Lamborghini’s cars have always been formidably sexy and exotic—its late 1960s-era Miura established the supercar template with a V-12 engine mounted behind the driver. But while the stunning Miura may have looked like Speed Racer’s cartoon Mach V racer, Lamborghini has never really been about racing. Until now.
Believe it or not, Lamborghini’s zoomy machines have usually idled on the sidelines of great races like the 24 Hours of Le Mans over the years. Supercar competitors Ferrari and McLaren were founded as legacy racing teams, and those companies expanded into street car production to support their track-ready efforts. Porsche began with street cars, but ones that were thinly-veiled racers.
Lamborghini, however, has been content to boast about its supercars' incredible top speeds and amazing performance outside the intense realm of wheel-to-wheel competition. But last weekend's 24 Hours of Daytona sports car race marked the company’s coming-out as a full-fledged contender, and although the fleet of five Huracan GT3 failed to win their debut, it was certainly an auspicious beginning.
The Lamborghinis were the fastest in the GT Daytona category, topping the favored Audi R8 racers by more than one second a lap, and blasting through the radar at 7 mph faster on the speedway’s straights. However, this speed advantage was undone by Lamborghini’s hands-off strategy toward the private teams running the cars.
While some companies race their cars directly with factory-operated teams fielding cars piloted by company-selected drivers, the private teams are commonly owned by gentleman enthusiasts who like to race their own cars, or who enter drivers who help pay the teams’ expenses.
So when Lamborghinis led the race in first and second place at the halfway point, a thrilling victory seemed within reach. But the second-place driver wanted to be first, and in their contention for that spot they crashed into each other, sending both cars back in the field as they pitted for repairs.
Then, late in the race, another Huracan led and the team chose to gamble that some gentle driving in the closing laps would nurse the car home to the finish with an empty fuel tank.
Lamborghini research and development director Maurizio Reggiani told the team that his engineers’ calculations showed they would come up two laps short and driving range and that a late-race pit stop would destroy their chances for a good finish.
But if the team stopped for fuel then, with a half-hour still to go, it would be able to recover the lost ground to finish second, according to Lamborghini’s simulations run back at the company’s Sant’Agata, Italy headquarters.
The team chose to take what it viewed as a gamble, but that Reggiani knew was a certain outcome, and sure enough, two laps from the end, the leading Huracan came sputtering into the pits, out of fuel. The car finished fifth, off the victory podium of the top three contenders, further squandering the Huracan’s potential.
Lamborghini chose to finally pursue racing with a vengeance now because the quality of its cars and the stability of its finances are both strong enough to produce a good result. After all, 2015 was the best-selling year in Lambo history.
“We’ve always believed that motorsport is paramount for success, especially for a company like ours,” said Lamborghini president and CEO Stephan Winkelmann.
So while Ferrari and McLaren vie for Formula One supremacy, Lamborghini is testing the waters of racing by entering modified street cars in sports car endurance races.
Indeed, Lamborghini has sold 40 Huracan GT3 racers to teams around the world, so those beauties will be abundant on tracks this year. In the process, Lamborghini will learn more about racing and establish its credentials for the possibility of entering other series in the future.
“Our goal is to have a street-legal race car that is very recognizable,” Winkelmann said. GT3 serves that purpose, he explained, adding “We do not intend at this time to do anything further than that.”
But would Lamborghini like to move up the ranks to the top tier of racing? After all, there was a time when the company was owned by Chrysler (today it is part of the Volkswagen Group) that it was an engine supplier to a Formula One racing team.
“If I listened to the people in the motorsports department, they would like to do everything!” Winkelmann said.