Lea Croteau kills it behind the wheel of the Audi R8.
Race car driver Lea Croteau found her way to Audi, but she thinks it may have been pre-ordained. After all, she learned to drive in her father’s Audi 5000 and though she was born in England and, as a military brat, she spent much of her childhood in Germany.
Lea actually started out in advertising and design, and when she went to her first track event in 1992, she was invited to join a pit crew. She remembers going through lists at every track event, and finding very few women: most were the wives, girlfriends or sisters of the male drivers. She estimates that maybe one percent of the drivers were women.
Although race car drivers are still overwhelmingly male, Lea says the numbers have gotten better, and she is friendly with a group of about 30 female drivers.
As Lea worked on crews, she grew more interested in racing the cars, and she got her racing license in 1995.
For several years, Lea confined her race car passion to weekends, continuing with advertising and design work, and when a race event posed a conflict, she’d confide in her clients what it was; they always thought it was cool and didn’t mind if she had to push back a deadline.
I met Lea at Audi’s first ever women’s only track day, featuring the 2017 Audi R8 Coupe. A group of female automobile journalists were invited to spend the night at the luxury Bedford Post Inn in Bedford, New York, then convoy up to the Monticello Motor Club in the Audi R8 (we got a lot of stares and thumbs up on the road) and put the pedal to the metal behind a $200,000 race car. Lea guided everyone through the track in a soothing voice – as soothing as anything can be when you are gripping a steering wheel and hurtling along the track.
Love of the track leads to a job teaching men to drive
Lea’s love of driving and talent behind the wheel has translated into a pretty cool day job: training oil rig drivers to drive on ice. But she says her racing skills translate into regular driving, too such as running to the grocery store.
On the track, where Lea is most at home, she emphasized techniques like anticipating turns, looking ahead on the road and maintaining a safe distance – which is particularly pertinent when the cars are zipping along at 120 miles per hour!
But systems that keep the car safe on the road also help with track driving: anti-lock braking (ABS), traction control and stability control are also crucial to safe driving, whether at white knuckle speed or maneuvering through interstate traffic.
A passion for cars earns her respect on the track and on the job
Lea says her passion for cars is echoed by Audi engineers’ passion for design. She drives an Audi A4 where the ‘precise performance and sterling technology’ in a supercar like the R8 is mimicked in an Audi designed for everyday driving.
This earns her the respect of the macho guys she instructs on ice driving even before she takes them on a ‘hot lap’ where she shows off her racing skills at speeds up to 200 miles per hour (the top speed of the Audi R8 is 199 mph: the R8 V10 Plus can hit 205 mph).
But its not just her talent on the track that commands the respect of the guys she teaches to drive on the ice; it’s her approach using the power of suggestion: a polite try this, not do this.
So what do you get for $200,000?
One of the cars we drove, the V10 plus, starts at $189,990 and the R8 V10 plus, which we drove on the track, retails for $205,000. Another in the lineup, also a V10, starts at $162,900; fully loaded, it was a mere $199,900. (Environmentalists, take note: the price includes a gas guzzler tax, and the supercars drink premium only). Whats the difference? The V10 plus has more horsepower, a higher top speed and a cooler rear stability bar.
The coupes also have a virtual cockpit with a 12.3 inch screen: Google earth is the navigation system. This meant that on the track, you could actually see the curves and dips on the screen. You can toggle to a more conventional looking screen, too.
The R8 has 13 Bang & Olufson speakers, paddle shifters, leather seats and a lightweight carbon fiber body. Of course, the car comes in a brilliant red, along with electric blue and a host of other colors. You can customize the interior with contrasting stitching and though the cabin has two cup holders, you will be zipping so quickly in this car you might not want to attempt hot coffee.
And driving at high speeds on ice? We’ll leave that to the experts.
Note: I was Audi’s guest at the Bedford Post Inn. High speed thrills and opinions are all my own.