This matchup occurred to me once my neighbor, Tim, got his C6 'Vette dynoed and found that its long-tube headers and Borla exhaust helped it put down 436 hp at the wheels. That, I figured, would be close to the R8 in terms of crankshaft horsepower. The Audi has all-wheel-drive but the Vette is lighter. It might be a good race.
So we drove to Rockingham Dragway and lined 'em up. On our first run, the Vette ran 12.5 seconds at 112 mph. The Audi ran 12.5 seconds at 110 mph. We figured that with some work on the launches, we could get down into the low 12s and have a showdown on our hands. But after that first run, whatever traction we had vaporized into the fall air. On subsequent runs, the first 60 feet of the track felt like it was coated with Pam spray and loose ball bearings.
While the Audi is mid-engine, all-wheel-drive and has a relatively benign naturally aspirated torque curve (398 lb-ft), I couldn't get it off the line without spinning all four tires. I tried everything, including a gentle launch with traction control on. Still, the R8 always broke loose once the V-10 climbed into its sweet spot. It turns out that the R8, like its Gallardo cousin, is one of the least-all-wheel-drive all-wheel-drive cars on the planet.
The front wheels might help pull you out of a slow corner, but not much torque ever gets sent to the prow. Off the blocks on a slick surface, the front tires are about as useful as a tyrannosaurus' arms. Conversely, the lack of torque pollution up front is what makes the R8 such a tail-happy riot in the corners. It's a smart tradeoff, but on a wet road I'll bet an RS5, with its 40-60 front-rear torque split, would have the advantage over the mighty R8. On one especially messy launch, I clocked a 3.3-second 60-foot time, which means that I could've literally been outrun by a person on foot.
Over in the adjacent lane, with rear-wheel-drive and more torque, Tim was having even worse problems launching the Vette. His fruitlessly spinning rear wheels didn't even generate any tire smoke, because tire smoke would require some friction.
So who ultimately won? Could the Vette overcome a bad launch and run down the R8, or vice versa? Watch the video to find out. But here's a spoiler alert: neither of us beat the green-and-black Honda Civic from Robert Tighe Racing. Then again, neither would a Bugatti Veyron—the front-wheel-drive Civic ran a 9.3 at 156 mph.