IT'S ODD, but as I stand in the pit lane at Imola and gaze at the empty track, its curved main straight snaking away into the trees, I feel a little disappointed.
And a fraction underwhelmed.
For a circuit with such a fearsome reputation, I was hoping it’d look gloomier. More menacing. You know, with wisps of fog clinging to barriers shrouded in Senna flags and decaying flowers. That kind of thing.
Instead, warm sunlight falls from a clear sky. Birds sing in the woods. And there are children playing in a park outside the Armco. It’s almost…tranquil.
Until the first Lamborghini Huracan Performante barks into life.
Behind me, a row of growling Performantes wait like jewels in the sun, their jutting noses, swooping rooflines and peacocking rear wings doing their best to enhance Imola’s visual drama.
This is the latest in a long line of track-honed special editions from Lamborghini, and this time Sant’Agata’s engineers have reached deep into a bag of new tricks. There’s more power, of course, and 40kg less weight courtesy of a raft of measures including a material called forged carbonfibre, but the most hyped piece of tech is something Lamborghini lovingly refers to as “Ahhh Laaa”.
That’s short for Aerodinamica Lamborghini Attiva (ALA, get it?), which is an exciting, Italian way of saying active aero.
Lurking inside that front splitter is an electric motor that operates two flaps. With the flaps shut, ALA is used to maximise downforce at the front axle. When the flaps slide open, the system helps to reduce drag. The same principle applies at the rear, though things are much more complex. That forged carbonfibre rear wing and its thick upright supports are actually hollow. This allows air to be channelled into the wing through two intakes at the base of the uprights, which are controlled by electric motors. With the intakes open, air is expelled through vents in the wing’s underside to reduce drag (like a Formula 1 Drag Reduction System) and to help the Performante reach its 325km/h top speed.
With the intakes closed, the wing maximises downforce at the rear, which has risen by 750 percent compared to the regular Huracan. The ingenious thing, though, is that the two air intakes can operate independently to produce something Lambo calls “aero vectoring”. With Corsa mode engaged, ALA can close one intake during a corner to increase downforce to the inside wheel which helps the car to turn. Brilliant, eh?
Yet despite all this aero wizardry – which Lambo says was key to its blistering 6:52.01 ’Ring time – the thing that dominates the Performante experience is still that huge, naturally aspirated V10. Now sporting titanium valves and a snazzy bronze engine cover (which pays homage to previous special-edition Lambos), the V10’s outputs have risen to 470kW/600Nm thanks to a revised intake system and a lighter, free-flowing exhaust that exits higher in the rear bar. And the result is an engine that’s verging on perfection.
Pin sharp, high-revving and meaty throughout the rev-range (70 percent of torque is available from 1000rpm), the tweaked V10 is noticeably more savage than other Huracans. And then there’s the noise. Honing in on the 8500rpm redline isn’t just a musical experience but a physical one too, as the screaming V10 now operates at a frequency that reverberates through your chest.
The sound itself is angrier with a serrated, hard-edged howl that’s perilously close to the Huracan Super Trofeo racing car. Adding to the increase in drivetrain violence is the recalibrated seven-speed dual-clutch ’box, which hammers home upshifts with ferocious speed. And this is a small thing but the weighting of the shift paddles themselves is bang on. Light and crisp. Combine all this and it’s alarming how quickly Imola’s mix of high-speed corners and blind crests regain their fear factor.
Lamborghini’s chief test driver Mario Fasanetto isn’t faffing about either. He’s setting the pace in a ‘regular’ Huracan LP610-4 and it’s clear he’s pushing the car to its limit: the nose occasionally washing wide, his tail waggling under hard braking. Things are less dramatic inside the Performante. Suspension tweaks include 10 percent stiffer springs and thicker anti-roll bars for a 15 percent reduction in lateral roll, and the result is rock-solid body control and impressive front-end point.
Dynamic steering is optional (a regular EPS system is fitted as standard) and in Corsa the ratio is breathtakingly fast, though the Performante’s positive front axle means it never feels nervous. Get too greedy on corner entry and you do encounter benign understeer, but tuck the nose in early through Imola’s slower corners and you’re free to choose the way you exit.
Drop a cog, dial in plenty of revs and flatten the throttle and you can revel in delicious degrees of oversteer before the all-wheel drive scrabbles to pull the car straight.
Stay in a higher gear and the result is ruthless speed and pinpoint accuracy. You have fewer options through the high-speed stuff, but the Performante is so unshakably stable that I have the confidence to carry more speed and to be more committed with the steering with every lap.
Can you sense the active aero working? Hmm, not really. The only indication that there’s aero sorcery afoot is that the Performante is visibly more planted and composed than Fasanetto in the lead Huracan. Traditionally the trade-off to this kind of on-track performance is a bone-crunching ride on the public road. And yet, on the chipped and craggy tarmac around Imola, the Performante does a commendable job of soaking up bumps and deep imperfections.
Every car at the launch was fitted with optional magnetic dampers and in comfort-orientated Strada mode there’s little loss in ride comfort compared to a regular Huracan. Things do deteriorate in Sport and Corsa but the suspension never crashes through.
And unlike the interiors of many track-honed specials, the Performante’s cabin doesn’t compromise on comfort. The usual Lambo ergonomic quirks and complicated switchgear remain, but the seating position is spot on, with excellent steering wheel adjustment. Though we’d steer clear of the optional, rock-hard sports seats.
The Performante, then, is much more than just a track toy.
Yes its active aero tech pushes the supercar envelope, and there’s enough dynamic talent to trouble its competitor set from Porsche, Ferrari and McLaren. But this remains a car that you could use every day. And that, more than anything else, speaks to the achievements of the engineers from Sant’Agata.
In fact, the Performante is so well-rounded Lamborghini admits there’s room to create an even harder, rawer and more uncompromising version to sit above it.
One with more noise, less weight and power sent solely to the rear axle.
Now imagine that.