Vallelunga, Italy, a 2.5-mile wriggle of a racetrack just north of Rome. The edgy snarl of a race-tuned V-10 shatters the morning calm. A finned, winged, wedge-shaped blur flashes past pit lane: Brap, brap, braaaaap. That’s fourth, fifth, sixth gear, just before the daunting Curva Grande, a fast right-hander with a big compression on the apex and a left-hand kink on the exit that’s tighter than it looks. The quick guys barely lift, threading the needle at 145 mph.
The garage buzzes with activity, engineers playing with software, mechanics bustling with hardware, a racing hive mind in Lamborghini Squadra Corse black and gray, trimmed with acid green. The chatter of rattle guns announces a set of freshly warmed slicks for the Lamborghini Huracan race car in front of me. I glance over at a young man wearing a fireproof race suit just like mine. Man? Boy really, barely old enough to shave, at least 10 years younger than my youngest son, oozing the insouciant fearlessness of youth. I feel like Methuselah. And he’s been dead a long time.
For the past few days, Lamborghini’s Super Trofeo Young Driver and GT3 Junior Program coordinator, Raffaele Giammaria, has been testing a squad of young hot shoes who’ve caught his eye during the past season. The test session not only includes stints behind the wheel of a factory-prepared Huracan GT3 or Super Trofeo, but also debrief sessions with Lamborghini Squadra Corse factory race engineers, a fitness assessment, and even a tutorial from former F1 driver and five-time Le Mans winner Emanuele Pirro on how to be a pro racer off the track. The two drivers who most impress—one from each category—will be given factory support in 2020.
Me? I’m here to get a taste of Lamborghini’s youngster programs and, more important, take some refresher laps in the Huracan Super Trofeo Evo before I slide—well, contort—myself behind the wheel of recently upgraded Huracan GT3 Evo race car. Being neither particularly young, nor, in this company, particularly fast, I’m keenly aware of my imposter status. “Don’t worry,” says Squadra Corse physical therapist Jose Poletti. “You look in better shape than some of our gentleman drivers.” Right now, that sounds about the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.
I’ve driven the Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo Evo before, at the legendary Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola, Italy. But there I had to follow Squadra Corse pro drivers driving Huracan Performante road cars, and with slick tires and about 620 hp under my right foot, it wasn’t hard to hang with them. Here at Vallelunga, it’ll be just me, the Lambo, and the track. And dozens of channels of data streaming back to the engineers in the garage. Nowhere to hide.
Super Trofeo is a Pro-Am race series devised and promoted by Lamborghini, aimed at enthusiasts with the money to consider racing Lamborghinis on some of the world’s most iconic tracks a hobby. The Super Trofeo Evo, a 2018 upgrade of the Huracan Super Trofeo introduced in 2015, is heavily based on the Huracan you can find in your friendly local Lamborghini dealer’s showroom, sharing about 70 percent of its parts, including engine and suspension. The rest is pure race car hardware, including downforce-inducing aerodynamic bodywork, a six-speed Xtrac transmission, center-lock wheels, and safety equipment.
Clutch in, left thumb on the neutral button on the steering wheel boss, click back the right paddle. Thunk! First gear. Build revs, ease out the clutch, and the low-slung Lambo stutters down pit lane on the speed limiter. Past pit exit, cancel the pit limiter, and the Super Trofeo leaps forward. It’s been more than a year, but it all feels familiar. Second gear still slams home like an anvil dropped in a dumpster, with third, fourth, and the rest arriving with only marginally more subtlety. The booming surge of acceleration is still exhilarating, the weapons-grade braking still punches the air from your chest. There’s mild understeer on corner entry and a smidgen of oversteer on corner exit if you get too ambitious on the throttle. But it all feels benign and predictable, despite the ferocious bellow of the naturally aspirated 5.2-liter V-10 at my shoulders.
I’m cautious through the sixth-gear adrenaline rush of Curva Grande. But otherwise I quickly begin to feel comfortable in the cockpit, to the point where I feel confident that, once I’d learned the track, I could start working on a respectable lap time.
Level, set. Now for the GT3.
Motorsport boss Giorgio Sanna sees the Huracan Super Trofeo as a stepping stone to the Huracan GT3: “We allow drivers to enjoy the power and torque, but the Super Trofeo is meant to be a scholarship car, to prepare them to move up to a GT3.” It’s a serious move up, even before you get it out onto the track: At $525,000, the Huracan GT3 Evo costs a healthy $216,000 more than a Super Trofeo Evo. If you already have a first-gen GT3, Lamborghini will sell you the parts to bring it up to Evo spec for a mere $150,000.
Lamborghini Squadra Corse chief engineer Leonardo Galante runs me through the key differences between the two cars. With about 500 hp—the V-10’s actual output can be tweaked depending on the balance of performance regulations under which the car is running—the GT3 has significantly less power than the Super Trofeo. But it has 50 percent more downforce, bigger and stickier tires, proper race car suspension, a different transmission, and Bosch Motorsport MS6.4 electronics that allow much more fine-tuning of everything from engine mapping to traction control and ABS. The Huracan Super Trofeo is like the ultimate track day special. The Huracan GT3 is a real racing car.
As part of the Evo upgrade, the GT3 has been given new suspension parts made from machined aluminum that are 40 percent less expensive than the welded steel tube items they replace. There’s also a new aero package that increases downforce 20 percent with a minimal increase in drag. It shifts the car’s aero balance further toward the front axle, which now runs a slightly bigger tire, to help reduce understeer through high-speed corners. Lamborghini Squadra Corse team driver Mirko Bortolotti, who helped develop the car, says that although the original Huracan GT3 is probably still quicker over a single lap on fresh tires because of its lower drag, the GT3 Evo is better on a longer run. “To compensate for the relatively light front downforce, the old GT3 ran softer front springs and stiffer rears, which meant it worked the rear tires very hard,” he explains. “With the new aero package, we can get the tires to last longer.”
The previous Huracan GT3 had a reputation for being tricky to drive at the limit. The new aero package is also designed, Galante says, to make the car easier for gentleman drivers to handle. Even so, he sounds a slightly ominous warning before I squirm into the cockpit: “I don’t think you will find this as much fun as the Super Trofeo.”
The GT3 Evo’s cockpit is different. The roll cage is more elaborate, the butterfly-shaped steering ‘wheel’ has different buttons and different paddles, and over to my right the floor is covered with wires, tubes, and an apparatus that looks like something left over from the Apollo moon shots; apparently, it’s an air-conditioning system. There’s no clutch pedal; the GT3 has a different transmission, a longitudinal six-speeder built by German company Hoer Technologies, developed for the car in conjunction with Audi Sport and used because race mechanics can more easily access its internals to change parts.
There’s a pssssht-thump as the air jacks retract and the Lamborghini drops to the tarmac, a raw bellow as the V-10 explodes into life. Foot on brake and a tug at the right-hand paddle. Ease off the brake and squeeze on the gas. The transmission juggles the clutch, and we’re off.
After the Super Trofeo, the relative lack of power is instantly noticeable; the GT3 simply doesn’t have the same elastic surge of acceleration out of corners and down the straights. The fantastically sharp response from the front end is also instantly noticeable; the GT3 changes direction the instant I pull the steering wheel off center. Even on the first couple of laps I get a sense of the extra downforce steadying the car under brakes and keeping it planted through the faster corners. After the thunderously playful Super Trofeo, the Huracan GT3 feels like a precision tool, a serious, professional-grade racing car. I love it.
Then I discover my lap times have gone backwards.
At one level, that’s to be expected, perhaps. With significantly less power than the Super Trofeo, the GT3 is naturally slower on the straights, carrying 6 mph to 8 mph less speed on the entry to the Curva Grande, for example. But on faster tracks like Monza—and, ahem, Vallelunga—its extra downforce and stickier tires deliver higher midcorner speeds that should enable it to match the more powerful car’s lap times.
Rain would stop play after just seven laps in the lime-wedge GT3 Evo. But I’d learned enough to understand exactly what Galante meant: Quick lap times don’t come as easily in this car as they do in the Super Trofeo. Trusting the downforce and the mechanical grip through fast corners is one thing, but the other challenge is in the slower corners, where the GT3 Evo demands absolute precision and consistency in terms of the line on corner entry, how and where you get on and off the brakes, where you clip the apex, and when you get back on the gas. It’s absolutely critical to find the right balance, to get the car to rotate just enough to stop the front end pushing when you get back on the gas. Get it wrong, and you’ll feel the front tires chattering as the nose runs wide, compromising your corner exit speed. And from there, your whole lap goes up in smoke.
The difference between the Super Trofeo and the GT3, says Galante, is the difference between a really fast road car and a racing car. What that means on the track, Bortolotti says, is that the GT3 effectively has a much, much narrower operating window. “Gentleman drivers like the Super Trofeo because it’s playful. The GT3 is not playful. The more you slide, the slower you are.” True, that.
The Huracan GT3 Evo is a car that will take non-pro drivers a lot more time to get comfortable with. It’s unforgiving, not in a scary way, but in the sense that it readily punishes sloppiness and over-driving, sometimes with deceptive subtlety. It can easily feel faster than the Super Trofeo—that razor-sharp turn-in response, the greater high-speed grip and stability—but don’t be surprised if the telemetry tells you otherwise. However, it delivers precisely the sort of challenge drivers like Pirro, F1 racer and Le Mans winner, relish: “I’m not sure I’d enjoy racing a car that just anyone could get into and be fast straight away.”
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