Think fastest racing circuit in the UK and Silverstone instantly comes to mind.
But, but as premier place for pace, Thruxton, about an hour south-west of London, may well hold bragging rights.
Like so many circuits that came on stream in the 1940s-50s, Thruxton is an ex-World War 2 air base.
In 1946, surplus to military requirements, it was sold into private hands.
In 1950, Thruxton hosted its first motorcycle race with four-wheeled motorsport following two years later.
In the ensuing decades, it has continued to challenge competitors and thrill spectators alike with its high-speed, wide-open layout.
By 1993, Formula 1 cars hadn’t been near the place in years but that didn’t stop future World Drivers Champion Damon Hill ripping around the clock-wise circuit in his Williams FW15C at an average lap speed of 235.60km/h.
That’s q-u-i-c-k anywhere, anytime. So, when an opportunity came back in 2006 to drive the latest Ferrari and Lamborghini supercars around the full 3.791km (2.356 mile) circuit, I jumped at it.
2006 Ferrari F430 F1
Ferrari is said to have invested some $A4 billion in winning six back-to-back world constructor’s titles in the late-90s to mid-00s.
This was, of course, the mighty Michael Schumacher era.
No coincidence then that a quantum of that masterful, race-forged technology found its way into the marque’s road cars.
Take the evolution of the 360 into the F430. The latter has 23 per cent more power, a boost in torque and uses the variable valve timing system from Ferrari’s flagship, the Enzo.
An improved aero package delivers 50 per cent more downforce but with no additional drag.
Then there’s the brilliant F1-A 6-spd paddle gearshift, available on the F1 model.
But perhaps the most significant improvement is an Electronic Diff that offers a selection of five programmed dynamic modes to suit whatever driving conditions or your very whim – Snow and Ice, Rain, Sport, Race and CST (off).
In simple terms, the E-Diff controls two clutches on each of the rear drive shafts, thereby regulating the amount of torque to each rear wheel.
Around the Ferrari test track at Fiorano, this impressive inventory of improvements resulted in the F430 being 3.0 secs — a lap quicker than the 360.
As part of the Thruxton Motorsport Centre’s Italian Supercar Experience, my laps behind the wheel were unfortunately going to be at about two-thirds of its full potential.
But I console myself, it will still be an opportunity to sample the latest V8 Ferrari at what would be lock-me-up speeds on a public road.
Come for a spin . . .
Sliding behind the wheel, the first thing to arrest my attention is the centrally-located rev-counter with distinctive Ferrari-lemon face.
Then, on the steering wheel itself the red starter button in the 7 o’clock position and E-Diff controls at 5 o’clock.
For the purpose of the exercise, the Mannetino switch is set to ‘Race’.
I’d been told that the best sound from the 4.3-litre, flat-plane crank V8 is between 3000-4000 rpm. Dead right.
That, of course, is right in the meat of the fat torque band, which peaks at 465Nm.
So, when my right foot goes down; response is instantaneous and seemingly infinite, the sensation coinciding with a glorious roar from the quad-cam power plant growing angry over my left shoulder.
Around the back of the circuit, I shift up the gears and, with the tacho needle hovering between 5500 and 6000 rpm, we’re pulling decent speed.
Church Corner is taken at 160-170km/h, which the race-credentialed instructor riding shotgun reckons is a ‘good’ mid-corner speed even in the dry, and about 220km/h on the run down to the chicane.
There, the razor-responsive steering produces an immediate directional change and the car slices right/left/right with clinical precision; the balance and grip levels are simply brilliant.
After four laps, I’m won over by this Lady in Red.
Basic price (new): $407,500
Engine: 4.3-litre DOHC 32v V8
Power: 360kw @ 8500 rpm
Torque: 465Nm @ 5250 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed seq.
0-100km/h: 4.0 secs
2006 Lamborghini Murcielago LP-640
Cloaked in its other-worldly bodywork, the Murcielago looks breathtakingly low and broad from any angle.
And it is; at 2.1-metres across the rear, arguably the widest car on the road in the UK.
The latter is a salient point to remember as I approach my lapping session.
Instructor #2 reinforces this very point.
“You don’t want to go getting a rear wheel on to the grass around here,” he says with classic understatement, casting a wary eye at the Armco-lined track.
With scissor doors aloft and carefully supporting my weight on the wide, elevated sill, I slide my legs over and past the steering wheel and sink down into the driver’s seat.
Reaching up, I pull down on the door, the gas strut emits a purposeful hiss, then the lock engages.
A turn of the key and from behind comes a well-oiled whirl of man-made excellence and a rumble of bent-12 intent.
Click the right paddle on the 6-spd E-gearbox and a large ‘1’ appears on the dashboard display.
I subtly open the throttle and the car glides forward, accelerate some more and the gears smoothly and instantly upshift with each click of the paddle.
That the Murcielago is more intimidating to look at than actually drive becomes immediately apparent.
For once you are ensconced behind the wheel and adjusted to the lack of rearward vision and the encroaching A-pillars, it’s patently obvious just how tractable this car is in 1st,2nd, 3rd – any bloody gear!
But then, it does possess a whopping 660Nm of torque. With each rise in revs, the louder the big 6.5-litre mill’s, metal-edged orchestration.
While there’s no rev limiter, I suspect Thruxton Motorsport Centre’s corporate lawyers don’t like stressing out over insurance claims, so forget any chance of going flat chat.
But even using some 70 per cent of its 8000 rpm peak power (471kW @ 8000rpm), the Murcielago is a thrill to drive.
And reassuring, gripping resolutely and getting its power down consummately thanks to its all-paw system.
Last lap, around the back of the track, I push harder on the loud pedal, the fat Pirelli P Zero Corsas bite into smooth tarmac and the mighty 60-degree V12 propels the Lambo forward with unrelenting thrust.
On the train from Andover back to London, I reflect on the day that was.
The reality is, in a handful of laps of controlled driving, I had enjoyed a mere insight to the mighty Murcielago’s capability; particularly at a super-fast circuit like Thruxton.
Little did I know, that just under a decade on, I would get to experience the big V12 Lambo’s even more powerful, accomplished successors – the Aventador (and Aventador S) – at full-noise on a racing circuit every bit as quick.