The winged and lowered Audi R8 LMS GT2 made its American debut on the Laguna Seca track in Monterey, Calif. Autoblog suited up, put on a racing helmet, and rode shotgun as nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen explored the upper echelons of the naturally-aspirated V10's rev range.
"I love this car," Kristensen said with a smile before speeding off towards Laguna Seca's turn number five. The square-shaped screen that replaces the R8's digital, driver-configurable instrument cluster announced over 140 mph as Kristensen approached turn number six, which leads to the Rahal Straight. He led us into and through the Corkscrew with a degree of finesse you wouldn't commonly associate with such a brutal race car, going on the Brembo brakes, off, and on again in split-second intervals. The LMS GT2 was parked back at its starting point before we knew it.
From the outside, idling menacingly, the R8 looks like an Audi-badged Batmobile. The LMS GT2 is based on the standard R8, but it gains a model-specific body kit that creates the immense amount of downforce needed to keep it firmly planted on its four wheels. It rides on a lowered suspension tuned specifically for racing, and it gains a big scoop that directs air into the engine compartment.
The naturally-aspirated, 5.2-liter V10 needs all the air it can get. It's tuned to generate 640 horsepower and 405 pound-feet of torque, figures that makes it the most powerful evolution of the R8's engine, and the most potent customer racing car Audi has ever produced. The 10-cylinder is mid-mounted like in the regular-production car, and it spins the wide rear wheels -- no Quattro here -- via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Audi developed the R8 LMS GT2 for private customers who want a turn-key racer eligible to compete in the GT2 category that will be introduced in 2020. The calendar includes five events taking place on the Virginia International Speedway, the Sonoma Raceway, Road America, Watkins Glen, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, respectively. Pricing for the R8 LMS GT2 starts at $398,000, and the first deliveries are scheduled for January 2020.