Photos: Automobili Lamborghini Japan – photographer Peter Kotsa)
“Okay, let’s go, go, go!”
This cryptic call to action from a former Formula 1 test driver piloting the chase car 100 metres down the track pulses through a two-way radio strapped to the seat beside me. I take it as a gilt-edged invitation to tear open the deep performance envelope of the supercar I’m driving – Lamborghini’s flagship Aventador LP700-4.
We’re exiting turn 12, leading on to the fearsome, long main straight of the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, and I weld metal pedal to the floor and follow in the broad footprint of Marco Apicella’s similar car.
The rampant, 6.5-litre bent-dozen is already well on its way to delivering peak power in 3rd gear and I flat shift with a flick of the right-hand paddle just before the cut-out kicks in at 8250 rpm. Fourth gear engages in a scarcely-believable 50 milliseconds with a brutal ‘thud’ through the drivetrain — like a power lifter slamming a heavy door in a fit of rage.
Push has come to shove and the ‘Lambo’ thunders over the crest along Gardner Straight in 6th carrying serious speed. How fast? I’m too focused on the blink of Marco’s brake lights for the turn-in to one of the fastest corners on an Australasian race track to risk averting my eyes to the speedo. (I’m later informed that about 285km/h would be the operative number).
It’s time to question the huge, carbon ceramic brakes (discs the size of large pizza trays – 400mm front, 380 rear) and bang down the single-clutch, automated manual Graziano 7-speed transmission to 3rd, then ride the fat swell of engine torque, peaking with 690Nm @ 5500rpm.
We negotiate the double-apex Southern Loop, glide through the next left curve (Stoner Corner) in 5th before braking big time and downshifting – zap, zap, zap – to monster the 2nd gear, 60km/h right-handed Honda Corner.
Siberia comes and goes in a flash in 3rd as I keep a wary eye on the wild geese the size of emu chicks grazing near the fast, curving Hayshed corner and touch 180km/h on the blind approach to, and over, Lukey Heights. It’s max force on the stoppers as we plunge downhill into MG Corner, back to 2nd, exit, feed in more gears and follow Signore Apicella’s immaculate line through the constant-radius sweeper that takes in turns 11 and 12. Then, back on the gas again for the run down the straight.
This is Squadra Corse’s Lamborghini Esperienza, an opportunity usually reserved only for loyal clients and potential buyers who get to drive the famous marque’s halo car on one of the world’s great racing circuits. And in a manner befitting.
The ‘700-4’ in the Aventador’s nomenclature denotes 700 horsepower (515kW) and all-wheel-drive. All those horses are corralled inside a mid-rear-engined layout with the naturally-aspirated V12 cradled in a monocoque and body made entirely of lightweight and ultra-strong carbon fibre. Pushrod suspension features front and rear, steering is hydraulic rack and pinion and the car rides on broad, 20-inch alloys wearing Pirelli P Zero rubber.
The experience starts with a technical and safety briefing delivered by chief instructor Luke O’Neill. He explains that, out on track, each of us will get to follow either Marco (ex-Jordan F1 test driver and 1994 Japanese Formula 3000 champion) or young top gun Australian Nathan Antunes, a member of Red Bull Racing’s international junior driver program. They will set the pace, there is to be no overtaking and we need to keep at least five car lengths between cars.
Before then, there’s a wet skid pan exercise where we’re encouraged by instructor and V8 Supercar series driver Tony D’Alberto to stomp hard on the throttle and brake pedal to fully appreciate the Aventador’s everyday driveability and tractability.
With the electronic driving mode set to ‘Strada’ (street), the traction control puts the rush of power down in a massive rooster tail of spray without any wheelspin or histrionics and the ABS pulls the car up straight and true with just a hint of a wriggle.
But, it’s out on the broad expanse of the grand prix circuit where the awesome ability of the Aventador can be best experienced. My first run is in the only roadster among the fleet on hand, the fastest drop top (then) on the Australian market. Comparatively, the roadster weighs only 50kg more which can be put down to extra bolstering of the sills and rear bulkhead.
Helping keep the increase minimal is a roof frame of forged composite – same as used in the chassis of the limited-edition Sesto Elemento – sandwiched between two layers of high-pressure RTM material.
We had been told that, top down at race track speeds, the roadster feels much different to the coupe. And so, it goes (more about the handling and steering differences next par). The sensation I find most challenging is the exposure to the sheer sensation of speed. To be honest, in just open-face helmet and t-shirt, it’s tough to focus single-mindedly on the job at hand. That said, the roar of the manic, normally-aspirated V12 chasing redline reverberating unfiltered through the interior is something to truly behold.
Second time out, I’ve swapped to a coupe and, with metal and glass all around me, got the security of something akin to a fighter jet cockpit to meld into. Out on track, the differences between the roadster and coupe become truly pronounced. Whereas the former’s front end felt less reassuring under hard acceleration and de-acceleration, and the steering not quite as measured and weighted, the latter remains stable and precise, regardless of driver input.
Which is just as well because, lap by lap, the ace out front ups the pace and we work through the driving modes of ‘Sport’ and ‘Corsa’ (Race). Each heightens the car’s sensitivities. In Sport, the torque split front to rear shifts from 30:70 to 10:90, the ESC is backed off, and gear shifts sped up. Switch to Corsa, and performance optimised, the V12 really opens its lungs and the Graziani shifts with such brutality that it makes you wince.
Of course, for every action there’s a reaction, and with Corsa enabled and one of the world’s finest, most free-flowing, racing circuits to exploit, I’ve entered a highly-rarified zone. If I had to capture the moment in a single frame, it would be thus: following Marco Apicella, sheets of vivid, blue flame belching from his Aventador’s exhausts under braking, rear-quarters squirming under full power out of the corner and then, about a second later, feeling my car do the same thing.