once eligible in two years, I may well become a fully-fledged American (which will both be cool and stop my kids from poking fun of me). But for now, I’m not. I’m just pretending to be one.
Let me back up…
Hi, I’m Alex. I have a funny accent and hail from a miserably cold country called England, which means I’m British and have lousy teeth. I race cars, and Audi USA asked me to race one of their newest machines in Germany. I said yes, and when I arrived across the pond and set eyes upon my chariot, I noticed I was now Alexander S. Lloyd, “The American,” with a giant decal on the roof depicting the famed stars and stripes.
That’s cool with me; I love America, and it’s been my home for more than ten years. But I’m not thrilled about the Alexander part. Anyhow, the folks at Audi USA tell me the reason behind the national switcheroo was because they didn’t want their pesky British PR colleagues claiming credit if I do well. (So, no eating free schnitzel and putting my feet up, then — I’m expected to do well!)
The drivers I’d be racing aren’t exactly losers. They’re young (aged between 17 and 25) and all have ambitions of one day winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Then there are my fellow guest drivers: one who won his class at this year’s 24 Hours of Nurburgring, and three sports car aces — two of which were actual Le Mans champions (Uwe Alzen and Frank Biela).
The final guest racer is a Playboy model. She wasn’t very fast.
The cars are all identical, based on the 2016 Audi TTS road car — a 292 horsepower sports coupe that hits 60 mph in 4.6 seconds. That’s fast, but then the race car is 800 lbs. lighter (2,400 lbs.) and boasts 310 horsepower, with a “push-to-pass” button that increases power to 340 for 15 second bursts. The suspension components are all racing specific, as are the brakes, and an aero package provides grip to the slick racing tires but also delivers a stunningly menacing set of chops.
Make no mistake, these are proper race cars. But they are front-wheel-drive race cars, which is odd; the TTS boasts Audi’s famed Quattro all-wheel-drive system, and few could tell me why the race car didn’t… Weight, I assume?
I drove the TTS road car prior to my Audi Sport TT Cup race at Oschersleben, a technical circuit just outside Berlin. It’s a lovely machine, like a baby R8 supercar. Magnetic ride suspension ensures it’s as comfortable hauling at triple digits along the Autobahn as it is hustling down a winding country road — an ideal balance of power and weight for the streets, and with a $42,900 starting price for the base TT ($51.900 for the TTS), it remains a great value proposition.
But what of the race car?
With basically the same 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and 6-speed paddle shift gearbox, it does feel reminiscent of the production model. And yet there’s vastly more cornering grip, and the weight savings are noticeable. I also have the ability to adjust the differential settings on the fly, along with my “push-to-pass” function that, when utilized three times per lap, drops lap times by over a second.
As I say — proper race car.
Practice ends with me lying 8th, a position that causes neither smiles nor dismay. My resume primarily features open wheel formula cars, so a front wheel drive machine such as this remains quite alien. Plus, unlike 90 percent of the drivers, who cover many corners of the globe but mostly Europe, I’ve never driven the track before. (Racing 101: Always arrive prepared with a bag full of excuses.)
Qualifying goes better; race one sees me line up 6th, race two 3rd — the latter ensuring I start from pole position in the guest class, just hundredths of a second faster than Alzen.
I didn’t expect to arrive into a new series, with a new car and a new track, as a guest driver and win; that was never realistically possible. My secret goal? Top Gear USA host and Global Rallycross champion Tanner Foust was a TT Cup guest driver earlier this year. His best finish was 5th, so that’s the mark. Also, like Tanner, I’m here representing America, so I’ve got the pride of a nation resting upon my shoulders, and as we’ve seen during the Olympics and in hotdog eating contests, America demands.
Race one doesn’t go well. A young fetus with a shaved head decides to use his car as a battering ram. That sends me spinning into the gravel, where the rocks destroy the belt in the engine. His over exuberance ensures we both visit the naughty boy’s office to explain ourselves — a meeting determining if he, the championship leader, would receive a penalty. As a guest, I make my feelings clear: I don’t want my presence to affect the season-long outcome.
Inside, though, I’m fuming.
Race two is run under sunny skies, a welcomed change from the clouds and cold that marred the previous days. Lining up third, I try to remember the standing start procedure: Traction control “on”; diff setting “2”; fully depress the brake; wait for four of the five red lights to show prior to building up revs (or else the turbo pressure drops); then hold the revs at 3,000 rpm; once the lights are out — GO. (Then turn traction control back off and put the diff settings in “1,” all prior to the first turn.)
The start goes well and I remain third — a place I hold for almost half the race. But Alzen, my fellow guest racer, Le Mans champion, a Nurburgring record holder and current works driver, is hot on my heels. My lap times are average and the front two drivers are gone. I soon realize, now that the tires have degraded, I’ve cocked up the diff/traction control settings; with the front tires finished, I should have switched the traction control back on and brought the diff settings from “3” down to“1.” My current setup is causing a loss of power under acceleration.
Alzen slips by and sails off.
Eventually I learn of my mistake, correct the error, and somewhat close the gap to the three leaders by the end of the race. (Excuse time: Had I finished race one, I likely would have learned this lesson a day ago). Nevertheless, I finish fourth, which, in my eyes — given yesterday’s dismal showing — remains a fine result, better than 20 other foreigners, at least. Plus, I’d beaten Mr. Foust, the previous best American on European soil, which calls for a giant “Team America” *insert movie quote here*.
As a guest driver, we even have our own podium presentation, where I receive a large trophy and an even larger champagne shower. Best of all, there’s an American flag waving proudly above my head. It isn’t at the top of the podium, and for that I’m sorry. And there were three Europeans that beat me — two barely-pubescent youths and one German legend. But we’re in the medals (for the guests, at least), and I’m becoming rather attached to my new national colors.
“Alexander S. Lloyd,” however, not so much: Just call me, “The American,” the one that ain’t from ‘round here.