“We’re putting you two in your own run group,” said Dean DiGiacomo, Lamborghini’s Super Trofeo series factory driver and chief instructor for this event, as I anxiously awaited my stint on the Auto Club Speedway Sports Car Circuit. This would normally be joyous news to me, as smaller run groups in lead/follow lapping typically reduce the chances of the pace being held back by a colleague with less on-track experience. But the other journalist he pointed to was Justin Bell, a former FIA GT champion and 24-Hours of Le Mans class-winner, and it suddenly became clear that I would be the anchor in this equation.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. That’s easy to do with 730 hp at the command of your right foot, and a naturally aspirated, 6.5-liter V12 singing behind your head.
The Aventador S replaces the new-in-2012 standard Aventador and, even at first glance, it’s clearly more track focused. For example, Lamborghini redesigned the front end to improve airflow to the engine’s radiators and enhance aerodynamics, which also ratchets up the visual aggression.
Paired with a revised rear splitter, Lamborghini says the S is now 50 percent more aero efficient while providing 130 percent more downforce than the outgoing model. Some of the additional downforce comes from a new active rear wing, which varies between three different positions based on speed and selected drive mode. Speaking of drive modes, the S gains a much-needed (though perhaps questionably named) “ego” mode, which adds a fourth option alongside strada, sport and corsa that allows the driver to create a preset which brings together their preferred traction, steering and suspension settings.
“You’re going to feel a big difference between this car and the standard Aventador out on the track,” DiGiacomo assured us during the technical briefing. Among the various updates, its handling revisions are, perhaps, the most crucial, including revised suspension geometry, a real-time variable damping system, and a new four-wheel steering system.
Originally debuted last year in the $2 million, ultra-exclusive Centenario, this setup functions similarly to most other four-wheel steering systems currently available. At low speeds the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction of the front wheels, while at higher speeds — above roughly 82 mph — all four wheels move in the same direction. Lamborghini’s implementation is particularly aggressive, offering up to 1.5 degrees of counter steering, which effectively reduces the wheelbase by 700mm and extends it by 500mm when all four wheels turn in unison.
The system is most evident at lower speeds, where the car’s eagerness to turn in can actually take a moment to acclimate to. That four-wheel steering system is teamed with a particularly quick rack that makes the Aventador S more willing to change direction than its size might suggest. It also improves the car’s turning radius, which is nice around town.
If anyone ever considered the Aventador a one-trick pony, those days are over. In corsa mode with minimal intrusion from the electronics and a 20/80 torque split biased toward the rear wheels, a midcorner throttle application can kick the back end out and set the car into a modest four-wheel drift. The chassis feels surprisingly lively, yet it’s easy to manage at speed. It takes ham-fisted inputs to make the Aventador S understeer.
Justin Bell certainly wouldn’t be ham-fisted. Would I be able to keep up? At first, I assumed my ego would be saved by the lead car keeping us corralled during the session for the equipment’s sake. Though it lacks elevation change, this 2.8-mile circuit makes use of about half the superspeedway. Cars like the Aventador S flirt with 170 mph by the end of the main straight before scrubbing off speed for turn one. Surely Lamborghini would guard their coveted, $421,000 flagship model from any abuse. Wouldn’t they?
They would not. The first hint came to me from DiGiacomo’s suggestion to switch the drive mode to corsa (race), before we headed out of the pits. Confirmation came shortly thereafter, when Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo series champion Shinya Michimi set our speed at “let’s see what you’ve got.”
With Bell sent out behind me, I was essentially sandwiched between a pair of motorsport champions. Auto Club’s sports car course is fast and certainly favors high horsepower cars like the S, but the infield also offers a few surprises, like the late apex at turn 9 and the kink that essentially comprises turns 11 and 12, the latter a section which can be taken flat out in this car but will keep you on your toes as the new suspension setup allows the back end to step out for half a breath. I’ve long said that what I lack in talent I do my best to make up for in courage, and the generous back straight allowed me to mash the throttle to put a little bit of distance between myself and Bell, who was likely falling asleep behind me. But we’re hard on those big carbon ceramics again for 13, and the start of another technical section gathered our trio back together.
Once we’d reached the oval portion of the track, Lamborghini’s latest party piece could really be uncorked. As the infield course funneled traffic out on to the wide banking, I dipped back into the seemingly endless wealth of grunt on tap from the V12. The single-clutch seven-speed automated-manual that so often felt out of sorts at low speeds seemed to find its calling here at wide open throttle, delivering upshifts with recoil akin to a 12-gauge shotgun as the digital speedometer rapidly climbed past 160 mph. With the baritone wail of the V12 behind me and my body reflexively bracing for each shunt of the gearbox, the experience was genuinely visceral.
Midway through our session, Bell and I switched positions and I was left to trail this particularly quick pair. I looked at this as a free coaching session and did my best to replicate Bell’s line and braking points, but inevitably the gap widened, particularly through the technical sections. I managed to reign them back in on the fast stretches to some degree — perhaps my confidence in the capability of the Aventador S allowed me to momentarily forget that the car I was pounding on retails for nearly half a million dollars.
It’s clearly a capable track car, but a heavy one. The new exhaust system is lighter, but that’s offset by the four-wheel steering system. Overall, the Aventador S lugs around roughly two-tons of weight in U.S. specification. That mass is particularly evident when stomping on those near-infallible brakes from high speeds, as the substantial amount of hardware situated behind you starts to wiggle around a bit. And while the new steering and suspension bits do indeed bolster the car’s cornering prowess, ultimately there’s only so much that engineering can do to fight the realities of physics.
While imperfect, there’s no shortage of things to lust over when considering the Lamborghini Aventador S. We live in an era that increasingly favors small-displacement turbocharging and the prioritization of civility over emotion. The fact that this car can leave just about anyone, even jaded auto journalists, breathless and giggling like children after driving it is irrefutable proof that Lamborghini’s approach to supercar building remains a worthwhile endeavor.