Monday, October 25, 2010

Auto Sport Tuning 2001 Audi RS4

Many people I cross paths with tell me I have the best job in the world. And while there are occasional downsides, given a choice I wouldn't trade places with the guys on the recycling truck. I would however, consider trading places with Chad Block. For much of 2002 (with championship-winning Nighthawk Racing) and 2003 (with championship-winning Dyson Racing), his office was the cockpit of an American Le Mans Series LMP675-class MG Lola. He now coaches a three-car Star Mazda team while putting together a 2005 LMP-2 ALMS effort. Nice work if you can get it.

After competing in go-karts as a teenager, Block left racing to concentrate on college and his new business, Auto Sport Tuning. While contemplating how to get more power out of his 1.8T A4 and showcase his shop's skills, he ran across a new 2000 S4 at the local dealer. It didn't take long to do the "bang-for-the-buck" math. The S4 stayed stock for the entire 20-mile trip back from the dealer.

An H&R coilover kit (since replaced with the latest H&R Ultra kit) and 8x19 (7 in. inner, 1 in. outer) three-piece HRE 547 wheels were waiting at the shop and installed immediately. Block experimented with one of the available chips and related parts but was never happy, dogged by hesitations and other tuning issues. A GIAC chip installed by AWE Tuning solved those problems. Of course, one thing leads to another and the S4 was soon sporting AWE downpipes and Twin2 exhaust, the two 2 1/4-in. pipes flowing better than even a 3-in. single-pipe system.

In 2001, Block returned to racing and spent the season competing in the Star Mazda series. The S4 started a few conversations, one of which led Block to a set of RS4 Avant wide-body panels. The decision to close his shop (but not his business) and commit to racing full time delayed their installation but by the winter of 2002 Block was happily fitting panels in his home garage. The front fenders and bumper cover bolted on easily enough-as did the flared rear doors-but the rear fenders required radical surgery to graft the wagon bits onto the sedan. Where other conversions have used part of the RS4 rear bumper, Block liked the simpler lines of the stock S4 part and so carefully heated and reshaped it to fit. It took 2 months of working after hours and around his race schedule to finally fit the body. Then it was off to the paint shop.

After much consulting with HRE and fitting of rim halves, the outer lip of the black-centered-a Block project car trademark-three-piece 547s grew an inch to 2 in. But even wrapped with huge 275/30R19 Bridgestone S-03 tires, a 5mm spacer was still needed to properly fill out the fenders. European headlights, a discreet E46 M3 spoiler and Oettinger grille kit, though easy to overlook next to the massive flares, add a little extra to the look. "I took the Audi as far as I could go aggressiveness-wise and still make it look a little bit subtle," said Block.

When the problematic stock turbos failed at 36k, Block had them replaced under warranty. When the transmission came out for more warranty work, a RS4 clutch was fitted. When another turbo failed at 46k he went back to AWE, requesting "more power than the 'average Joe' with a K04 kit." AWE was happy to oblige, adding RS4 intercoolers and a special K04 to its normal kit of larger injectors, larger MAF housing, hoses, rolled-edge clamps, necessary bits and pieces and, of course, Swain Tech-coated AWE/McNeil anti-reversion headers. The turbos use a K04 housing and what amounts to K16 internals, a RS6 compressor wheel and a proprietary clipped turbine wheel. Todd Sager fine-tuned the GIAC chip's programming.

Immersed in a world of high-revving race engines, Block got what he wanted. "We're not making the huge lump of torque down low, we're making horsepower longer across more of the rpm range, all the way up to 7200 rpm instead of 6400," said Block. "This feels more like a normally aspirated engine." AWE's Mustang four-wheel dyno said the twin-turbo six puts 350 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque to the wheels-figure 450/420 at the crank. Knowing 355mm Stoptech front brakes live under the HREs is a major comfort after a quick dip into the throttle.

"Get out of a 600-hp, 1,500-lb car and into a 3,300-lb car with 400 hp and everything feels numb," said Block. "I was also getting abnormal tire wear; the huge tires were putting a lot of leverage on the suspension." So he turned to Dave at Custom Performance Products, installing spherical heim-jointed CPP upper control arms, tie-rod ends, rear toe links and swaybar drop links. With the extra adjustability, especially caster, built into the CPP pieces, Block was able to use more aggressive alignment settings yet has less tire wear than before. A little toe-out in front and zero in the rear adds quickness to turn-in (zero in front and a degree out in the rear would help mid-corner) making the Audi feel much more responsive. "This made a phenomenal difference in the car," said Block, "The problem is, if you want something aggressive, then you deal with the car heeing and hawing every time it hits a rut in the road."

"We build 'em and sell 'em," said Block of his project cars. "But I've had this car longer-4 years-than anything else I've ever owned. I absolutely love the car. It has become more than I ever thought it would in the beginning, I never expected to do the flares. This car has a demeanor like no other car we've built." Of course all good things come to an end. Shortly after we saw the car, it found a new home in California.


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