“Ok, avanti,” crackles the Italian voice over the walkie-talkie. One of Lamborghini’s factory test drivers is urging me to drive faster. On Yas Island’s Formula 1 circuit. In a $350,000 Aventador LP-700. Is he bonkers? Turns out he’s not. Just very skilled.
He is offering me radio instructions from a “standard” (his word, not mine) Gallardo LP-540 ahead, and I am trailing in the Aventador – a matt-black dead ringer for the Batmobile. Except more pimped out, and more fire-spitting.
Obviously, tearing up Yas Island’s F1 north straight 20 metres apart at 240km/h is not exciting enough for him. “You asked for it,” I mutter, trying to muster bravado, as we slow down to navigate the sweeping left and right handers that lead – back to the paddock straight.
The system of marker cones that advise us where to brake, when to turn and the best cornering line to follow, instill a sense of confidence and belief.
By the time we slingshot out of the last corner and into the long north straight, I am already gunning the Aventador like billy-o, one eye on the lead car, one eye on the speedo. The needle is surging: 240, 250, 260 and rising, as swathes of track fly blurrily past. Before my brain can properly register this V12, 6.5-litre 700-horsepower lunacy, the brake lights of the lead car flash and it’s time to rein in the raging bull.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
We are here at the Yas F1 circuit as the privileged guest of Lamborghini. The performance marque is hosting a media day to give journalists a brand experience. Earlier, we received safety and track briefings, but my co-drivers were already mentally winning the Le Mans, willing the instructors to get on with it. As well as the flagship Aventador, there are four variants of the Gallardo to test – the ‘standard’ version, the superleggera, a roofless Performante and a super Trofeo. They are all lined up in a row in the pit lane and we’re chomping at the bit to get started.
The stewards inform us if we’re planning on exceeding 120km/h we must wear helmets. Everyone present nods as if to say, well, duh, and reaches for a racing lid. The plan is for one of the two factory drivers to operate the lead car, with three journalists trailing.
The first batch sets off slowly down the tunnel and disappears out of sight, the next time we see them, the cars will be hoofing past at speed. We all wait impatiently, and then, a minute later, a wall of engine and exhaust noise hits like the hammers of hell. It’s a stirring tableau. Four of Lamborghini’s meanest offerings at full chat, competitive hackles raised. After a few laps, it’s time to change drivers. And off go the next batch, and so on.
After what seems like 20 minutes, I glance at my watch and am astounded to realise I have actually been there for close to six hours. Time to say ‘arrivederci’ to our little toys and F1 fantasies and return to the real world.
I smile as I chug home, remembering an old childhood bedroom poster of a Lamborghini and dreams of driving one.
I can tick that one off.