Lamborghini Esperienza : Phillip Island


Lamborghini Esperienza : Phillip Island

It’s not every day that you are invited to Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit to go racing, let alone in a set of Lamborghini Aventadors. The invitation appeared in my inbox and was accepted before I even had a chance to look at the date, time or details, that’s how excited I was.

Up until very recently, Lamborghini’s operation in Australia has been somewhat confusing and disorganised. A recent overhaul saw states take ownership of importation along with a regional office being established in Singapore. The change has resulted in an all-new culture designed to embrace the customer and further promote the product.

This strategy is critical for Lamborghini with the impending launch of Gallardo’s successor, the Huracan, which is due to arrive in Australia around September. With 2014’s allocation currently exhausted, first deliveries will begin early 2015.

Lamborghini’s Esperienza is part of the Squadra Corse group, which is Lamborghini’s in house racing division. Split into three main categories — Esperienza and Academy, Super Trofeo and GT3, Lamborghini aims to cater for the needs of all potential and future customers.

The GT3 and Super Trofeo categories are respectively professional and semi-professional motorsport divisions that allow owners to take part in racing around the world. These competitions allow professional racers and gentlemen racers (GT3 and Super Trofeo respectively) to compete in Lamborghini-only races.

For ordinary folk like you and I, Lamborghini operates the Lamborghini Esperienza and Lamborghini Academy. Esperienza aims to give non-and current Lamborghini owners the chance to drive cars like the Aventador and Huracan on racetracks in non-competitive events. It gives drivers a feel for what the cars can really do in a safe and predictable environment.

The Lamborghini Academy on the other hand is where Lamborghini owners go to learn how to control their cars, drift them and make full use of them without overstepping their limits. The academy is also a prerequisite for entry into GT3 and Super Trofeo categories.

We started by visiting the skidpan and experiencing the Aventador’s grip and cornering abilities in the wet. The all-wheel-drive Aventador feels confident and composed, despite the lack of weight over the front wheels. With a torque-split of 70 percent power to the rear wheels, the front wheels predominantly do the steering.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was terrified hopping in to the Blue Hera coloured Aventador Roadster at Phillip Island. I’ve driven plenty of fast cars, but the idea of handling a $795,000, 515kW, 6.5-litre V12 Lamborghini around one of the world’s best racetracks was both humbling and scary.

My first lap out on the track was about getting to know the car. With the roof off and wind thrashing about through the cabin, I felt a real sense of speed and excitement.

Driving in the gearbox’s middle drive mode Sport (flanked by Strade and Corsa), I was shifting gears manually using the paddle shifters. The steering felt absolutely spot on and required a heap of work to drive fast. At the velocity I was moving, even power steering didn’t feel like enough to move the car through some of Phillip Island’s sweeping big-radius bends.

My first decent stab at the brakes was into turn 10 (MG corner), which comes down from a high elevation into a sharp right hander. I pummelled the brakes and then fed in lock before easing on to full throttle through turns 11 and 12, which lead on to the straight.

The brakes are carbon-ceramic and endured an absolute battering around the track. The advantage of composite brake rotors like these is next to no brake fade with a high tolerance to heat and constant abuse.

Just as I thought the front straight would be speed limited for safety, I hear lead driver Marco Apicella (former F1 debutee and Lamborghini Squadra Corse instructor) start yelling over the radio in an Italian accent, “Okay, fantastic, we can go…let’s go!”. I follow Marco’s lead and start rowing through gears with my right foot buried to the floor. I didn’t even dare to look down at the speedometer, but I’m told that we were reaching just shy of 270km/h at the end of Gardner Straight!

The pace was completely insane and further intensified by the fact I was driving sans-roof. Even more insane was the noise…the huge V12 was working overtime to ensure our speed didn’t falter during the epic drag race.

My second time around the track was in the firmer, more rigid Aventador Coupe. While it uses the same engine, it weighs less and the fixed roof helps improve cornering and braking. Where the Roadster felt a bit jittery under brakes at the end of Gardner Straight, the Coupe kept a straight line and remained planted.

The seven-speed ISR gearbox shifts in a mind-boggling 50ms when Corsa mode is selected. The track oriented driving mode does away with formalities, shifting gears with phenomenal head-jarring pace. Unlike a dual-clutch gearbox, the Aventador’s ISR disconnects a gear from the driveline, grabs the next one and reattaches everything again. This process results in the most dramatic gearshifts you will ever encounter.

Both Roadster and Coupe performed exceptionally around the track. Steering feedback, brake pedal feel and balance through corners couldn’t be faulted. While you could argue this is expected in such an expensive car, it’s not an easy feat to pull off and it’s clear a lot of research and development has poured into this package.

Even after a full day of listening to Aventadors on the skidpan and then the racetrack, I can confidently say the exhaust note never gets old. An almost uncanny mechanical throb begins from idle and then changes to a hypo-F1-esque style scream as the tachometer races around to the 8,500rpm redline.

The belting sound track is intensified by occasional flame throwing from the exhaust and hallowed barks during upshifts. In terms of seriously mean sports cars, the Aventador cannot be matched.

Words simply can’t describe how humbling the Squadra Corse experience has been. It’s not humbling because of the location or even the speeds, it’s because cars like the Aventador are not seen on racetracks nearly enough. Their fury is bottled up as owners potter along the streets of trendy suburbs.

The Aventador was built for Phillip Island and I’m chuffed that I was there to witness and experience one of the world’s loudest, craziest and most aggressive sports cars at the limits (well, my limits anyway).

Note: During the event, one of the Aventador Roadsters used for the track day began spitting more than just exhaust flames. A minor oil leak caused a small fire in the engine bay. According to Lamborghini, the incident was isolated to this vehicle and thankfully nobody was injured. It's worth noting that during the three day event, these cars were driven non-stop at close to their limits. It's an unfortunate incident that tainted an otherwise flawless event.

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