This is one of those all-too rare days when things just keep on getting better.
It’s June 2017 and the Australian motoring press is hot to trot, punting a fleet of Audi RS 3 brand-spanker sedans through the Huon Valley outside Hobart.
We’ve delighted in this optimum match of sporty car and driver’s roads, some of them Targa Tasmania competition stages one day a year.
Having enjoyed a satisfying, alcohol-free lunch en-route at Willy Smith’s fabled apple shed, we are now about to indulge ourselves lapping Baskerville Raceway.
Opened in 1958, Baskerville is the longest, continuously-operating, permanent racing circuit in the land.
It’s a tight and demanding 2.01km, with a good-sized, downhill straight to a tricky, off-camber corner and relatively-blind turn at the top of a hill among its box of tricks.
Race direction is anti-clockwise.
Surprise, who should be here and loitering with intent but Steve Pizzati – the ‘Richard Hammond’ look-alike from the antipodean Top Gear television series and seriously-good advanced driving instructor.
His sidekick is Luke Youlden, just four months away from winning Australia’s Great Race (the Bathurst 1000).
Surprise, surprise, parked outside the control tower is an Audi RS 3 LMS, the first TCR of any brand to arrive in Australia.
There’s been no prior notice of any of this but, presumably, we must be getting a few hot laps in the LMS with Steve or Luke at the wheel.
Then we spot a rack of Audi Race Experience driving suits and helmets. Bit dressed up for hot laps, isn’t it?
Then, surprise, surprise, surprise, it will be us motoring hacks doing the driving.
Just standing still, the RS 3 LMS looks the goods.
Carbon-fibre and glass-fibre extensions – front splitter, squared-off wheel arches and a big rear wing – add assertion as well as function to the steel bodywork.
Inside is all business: integrated roll-cage; removable race steering wheel with paddles; fixed-position, rib-wrapping race seat; and pedal box.
At the heart is a production-based, 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder good for 243kW of power at 6200 rpm and 410Nm of torque at 2500 rpm, hooked up to a French, Sadev racing dog-box sequential transmission driving the front wheels.
My turn. I’m somewhat humbled to have someone of the racing calibre of Luke Youlden help strap me in and mike me up.
Then Steve Pizzati runs through the various controls and switches before giving me the heads-up on what to do: the unassisted brakes need some 65kg of pressure to do their job, and, don’t get too ambitious too soon as it takes some time to get the rear tyres up to operating temps.
Okay, so that’s why some of our colleagues had a lose or part-thereof.
The RS 3 fires up and the cockpit fills with all sorts of loud mechanical whirring and whining.
Good thing we have radio coms.
I dip the sintered, multi-plate clutch and let it out, surprised at the lightness.
It’s only to be used when leaving the pits and paddle-shifting back into neutral.
We enter the track just before the first corner along pit straight.
Feeding the power in smoothly, we follow the flow in 2nd gear into the first of all but one left-handers, come out the other side and, as the steering straightens, squeeze the throttle on and upshift for the climbing run up and over a crest to the next corner.
Electronic ‘smarts’ will prevent the engine from over-revving, so all upshifts and downshifts are at full throttle.
It’s here that I stomp on the middle pedal for the first time.
Just as well we’re not carrying serious pace yet – there’s negligible retardation.
Steve wasn’t joking about muscling up. Lesson learned.
We fire downhill to the corner on to the main straight, this time I can feel some arrestment, downshift and turn in.
We’re now up into 4th gear on the longer of two straights and heading into a slightly off-camber left-hander which strikes me as being a likely desperate place in a full-on race.