The moment I almost crashed a one-of-a-kind Lamborghini at COTA
I was recently informed that 10 percent of Americans have a net worth of $1.2 million or more. If you’re in that #Blessed group, you could probably spare 10 percent of that to buy a driver-grade Lamborghini Gallardo, the same way I had no real issue spending 10 percent of my net worth recently on a driver-grade 2006 Mercury Milan with the rare but non-coveted five-speed manual transmission.
The Gallardo is a brilliant car. I should know; I’ve spent hundreds of laps coaching Gallardo drivers for a company called Xtreme Xperience out of New Orleans. In certain configurations, such as the quilted-roof, rear-wheel-drive-only LP550-2 variant, it’s even charming. Your neighbors will talk about you, and people on the street will stare—assuming, that is, you don’t live in Los Angeles or Houston or Chicago, where Gallardos are only slightly less common than Camry Hybrids. Gallardos are surprisingly reliable, and the parts availability is outstanding. I should also mention that you can insure them right here at Hagerty, and many people do.
There’s just one little problem with Gallardo ownership, however. You have to make sure that you never, ever, come within spitting distance of a Huracán. Because the Huracán is to the Gallardo what the Grumman Hellcat was to the Grumman Wildcat—the same idea, a lot faster, and a lot more thrilling to operate. Just how thrilling is the Huracan? Ask the man who pointed the nose of a pre-production example at the inside wall at Circuit Of The Americas at close to 100 miles per hour.
That would be me, of course. About five years ago, I was given the chance to drive the Huracán well before the car made its formal debut in the States. There was just one little hitch: the drive would be at the Circuit Of The Americas, commonly known as COTA. I’d never turned a wheel there.
“It is OK,” I was told. “We will send a factory driver. Also, we will send a second car, in case you crash the first one.” The driver was a charming fellow with a distinguished history in Lamborghini’s single-make race series, Super Trofeo. The second car, like the first one, was a lime green LP610-4 with hardshell seats and no VIN plate to be found anywhere.
As I recall, the day degenerated fairly quickly into a two-car time trial with me and the factory driver using the in-car lap timer to push each other into greater feats of idiocy. Any thoughts I might have had about evaluating the Huracán fairly on its own merits were thrown out the bunker-slit driver’s-side window as I focused single-mindedly on bringing the times down.
By lunch we were sitting at 2:21 and change. My rival would later go on to post a 2:07 qualifying lap at COTA for Super Trofeo—in fact, you’d have needed a 2:14 just to get on the blunt end of the grid for that race. But these weren’t bona fide race cars—they were pre-production streetable examples on treaded tires. And neither one of us had any true idea of just how fast they could go.
It is a little-known fact of the automotive journalism game that writers crash cars all the time. The fellow who writes the “Wheels” section of your local paper? He’s probably damaged a dozen cars over that many years. The fellow smiling at you from the pages of that glossy travel magazine? Chances are he’s taken out a European telephone pole or two. And there is one very well-known fellow who has crashed so many cars on so many courses that he is no longer permitted to turn a single wheel on-track. He sits in the cars to record the dialogue portion of his videos and then he sits on the bench while a professional in sunglasses pretends to be him for the motion scenes.
With that said, I’d never hit a wall in someone else’s car, and I had no intention of doing so that day. I was entirely content to let the factory driver “win” the day and head back to the hotel for a drink—until the moment my wife mentioned, in a rare off-the-cuff moment, just how handsome the fellow was. “They shouldn’t make him wear the helmet for the races on TV,” she remarked. I stuffed my ugly, misshapen Quasimodo head back into my mirrored-for-your-protection Impact! helmet and went out for one final lap.
My Huracán, known quite romantically as “Huracán A” for the day of the test, seemed to know just how frustrated I was. It hung on gamely for the terrifying roller-coaster downhill from Turn 1, fairly leapt between the apexes of COTA’s famous, and famously frustrating, esses. At the Turn 11 hairpin, I let my foot roll off the brake just a fraction sooner than I’d previously done—and the big green Lambo decided to reach for the sky. The speedometer climbed with digit-blurring intensity. Could I beat 175 miles per hour? On a closed course?
The speedo rose… 173… 174… 175… 176… 17BRAKE BRAKE BRAKE, and I hauled down for the no-messing-around left-hander at the end. A few seconds later, I was tossing the Huracán through the last turn slightly sideways and blasting past start/finish with… a low 2:20.
Which meant a 2:19 was possible. I might be ugly, but I was absolutely going to win this race-that-was-in-no-way-an-actual-race. This time I pushed just a little bit harder everywhere, although I sacrificed three miles per hour of back straight speed for a better corner exit. All I needed was a good hard run out of Turn 20 to make an easy 2:19.5. I brushed the brake, pitched the car in, and… found myself in an outrageous slide with my windshield pointed right at the pit straight wall. In another second or so I’d be nose-first in the wall, with the airbags showering my face with talcum powder and the sodden thump of my impact audible from here to the Austin City Limits. I recall being frightened, and I recall being embarrassed, but mostly I recall a deep and pervasive feeling of shame.
Something happened—I don’t know what. I added a little throttle, cranked the wheel, probably closed my eyes. I ended up lurching past the start-finish line in a lurid smoke show before collecting the car and proceeding at a significantly reduced pace up the hill. My laptime was 2:22. I was done for the day. The driver, my wife, and I went for drinks at the hotel bar to celebrate my non-crashing of the one-of-a-kind, or perhaps two-of-a-kind, car. In the depths of our comradely feeling—as men who had braved death together—the fellow asked me if he could accompany us upstairs. I had to explain that we don’t do that sort of thing in America. Or at least in Ohio. Maybe it’s just in my cul-de-sac that we don’t do those sort of things. (Except for the weird neighbors at the end of the street. I get the feeling they are up for anything.)
Which is where the story ends—except for a postscript. A fellow named Adam Tobolowsky read my review of the Huracán and its 176-mph top speed. Adam has over a thousand laps of COTA and his max-attack videos, where he drives everything from a ZR1 to a McLaren P1 around the course, are very popular on YouTube. He explained to me that 176 mph in a Huracán is just about impossible. He’s only seeing 182 indicated in a P1 or Senna, maybe 180 mph on the GPS. And the lap times seemed a little low, as well, although he’s rolled a Senna around the course in 2:14 with a passenger.
Was it really likely that I’d managed to put a stock Huracán around the course in 2:20, having no experience with the track? After some lively back and forth, we agreed that the nice people from Sant’Agata probably slipped us a pair of ringers, which is a great Italian supercar tradition. Or had they just slipped me a ringer and given a stock car to my not-as-close-as-he’d-planned-to-be friend? We will never know. I asked Adam what I should do next time I’m there.
“COTA is 3.4 miles long, and most people get caught up trying to shorten the brake zones and straighten the esses. That doesn’t work. You have to keep it simple. Maintain the highest average speed. Brake earlier, brake less, focus on floating your speed through the corners. You’ll have a much better time, in all senses of the word.”
Adam has offered to let me try his ZR1 there, but that feels like pushing my luck. A 2006 Mercury Milan, maybe on some Hoosier R7 tires? That’s a risk (to my net worth) I’m willing to take.