Joe DeMatio: 2012 Year In Review

Favorite trip: Audi at Le Mans

As you know, Audi has had great success with its gasoline- and diesel-powered race cars at Le Mans over the past 13 years, and this year its R18 e-tron Quattro, its first hybrid race car, competed alongside the TDI R18 Ultra. With success comes stature, and, boy, does Audi ever have stature at Circuit de la Sarthe. There is no better company to have as your host, because Audi Sport controls four major vantage points from which to watch the race. First, there are the small suites directly above the Audi pits, so you can look down at the action a few yards below. Across the starting line from the pits is the five-story Audi Racing Club, which is a great place to watch the beginning and end of the race, or any part between, with multiple levels of comfortable viewing areas behind huge plate-glass windows and an outdoor balcony at the very top. At the Porsche Curves, the big Audi Racing Arena was the place to be on the day before the race, when all of the Audi drivers were on hand for a press conference. Saturday at midnight, I was back at the Arena eating freshly made pizza and watching the cars streak through the dark from a balcony that juts out over the track. And, fourth, Audi has another outpost at the famous Dunlop Bridge, with both indoor and outdoor viewing areas and amazing views of the cars coming off the front straight and maneuvering through the curves. Each of these four venues is equipped with state-of-the-art, live-action video screens and other electronic displays with detailed updates and in-car footage from each Audi racing car, so you can easily keep track of exactly what’s happening in the race as you enjoy top-notch gourmet French cuisine and a full bar all weekend long. The only disappointment about the race, really, was that there wasn’t much competition for Audi Sport, which easily took the podium, with the pair of R18 e-tron Quattros in the top two spots and the R18 Ultras in the #3 and #5 positions.

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Favorite Place Driven: M22

I’ve driven new cars all over the United States and in dozens of countries on multiple continents, but in 2012 my favorite drive was right here in Michigan, where Automobile Magazine is based. In late August, we gathered together an Audi RS5, BMW M3, Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG coupe, and a Porsche Boxster S and headed to northwestern Michigan. Cutting across the midsection of the northern part of the state as we headed toward Traverse City, we drove on deserted roads through gas fields and pine forests and along the shores of inland lakes, reveling in an occasional triple-digit stretch and listening to the engines sing. From Traverse City, we traced the route of M22, a well-known highway that is an artery linking some of Michigan’s most desirable resort and recreation areas alongside beautiful Lake Michigan. We capped off our trip with a fast run to Grand Rapids and a day at the highly entertaining Grattan Raceway, and I was thrilled to have three great days of driving four great cars without having to leave my home state or get on an airplane.

Favorite production car: Bugatti Veyron

After years of waiting and hoping, in 2012 I finally got the opportunity to drive the Bugatti Veyron, as part of our July cover story on carbon-fiber supercars. We were in the desert east of Palm Springs, where the roads are straight, smooth, and empty. Our Veyron SuperSports was bright blue over black and came with a racing driver minder named Butch, who eventually allowed me to slide behind the steering wheel and take it for a drive, with him riding shotgun. There are three things I remember most about the Veyron: 1) It’s incredibly easy to drive, as easy to drive as a Buick; 2) It’s, of course, incredibly fast, with accelerative forces that I’ve only experienced otherwise in a jet plane; and 3) the sound of air being sucked into the vents behind your head and of the wastegates of the quad turbos is like nothing I’ve ever experienced in an automobile before. Everything about it was absolutely intoxicating.

Favorite photo shoot: SnoDrift Rally (top)

We took three luxury, all-wheel-drive convertibles to northeastern Michigan in January for a story on the SnoDrift road rally. Imagine us guys: clad head-to-toe in black Carhartt insulated apparel, driving a Bentley Continental GTC, a BMW 650xi, and an Audi A5 in 20-degree weather, tops down, stereos blasting, along remote snow-covered roads, sliding around for the camera. It was a blast, even when we foolishly stopped alongside a busy highway to reconnoiter a photo location and a big truck came blasting by, spraying thick, wet, gray slush into the interiors of all three cars. Highlight: watching a herd of huge Elk cross the road in the thick of a snowstorm as we paused for photos a few hundred feet away.

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Favorite transmission: Acura ILX

We hear so much about eight-speed automatics and twin-clutch automatics and paddle shifters and rotating gear-selector knobs and every imaginable means of shifting gears, it’s easy to forget just how satisfying a well-engineered manual transmission can be. I was reminded the first time I drove the new Acura ILX sedan. Wow. Wow. Wow. What a gearshifter. What a clutch pedal. What an ability to heel-and-toe. Nobody does it better than Honda when Honda really wants to do it well. Perfect weighting. Perfect gearshift lever movement. Perfect clutch-pedal take-up. Go to your local Acura dealer and test-drive this car just so you can see how a manual transmission is supposed to feel.

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