Our secret mission to help develop a Lamborghini supercar

Tyler Heatley

19 Nov 2020


It’s very early in the morning, but the Italian sun is already starting to warm the air in anticipation of a scorching day. A convoy of Lamborghini Urus slowly penetrate layers of security until we are all asked to get out and head to an office. Wrist still cramped from the signing of endless non-disclosure agreements the night before, I gave the guard all of my camera equipment before he taped over the lenses on my phone. The reward for this confiscation? Access to the secret Nardo test track in order to drive a Lamborghini the world will not know about for another two months. Today you know it as the Huracan STO.

Chaperoned to a small building next to the track itself, I saw endless undisguised prototype machines from almost every manufacturer being worked on in some testing capacity. Some we know are coming, others were a real surprise, but all protected by a very heavy legally-binding document – sorry.

I’m nearly 10 years in the game of testing cars big and small, but the essence of how special today’s task was made me feel like it was my first day of road testing all over again. Typically journalists drive preproduction cars, or the closest possible representation of the finished car before they end up in the hands of customers. That’s always pretty cool, but the car under scrutiny today was not only a million times more special than the latest family hatchback, but also still undergoing serious development. I was to join Lamborghini test drivers and around seven other lucky motoring hacks from around the world to give feedback that would help inform future changes. When I first read the invitation I physically leapt out of my seat!

A 1:1 styling model of the new Lamborghini Huracan STO was shown to our small group isn all of its furious glory. Here is a car that will crown the Huracan range and has been heavily inspired by the Super Trofeo Evo track car. It’s one of those ‘looks fast standing still’ designs, full of the typical styling theatrics we associate with Lamborghini. It really looks the part with its notable air-scoop, pronounced shoulder creases and enormous adjustable rear wing.

From our presentation of this car by test drivers, the designer and engineers, it is clear that they are all feverishly excited about this project. It’s a 631bhp naturally aspirated, rear-wheel drive supercar inspired by motorsport… Who wouldn’t be?

Next came the track briefing which informed us that we’d be driving two prototype vehicles; one from earlier in the STO’s development, the other Lamborghini’s most advanced testing vehicle to date. This was week 40 of development, with engineers and drivers already putting in countless hours testing the supercar to its extremes. We would be needed to sample both prototypes before giving our feedback to engineers as the first people outside Lamborghini to drive the Huracan STO.

As well as being one of the world’s top secretive testing facilities, Nardo also possesses one of the most extreme handling tracks in the world. Its full of cambered corners, high-speed straights, heavy braking zones, endlessly tightening sweepers and a handful of hairpins. At one point it was even explained to us that while traveling at quite some speed, there’s a jump and the car will leave the ground before entering a an almost blind left hairpin – but don’t worry… DON’T WORRY?!

Burbling with a purposeful idle trackside were a pair of camouflaged Huracan STOs. The camera-dazzling pattern did nothing to hide the aggressive design we had seen earlier. The interiors weren’t representative of the finished car, instead built from bits of Performante and other parts-bin spares.

I strapped myself in to the first early prototype via its race harness, but while tightening my belts a Huracan Super Trofeo Evo racer crept in front of me. This was to be the pace car, and something told me that it wasn’t going to be driven slowly. My hunch was proven correct as it launched from the pit lane and I gave chase.

That glorious V10 howl narrated alarmingly fast acceleration toward the rev limiter. Snatching at the shifter paddle the next cog whipped into place as the car hurtled into triple figures. It was to be trial by fire as the first corner was not a slow one. A long and lingering left-hander tightens, something that highlighted the lower downforce setting the manually adjustable wing was set to at this point. There’s a strong sense of stability, but I was aware that the car was very sensitive to throttle inputs mid-corner.

Ahead was a tight turn that required some serious braking to arrest this Raging Bull’s progress. The stopping power of the carbon brakes was remarkable, so much so that I slowed well-short of the corner. Slightly embarrassed, I applied the noisy pedal in greedy fashion, something that quickly reminded me that 565Nm of torque was more than enough to overwhelm the rear wheels.

A handful of laps later and it was time to switch into the more advanced prototype, a cycle that would continue throughout the day with data sent to engineers throughout. This car was given the higher downforce treatment, a boost of some 13% via that wing. I was keen to put my ‘big boy pants’ on this time after taking in just what a challenge Nardo was for car and driver.

Quickly getting up to pace once again, I revelled in the STO’s desire to home-in on apexes like a heat-seeking missile. The steering and front-end response was immediate and I could start to feel that the hundreds of tweaks between the two cars had created a more complete supercar package. I would have liked a little more weight to the steering for added confidence through faster corners, and a bit more brake pedal resistance for the same reason, but this prototype was proving to be an approachable yet potent beast.

Taking full advantage of the widened track over a regular Huracan, the speeds you can assassinate fast corners is incredible. Its self-assurance through the bends is evident from strong body control and its rather direct steering ratio. Being a little bolder I learned that tickling the throttle soon brought the rear-end out to play, but in a wonderfully predictable way. Mindful of this car being one of the only Huracan STOs in existence at this point, I didn’t push my luck, but this rear-wheel drive supercar’s ability to pull off gracious can controllable power slide is apparent.

What about that jump? Oh yeah, that wasn’t an exaggeration. Once on every lap comes a tense right-hand corner that you have to be patient with until it opens up. Full throttle rockets you towards an incline that at its peak, with the car travelling at quite some velocity, all four wheels can leave the ground as the track declines on the other side. The view goes from sky and Tarmac, to an incredible sight looking down at the next series of corners ahead of you that sit at a lower level. It is over in a split-second, but I’m quite sure my heart stopped every time.

With both cars ticking themselves to sleep in the pit lane, we were quizzed by those who have been working on the project for nearly a year. What did I think? How were the brakes? Did it capture the excitement of a more motorsport inspired car? Then we got going into the details that involved a lot of hand gestures and break-off conversations in Italian. Lamborghini also wanted some quantifiable data that involved scoring things such as pedal mapping, cornering behaviour and traction. For your definitive answers you’ll have to read our Lamborghini Huracan STO track test.

The STO program still had another couple of months development ahead of it before being signed off. Customers will see their cars coming off the production line in early 2021.

So there you have it, a day in the life of a Lamborghini test driver – not something I’ll forget in a hurry.

Tyler Heatley

19 Nov 2020

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