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Auto blogTue, 11 Mar 2014 08:45:00 EST
There are plenty of commonalities to be found between astronauts and racing drivers. Both are daredevils by definition (if not by trade), both subject themselves to unfathomable G forces and both face very real risks when strapped into machinery that makes the very best use of advanced propulsion, aerodynamics and composite construction technologies. Yet you don't find much crossover between the two. There was talk of Niki Lauda, himself an experienced pilot, training to go into space with Virgin Galactic (which itself was sister to an F1 team for a while in Richard Branson's empire), but that didn't seem to materialize. Now we're receiving news that Felix Baumgartner will contest the Nürburgring 24 Hours this year.
Felix Whomgartner, you ask? Felix Baumgartner. He's more of a skydiver than an astronaut, but he made history in 2012 when he jumped out of a space capsule and set the record for the highest altitude in a manned balloon, the parachute jump from the highest altitude, and the highest velocity freefall as part of the Red Bull Stratos initiative. In other words, he may as well be an astronaut, because he fell down to the earth's surface from the stratosphere.
For his next challenge, Baumgartner will be climbing into an Audi R8 LMS Ultra in an attempt to tackle the Nürburgring. Having contested a handful of spec races under the VW Group umbrella, he'll undertake several test sessions and practice races before the main event in June, in which he'll alternate behind the wheel with professional racing drivers Frank Biela, Marco Werner and Pierre Kaffer. The initiative is part of the Audi race experience program that allows gentleman racers to team up with seasoned pros to take part in real races. Baumgartner will undoubtedly prove its highest-profile participant.
We have yet another announcement of yet another new Audi, including yet another obligatory quote from Audi research and development chief Wolfgang Dürheimer that there's room for it in the Audi range. On the sidelines of reports about the diesel-hybrid sports car, derived from the R18 endurance racer, there have been remarks about a possible MPV. Now Auto Express reports that said MPV "is on the way" and will be based on the A3 Sportback.
Previous speculation has posited either a six- or seven-seat people carrier; if the AE report is to be believed then five seats is the number that's been settled on. Planned to rest on a stretched version of the A3 platform, its wheelbase would be nearly eight inches longer than that of the A3 Sportback and it would compete against the Mercedes-Benz B-Class and the production version of the BMW Concept Active Tourer.
Audi is not going to dally about it, either, with a concept said to be ready for debut next year. Should it come, it would mean the A3 range comes pretty close to hitting for the cycle.
After skipping the 2013 model year, the Audi R8 is back for 2014 with a new look, added performance and a slightly higher starting price. In V8 coupe form, the 2014 R8 starts at $114,900 (*not including $1,250 for destination and a $3,000 gas-guzzler tax), but looking at that price, which has risen just $5,900 since the performance coupe first debuted in the US for 2008, inflation doesn't seem to have hit the R8 as hard as some other sports coupes - like, say, the Nissan GT-R.
Opting for the S tronic automatic gearbox will cost $9,100 for all models, while R8 V8 and R8 V10 models still offer the drop-top Spyder model for an extra $13,500. Not available in Spyder form, is the all-new 550-horsepower R8 V10 Plus, which starts at $170,545. Scroll down for the full pricing breakdown of the 2014 R8, which went on sale yesterday.