Mad Bull

The new, still-secret Huracan Performante could be the fastest Lamborghini ever. We divulge its wild active aero – and drive it


FIRST FANG Lamborghini Huracan Performante

The new, still-secret Huracan Performante could be the fastest Lamborghini ever. We divulge its wild active aero – and drive it

IT’S EARLY on a chilly December morning in Northern Italy. In theory, the Imola circuit should already be in hibernation for the winter, but instead it is a hive of activity. A new Lamborghini, the prototype Huracan Performante to be exact, has that kind of effect.

No caffeine is required to fire up the brain cells today.

The Huracan and Aventador are doing well in terms of sales, but money is tight in Sant’Agata. Lamborghini’s charismatic and knowledgeable R&D chief, Maurizio Reggiani, whose main mission is to reinvent the famous marque, is tasked with milking every last drop of potential from the supercar pairing by launching two profitable special editions per life cycle. The Huracan Performante forms part of this plan and is slated for an official reveal at the Geneva motor show.

I The Performante is the latest in a long line of trackfocused limited editions, but with some illustrious forbears, it has big shoes to fill. This time around, though, the Performante label, previously used on the convertible version of the Gallardo Superleggera, stands for much more than fancy wheels, loud decals and a slight power increase. Despite the tight budget, Reggiani and his team have managed to introduce cutting-edge active aerodynamics to Lamborghini and the supercar segment.

“The new Performante is in essence a Super Trofeo for the road,” states the senior vehicle development manager Dennis Schmitz, beaming with pride.

“What makes all the difference is the patented ALA concept, short for Active Lamborghini Aerodynamics.

It transforms the car by enhancing cornering grip, handling prowess and high-speed stability.”

Encouraging words, but the proof will be in the driving. For that, three dormant bulls sit in pit lane waiting for a good prodding. The first and last in line are standard Huracans, the former for Lamborghini’s chief test driver Pierluigi Veronesi to play pace car, the latter to provide a dynamic

benchmark. The middle steed is an altogether different kettle of fish, with the swirly camouflage signifying the Performante’s prototype status.

The psychedelic disguise obfuscates the design changes, but you can still decipher the redesigned nose cone, revised the redesigned nose cone, revised air intakes, new wheels and an imposing rear wing sitting atop wide mounts. Does this alone make the Huracan a dynamic hero and worthy of the Performante designation? No, there’s much more at play here.

ALA incorporates three small electric motors which operate a quartet of flaps, two hidden in the front bumper operated by a single electric motor with two more, each with its own motor, under the rear wing.

Depending on the drive mode selected, these flaps have the ability to operate simultaneously or independently, manipulating airflow to either reduce drag or increase downforce.

In the Huracan’s everyday Strada (Street) mode, all four flaps open at 70km/h, remaining that way until 310km/h, at which point the fronts close to suck the front end to the ground. In Sport, all four flaps again open at 70km/h, however, they all close again at 180km/h to they all close again at 180km/h to boost downforce for high-speed cornering. At 310km/h, this time the rear flaps open to reduce drag – just like the DRS system on a Formula One car – and allow the Performante to chase its rumoured 340km/h top speed, though the final figure will not be revealed until the car’s unveiling at the Geneva show.

But it’s in Corsa mode where ALA really flexes its muscles; all flaps are able to operate independently depending on the Performante’s lateral and longitudinal grip requirements. It’s similar in principle to the system seen on the Pagani Huayra, though the Huracan’s hidden flaps mean all the

Three dormant bulls sit in Imola’s pit lane waiting for a good prodding

magic happens invisibly on the Lamborghini.

Explaining how ALA operates is easiest with a practical example, and Imola is the perfect playground.

It’s a fantastic circuit, heavy with history, some of it tragic, and tremendously challenging with plenty of high-speed sections. Before we leave pit lane there’s a quick we leave pit lane there’s a quick discussion about the appropriate ESP setting: “Sport is dedicated to making the car feel a little loose and tail-happy,” explains Lorenzo Rinaldi, who is in charge of vehicle dynamics. “For the fastest lap times, however, you’re better off in Corsa. It is more focused and sharper overall.

more focused and sharper overall.

Alternatively, you can of course switch off stability control altogether.”

We’ll stick with Corsa for now.

Accelerating down Imola’s long, slightly curved front straight, all the flaps are open to reduce drag and increase straight-line acceleration.

Braking for the Tamburello chicane, installed after the death of Ayrton Senna in 1994, all four flaps snap shut to maximise downforce and press the tyres hard into the tarmac. With a turn of the steering wheel into the first left-hander, the rear-right aero flap opens, releasing the aero load on the heavily stressed outer tyre while the rear-left flap remains closed, the rear-left flap remains closed, pressing the inner rear wheel down to increase grip and traction. As the wheel turns right for the second part of the chicane, the reverse occurs.

Lamborghini describes it as ‘aero vectoring’, using the air to manipulate the dynamic balance rather than braking individual rather than braking individual wheels like traditional torque vectoring systems, and estimates it generates an extra 0.2-0.4g of lateral load within fractions of a second, while also suppressing understeer by permitting smaller steering angles. From behind the wheel the Performante effect is immediate; even with an

From behind the wheel of the Huracan the Performante effect is immediate

amateur at the limit, thanks to all this trickery, confidence at the limit is staggering.

The extra downforce, combined with 40kg less weight and stickier Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres, makes the Performante feel almost invincible and a remarkably different animal to a run-of-the-mill Huracan. This is proven when following hotshoe Veronesi, who is piloting the standard car. Thanks to ALA, holding your right foot flat where he must lift is easy and to be honest, the Performante is verging on Aventador pace around this track. Of course, this extra pace is not all down to the wild wings; there’s the more aggressively calibrated all-wheel drive and ESP systems, faster-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and firmer suspension.

The substantially stiffer chassis is a tangible asset when fighting the paling red, white and green kerbs of Imola. Despite this calibration, the ride quality on public roads barely suffers, claims project leader Antonio Grandi. “Especially in Strada, springs and dampers are sufficiently pliable. Maximum downforce does of course have an effect on the compliance.” But who cares about comfort when you’re on a racetrack?

However, it is the perfect place to test the buffer zone between the physical and newfound aerodynamic grip. Perhaps the other significant dynamic alteration is the reprogrammed steering. The effort is now slightly higher in Strada, the ratio quickens in Sport, and there is no longer any variation at all in Corsa, exactly the way Porsche does it.

With the new aerodynamic tech it would be easy to overlook the Huracan’s uprated engine, but it’s impossible to ignore the vicious bark generated by the 5.2-litre naturally aspirated V10. It sounds rawer and meaner thanks to the lightweight, free-flow exhaust, the high-set tips now exiting directly out the rear of the Performante. Final figures won’t be available before March, but thanks to the new exhaust and Super Trofeo-derived intake system, bet on around 480kW/630Nm. According to overheard gossip, this will shave two-tenths from the regular Huracan’s 0-100km/h time, leaving it at just three seconds dead.

By 1pm we’ve completed two full Grands Prix distances and the evidence is clear to see. The fuel tank is nearly empty, the air is full of brake dust and the tyres are spent, rubber marbles splattering the

front and windscreen. But there is still time for one more session before the track closes for lunch and the Performante is like a drug – you’re unable to say no to one more hit.

The final 20 minutes on track are intoxication, stimulation and exhilaration combined. This car is so good it could easily cope with an extra 30 or 40 kilowatts, and why not add rear-wheel steering similar to the system which debuts in the Aventador S? Then again, word is the Performante is already faster around the Nurburgring than the Aventador SV, which set a remarkable 6min59sec time. In fact, this new Huracan is said to be the fastest production car around the famous German racetrack… ever.

In more ways than one, the Performante is kind of a poor man’s Bugatti Chiron. It is amazingly stable under hard braking, it controls its body movements and it sticks to a line like glue. It’s a remarkable sports car which pushes the envelope much further than its nondescript model designation suggests. It’s a pain to get in and an embarrassment to get out of, but what happens between these two procedures is dazzling, physical and addictive.

The Performante may have to give best to the likes of the upcoming Ferrari 488 Speciale and Porsche 911 GT2 RS in terms of raw figures, but it is bound to hound its rivals in reality thanks to the gamechanging adaptive aerodynamics. This truly is a Huracan on steroids. M

In more ways than one, the Performante is kind of a poor man’s Bugatti Chiron

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BODY 2-door, 2-seat coupe DRIVE all-wheel ENGINE 5204cc V10, DOHC, 40v BORE/STROKE 84.5 x 92.8mm COMPRESSION TBC POWER 480kW @ 6500rpm TORQUE 630Nm @ 1700-5000rpm POWER/WEIGHT 347kW/tonne TRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch WEIGHT 1382kg SUSPENSION (F) A-arms, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar SUSPENSION (R) A-arms, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar L/W/H 4459/1924/1165mm (tbc) WHEELBASE 2620mm TRACKS 1668/1620mm (f/r) STEERING electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion BRAKES (F) 380mm ventilated discs, 6-piston calipers BRAKES (R) 290mm ventilated discs, 4-piston calipers WHEELS 20.0 x 8.5-inch (f); 20 x 11.0-inch (r) TYRE SIZES 245/30 ZR20 (f); 305/30 ZR20 (r) TYRE Pirelli P Zero Corsa PRICE AS TESTED $500,000 (estimated) PROS Formidable pace; handling; aero tech CONS Hard to get in and out of; race-car ride STAR RATING 11112