Italy is known for its various wine regions, where climate and soil conditions conspire to create precisely the ideal combination needed for producing specific grapes used for particular wines.
The Pinot Grigio grape, and wine, come from Italy’s Alto-Adige and Friuli regions, while they produce Prosecco in Veneto.
Circumstances also combine to make the Emilia-Romagna region surrounding Bologna the ideal location for internal combustion perfection. Ferrari is located in Maranello, Ducati in Bologna, Maserati comes from Modena and Lamborghini is based in Sant’Agata. The majestic Imola racetrack is located in the region, and the Toro Rosso Formula One team’s base is nearby.
And Lamborghini CEO Stefano Domenicali? He grew up a mile from the Imola racetrack. His high school was on the opposite bank of the river bordering the track’s main straight, and his teenage employment was as an entry-level gopher for race teams at the track.
So when Lamborghini decides to not only develop a maximum-performance Huracan Performante, but to do the press introduction on the track at Imola, it is a confluence of all the factors that make Emilia-Romagna Italy’s motorsport heartland.
That the Performante thrives in this natural environment may seem obvious, but actually Imola poses a stern test for any car that doesn’t conform to current Formula One regulations.
A recap: The Performante is Lamborghini’s even-faster version of the Huracan, the 631-horsepower V10-powered rocket that blitzed the Nurburgring to a new record lap time for production cars of 6:52.01.
The Performante’s engine is tweaked to rev higher, producing an additional 30 horsepower over the regular Huracan’s powerplant. But a couple dozen more ponies are not the secret to the Performante’s track prowess.
As with the blending of a fine Italian wine, it requires many ingredients, such as the Performante’s lighter weight, thanks to more extensive use of carbon fiber, stiffer springs and sway bars to maintain an even keel through corners, and most critically, sophisticated control of airflow under and around the car for maximum grip and stability.
“Ala” is the Italian word for “wing,” and ALA is the acronym for Aerodinamica Lamborghini Attiva, or Active Lamborghini Aerodynamics. This is Lambo’s term for the active air management employed on the Performante, which has servo-controlled openings in the front air dam to vent air out through the bottom edge of the doors when the car is switched to Corsa, or track mode.
At the rear, the car draws air in through scoops, ducts through passages inside the rear wing mounting struts and vents it out through slats running across the bottom side of the wing, reducing drag for higher top speed.
In high-speed corners, the ALA system activates on only on one side of the wing, creating more downforce on the inside rear wheel to reduce body roll and improve stability.
The Corsa drive mode setting also stiffens the electromagnetically adjustable shock absorbers and switches the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission to manual paddle-shift mode.
Storming around the Imola track, the connection between the Performante and Lamborghini’s home circuit made it seem as if the modifications to the Huracan were done with this track specifically in mind, so organically does the car carve its way around the winding 3.1 miles.
Imola hosted the San Marino Grand Prix from 1981-2006, and the track’s stupendously fast speeds are the sort that cause cars that aren’t built for Formula One to wilt, as their suspensions are overwhelmed, brakes fade and tires fry. Not the Performante.
It drives like it was purpose-built to attack the turns of Imola, imbuing the driver with the confidence to hold the pedal to the floor through the left-hand bend exiting Variante Tamburello, and again when diving downhill approaching Acqua Minerale.
Storming into the slower turns like the uphill Tosa and the flat Variante Alta, the Performante demonstrates its braking excellence. The key to success at Variante Alta, a tight right-left chicane, proved to be to hammer the brake pedal at the braking marker, immediately triggering the car’s antilock brakes.
This provides maximum braking while the car is covering ground the fastest, leaving you to bleed off the brake pressure on the approach to the turn-in for the right-hand part. The chicane’s curbing on the inside of the right hander is flat and forgiving, inviting drivers to short cut it a bit, while the curbing on the left-hand exit is higher and punishing.
It is here that Brazillian racer Ruebens Barrichello famously launched his Jordon F1 car into the catch fence in a terrifying crash. That’s what happens when you miss your braking for the turn in to the right-hand portion; it puts the car on the wrong trajectory for the left-hand turn, setting the car up for takeoff.
This is why the Performante’s ability to shed speed effectively with the ABS at the very beginning of braking is so important. It lets the car carve the best line through the chicane and rocket out the other side without accidentally vaulting off the road.
The Huracan Performante uses Lamborghini’s all-wheel drive system, but it is tuned to provide a rear-drive feeling, which is a tough trick. Normally, the power coursing through the front tires of all-wheel drive cars consumes some of the grip needed for turning, causing the front tires to slide on corner turn-in, and we just covered why it is bad to miss the turn-in point.
The Performante doesn’t do that, and it does waggle its tail under hard acceleration at corner exit, just like you expect a rear-driver to do. Unlike a rear-drive car, it routes enough of that wide-open-throttle power to the fronts to escape rear wheelspin or spinning the car.
The stiffer springs, sway bars and electromagnetic shocks keep the Performante under admirable control, even over the blind crest approaching Piratella, and under the crushing force of braking into the tight right-hand turn at the exit of Acqua Minerale.
The only place the car squirms is through the flat-out left bend on the front straight, the very spot where Aryton Senna lost control of his Williams F1 car in his fatal 1994 crash. Unfortunate conspiracy theories surround Senna’s death, but anyone driving that part of the track at sufficient speed, as in the Performante, can confirm that cars get unsettled and dance around there on every lap.
With such track-honed capability, it would be easy to dismiss the Performante as a track day toy. Lamborghini replaced the rubber bushings in the Performante’s suspension mounts with ones that are 50 percent harder, which improves steering feel and accuracy at the expense of ride quality, after all.
But an afternoon of driving through the hills south of Imola proved that, when switched to Strada drive mode, the Performante is entirely livable as a street car. The Ferrari 458 Speciale was stripped of sound deadening and didn’t include a radio to lighten its load as a track-only car that was exhausting to drive on the street, but the Performante makes no such sacrifices and still achieved a record lap time at the Nurburgring.
There is an optional lightweight carbon fiber one-piece racing seat that is surely the correct choice if you’re hunting lap records. If not, choose the power adjustable model; your back with thank you.
Lamborghini CEO Domenicali predicts that as many as half of all Huracan coupes could be Performantes within a couple years. If all the cars stayed in their native Emilia-Romagna region, it would surely be 100 percent.