“You must be crazy – well, either you’re mad or they are,” is the stock response from almost everyone who hears I’m flying off to Italy for a day of ice driving. The incredulity stems not so much from the activity itself, but rather from the tools I’ll be using – because I won’t be careening uncontrollably around the frozen landscape in any old motorcars. Instead, I’ll be doing it in Lamborghinis.
But the notion of taking a fleet of what are arguably the world’s most flamboyant supercars – machines that are the epitome of automotive glamour and excess – 2,000 metres up into the winter snows of an Alpine valley to slither around for a day on a frigid field, isn’t anything like as barmy as it sounds. For in spite of the fact that Lambos are as fearsomely fast as they’re unashamedly flashy, the latest models from the Sant’Agata Bolognese factory are as much stunning showcases for a raft of advanced technologies as they are attention-grabbing symbols of conspicuous consumption.
Recognised as a global leader in the use of high-tensile, lightweight materials such as forged composite metals and carbon fibre for chassis and bodywork, Lamborghini operates a research laboratory in Seattle that was set up in collaboration with the aircraft manufacturer Boeing. More recently the supercar marque also announced a tie-up with that most prestigious of academic institutions, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
More pertinent to our activities on the ice, where even a modicum of traction is crucial, is the company’s widespread adoption of all-wheel drive. A key end product of its takeover by Audi in the late 1990s and continually refined and updated since, the system currently features on the range-topping Aventador supercar, which was recently substantially upgraded and relaunched as the Aventador S, and on non-RWD (rear-wheel-drive) Huracán Coupes and Spiders.
Unlike Ferraris, which purists aver should only ever be painted in the signature shades of rosso or giallo, Lambos have never been subject to such rigorous strictures when it comes to colour choices. So the cars lined up for us in the late-February snow at the edge of the lively ski resort of Livigno are in a rainbow of hues, including a pair of brand-new Aventador Ss, one in brilliant red and another in a fetching pearlescent white, as well as a colourful gaggle of slightly smaller but no less desirable Huracáns.
While the Huracán has changed very little since I last drove one, the Aventador S is a very different proposition from the car I experienced in 2013. Except for a revised front end that creates massively increased downforce and wider air intakes behind the scissor doors, there’s hardly anything externally to differentiate it from the earlier model. Beneath the surface, however, the transformation is huge. That’s mostly thanks to a new rear-wheel-steering system, which is said to endow this ultra-Lamborghini with much greater agility than its predecessor.
Power, from the naturally breathing 6.5-litre V12, is up by almost 40 horses to 730bhp at an ear-splitting 8,400rpm, while torque gets a substantial kick up the backside too, with 690Nm now available at 5,500 revs. There’s upgraded suspension geometry at the back end, recalibrated dampers and steering, the all-wheel-drive system has been tweaked for greater rearward bias – and it’s all controlled by a newly developed suite of active technology known as Lamborghini Active Vehicle Dynamics (LDVA).
Acceleration – 0-100km/h in 2.9 seconds – and maximum speed in the region of 350 are unchanged, but I doubt that even the most ardent speed freak is complaining too vehemently about that. As for the Huracán, the 602bhp and 560Nm produced by its 5.2-litre V10 seem modest only when compared with its larger and more costly sibling, as do its 325km/h top speed and 3.2-second time from a standstill to the ton – though out here on the Alpine snow, where we’re unlikely to get either car out of second gear, all these figures seem academic.
Run by the company’s Squadra Corse operation, the Lamborghini Winter Accademia offers a rare opportunity for owners and enthusiasts to experience Aventadors and Huracáns far from their normal habitats. Equally, it’s a chance to hone driving – or to be more accurate, drifting – techniques under the supervision of a team of instructors, all of them experienced racers skilled in the art of car control.
Held in the shadow of the mountains, our intensive, 12-Hours of Livigno programme takes place on a slippery track ploughed out from the snow and featuring slaloms, a hairpin, a short straight and a long broad bend, a large portion of which is negotiated sideways – or, at least, that’s the general idea. And when we’re not driving there’s a warm and comfortable hospitality cabin in which to relax, help ourselves to drinks and snacks, and have our efforts minutely dissected by our mentors, who mask their disdain with varying degrees of success.
We’re sent out on to the track almost as soon as the preparatory briefing is over – and I’m immediately assigned the red Aventador, which does seem as if I’m being chucked in at the deep end. The feeling is only momentary, however, as the 1.575-tonne, 4.8-metre-long supercar is much more nimble, poised and forgiving on the ice than its mighty dimensions and prodigious power would suggest. I won’t pretend that I get around the circuit with any great aplomb on this first outing – the hairpin, for one, is an obstacle that I fail to master until well into the proceedings – but I do manage to complete the course with neither major embarrassment nor catastrophic mishap.
From then on – and excepting two long breaks, one for an exceptional lunch of mountain cuisine prepared with genuine Italian flair, the other for a short outing on snowmobiles beside a nearby, ice-covered lake (an activity, I must confess, for which I have yet to acquire enthusiasm) – we’re worked pretty hard. Alternating throughout the day between Aventador and Huracán, I’m surprised to find the former easier to control on the slippery surface – perhaps that’s due to the rear-wheel steering, which effectively truncates the car’s wheelbase – or maybe it’s a benefit of that high-tech LDVA “brain”. I also discover to my bafflement that while I can drift a car almost perfectly around a wide turning circle in a right-hand direction (which is done by booting the gas pedal and constantly counter steering), I’m utterly inept when steering in the opposite direction.
Much of what we’re doing is counter intuitive and it’s hard abandoning habits accumulated over half a century – but with practice and expert coaching the techniques do begin to sink in eventually. Getting though the slaloms, for example, is achieved by generating a kind of pendulum movement, while tackling the left-hand hairpin requires racing up to the corner, lifting off the gas completely, flicking right, turning full left then flooring the accelerator – and all in a single, fluid process. And that, in theory, should fling the car round 180 degrees on its own axis to leave it perfectly aligned for the exit.
Either way, it’s high-adrenaline stuff that gets heart and pulse racing, and it goes without saying that it’s hugely exhilarating. As we’re way out on the ice it’s also largely hazard-free.
Long after the sun has disappeared behind the peaks we’re still at it, the track now lit up by bright lights, the cars trailing high plumes of snow as their exhausts spit flame and an angry cacophony that shatters the surrounding stillness. But realising I’ve reached the ragged edge and not wanting to bury a costly supercar deep in snow, I reluctantly decide it’s time to call it a day.
Too bad it’s just 12 Hours of Livigno. Because I’d give just about anything to come back and do it again tomorrow.
LAMBORGHINI HURACÁN COUPE (SPIDER)
Engine: 5.2-litre V10
Transmission: seven-speed, dual-clutch; all-wheel drive
Max power: 602bhp
Max torque: 560Nm @ 6,500rpm
Max speed: 325km/h (324km/h)
Acceleration: 0-100km/h in 3.2 seconds (3.4 seconds)
Unladen weight: 1,422kg (1,542kg)