Lamborghini Academy, Italy
Someone had told me that when you turn on the engine of a Lamborghini, you feel your heart roar along with it. In my case, I think it skipped a few beats. There’s something quite terrifying about being put behind the wheel of a machine that has the power to reach 350km/h… especially when you don’t even own a car yourself.
The Aventador had been sitting in the pit lane of Italy’s famous Imola racetrack since I arrived, challenging and inviting me to feel its power. The hand painted red exterior of Lamborghini’s finest design shimmers in the sun. Even motionless, it exudes speed. Streamlined and sleek, it is a car as impressive on the inside as it is beneath the bonnet (if you can call it a ‘bonnet’ when you’re talking about a $500,000 sports car). My time with it will come.
Today is going to be no day for play. I’m not here for a thrill-seeking joyride. This is the official Lamborghini Academy and some of the world’s best drivers have been recruited to teach me and the other six participants how to handle this beast on the track. There will be speed, there will be slides, there will be corners, there will be straights and, I fear, there will be at least one change of underwear.
Racing around Imola
I get in the first Lamborghini I’m going to try and fail the initial test. As the first lap begins I find my car motionless. No amount of pedal-pushing, wheel-turning or quiet sobbing is making it move. How could they have put me in this car on my own with so little instruction? Sure, we are going to be learning a lot once we are out on the road but perhaps it would’ve helped if I’d been told how to turn the thing on!
An instructor runs over to help – ah, the big button in the centre panel with the word ‘start’ on it. It makes sense, although I didn’t realise Lamborghini had modelled their control panel on Windows 98. Still, I’m on the move now – and with much more speed than any Microsoft could even pretend to have.
The car drives so smoothly. It seems to glide along the track as I push down cautiously on the accelerator. And it’s responsive too. It’s as though it knows what my hands are going to do with the steering wheel before I do. I relax a bit into the seat (hitting my helmet on the low roof in the process) and start to concentrate on the track ahead.
The Lamborghini Academy is all about personal and individual training. For our track runs we go out in groups of three cars. The first car has two instructors who are leading the way, setting the speed and demonstrating the best positions on the track. In the other two cars are two of us, the race novices. Using a radio straight into speakers in our helmets, the instructors talk us through the course, giving advice on how to take corners, when to brake, how to chicane through the chicanes. Watching in their mirrors, the instructors help correct our technique, encourage when we do well or (as is usually the case with me) point out when we make mistakes.
“Pay attention to your braking point,” the instructor keeps telling me. I mishear it every time as ‘breaking point’, a subconscious nod to my rising stress levels. It’s actually not as hard as I imagined it to be and it feels like the car itself is helping me most of the time. But the level of concentration you need is so great that I feel constantly tense, a slight shake in my legs and sweat soaking my shirt. No wonder professional racers are all so skinny!
Round and round we go, the corners becoming more familiar and the straight increasingly tempting to accelerate along. We do a few laps and then rest before heading out for the next set, changing cars to try different models (and colours). Each time the speed increases. My technique also improves and it starts to feel a bit more natural… assuming skidding around corners at 200km/h is what nature intended us to be doing.
For someone like myself, a nervous driver at the best of times, the experience is emboldening. I feel myself becoming one with the Lamborghini as the day progresses. For the other drivers, most of them owners of sports cars already, it’s just as affirming. This isn’t like driving on the normal roads… even on some of the European freeways. There are only a few people who will ever have the chance to control a car at this pace on a track like Imola. As it turns out, deep down, we all have the need for speed.
Other Lamborghini Academy posts:
* High-speed driving tips from Lamborghini’s chief instructor.
* Lamborghini’s students: You’ll be surprised at who actually attends the academy…
Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Lamborghini and the Emilia Romagna tourism board but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.