It’s a show of faith to buy a used car sight unseen. It’s a much greater leap to buy a car damaged by a flood in Texas from a salvage operation in Ohio, and have it shipped it across the country without ever having inspected it for yourself.
But that’s how NASA SoCal member Viktor Czapla came to own the Audi R8 he’s now racing in Super Touring 3. He saw a listing online on an R8 forum and sent a message to the guy asking about its condition, the extent of the damage, that kind of thing.
The only thing he could tell him was that the lights worked. He couldn’t tell if it ran because the car didn’t come with a key, but he could tell that the flood waters appear to have submerged the car no deeper than the middle of the wheel hubs, which was high enough that water entered the passenger compartment and prompted the insurance company to total the car. At that point, the 2009 Audi R8 only had 8,808 miles on it. Czapla took the risk, bought the car and had it shipped to from Ohio to Southern California.
He ordered a key from Audi, but before he attempted to start it, he removed the spark plugs and scoped all eight cylinders, which looked good. Because the starter was corroded, Czapla removed it and lubricated it in critical places.
“The car basically started up right away,” Czapla said. “I think it was probably sitting in a garage or something and the water came up to the hub, and then the next day the water was gone again, and the car received a salvaged title from being in the flood. The title was based in Texas, so it was probably from Hurricane Harvey.”
Once he got the car, he set about removing the interior and doing research for fabricating the roll cage, but there isn’t much available online because R8 racecars are relatively rare. Because the R8 is made of aluminum, he needed to fabricate bosses on which to bolt the cage. Part of his research was online, but what was more helpful was a visit to Buttonwillow Raceway, where there are a number of Lamborghini Super Trofeo Cup cars stored. The Lambos are built on the same chassis as the R8.
“It took me a long time to find something,” Czapla said. “The Super Trofeo cars were a big help to design and attach it properly because it’s an aluminum chassis, so I didn’t want to just bolt the thing in.”
Once he had enough to go on, Czapla began fabricating the cage himself. He welded the cage together outside the car, then put it in and finished up welding the steel bars. Czapla is a trained engineer by profession. He studied mechatronics engineering in his native Germany, so he has the requisite skills. That he built the car in his garage at home is pretty impressive, though. The whole project took him three months.
He spent the 2018 season dialing in the car and finished second in points in ST3, scoring one win and five second-place finishes in a diverse field of cars that includes a Mitsubishi Evo, an E36 M3 and an Audi R3 LMS.
To make it into a real racecar, Czapla installed Bilstein suspension components and racing pads. That’s about it. The only thing on the car that failed this year was a Magnetti Marelli solenoid that actuates the clutch in the R Tronic transmission, a paddle-shifted “manumatic.”
“I really love manual transmissions and I can drive them well, but after driving this car on the track, it’s like I would never want to go back,” he said. “It really is the best thing for racing to have paddles. I know there’s a lot of purists out there who would say, ’No, for racing you need to have a manual transmission. It’s the most fun.’ Let me tell you, it is the best to have paddles.
“If you’re in a racing environment where you have to focus on driving and focus on racing, it takes off that burden of having to reach down and shift down from fifth to third into the next corner,” he continued. “You just pop the paddle down two spots and you can be fully focused on the road. You can be fully focused on what’s around you and just do your race thing without having to play with your gadgets. I can do both, but I really feel this is a much better way of racing.”
He had to retrofit the paddles from the stock wheel to the Sparco racing wheel. He took the three modules and mounted them behind the dash, and ran a curly cord to the wheel. He added a quick disconnect to the curly cord so he can remove the wheel from the car altogether.
Another key modification was removing the stock exhaust, which removed 75 pounds off the back of the car. The new exhaust he made weighs just 14 pounds and exits at the rear of the car where the license plate used to be.
Czapla is continuing development work on the car. This winter, he cut and welded the front fenders to fit larger 10.5-inch wheels up front, the same size they run on GT4 cars.
When the R8 came out, all the reviews were overwhelmingly positive in terms of the balance of the car and Czapla’s experience bears that out. The R8 is so close to being a racecar right out of the factory that it didn’t take a lot of work to make it a competitive ST3 car.
“It feels really good to drive, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s super responsive,” Czapla said. “The steering is really dead-on. You can feel everything. It’s probably like driving a Miata without power steering. You have power steering, but it still translates everything from the road into your hands. It’s really great. I don’t know how they did it, but it’s the perfect mix of still having power steering, but also having extremely good feel for what’s going on.”
When you consider how the car turned out, its precarious beginnings are almost hard to imagine.
|Weight:||3,435 lbs. w/driver|
|Engine/Horsepower:||Stock 4.2-liter V8/335 whp|
|Transmission:||Semi-manual / R-Tronic|
|Suspension Front:||Double Wishbone, Bilstein Clubsport|
|Suspension Rear:||Double Wishbone, Bilstein Clubsport|
|Tires Front:||Hoosier R7 275-35-18|
|Tires Rear:||Hoosier R7 315-30-18|
|Brakes Front:||365 mm eight-piston OEM|
|Brakes Rear:||356 mm four-piston OEM|
|Data system:||Aim MXG 1.2 logger dash , Race-Keeper HDX2 multi cam logger|