Kyalami, February 2010.
by Pierre Martins
Sunday morning and yet another day in the life of a track junkie. Up early, shit-shave-and-shower in the correct order, followed by two quick cups of strong coffee to get my mind in gear, grab helmet bag and stuff, head out to the track and cherish that early Sunday morning cruise when the highways are still relatively empty, when the air is still nice and cool and fresh, when taking an easy relaxed drive seems like the right thing to do. You know, the calm before the storm, when you take a moment to appreciate the lifestyle and look forward to the next few hours of track time…
On this occasion I probably drove all the way to the track with my face stuck in a silly grin of anticipation. I was excited about this opportunity. In fact, I had given up an invite from Keith Rose to drive his spunky white Porsche RSR in the David Piper endurance races down in Cape Town on the same day, and if you knew me personally you’d know that missing out on a race in favour of driving a standard road-going car around a race track was something way out of character for me, but my mouth was watering to sample a late model Lambo on a race track and it’s not every day the boss of Lamborghini South Africa invites you to drive a Gallardo at full tilt around Kyalami, so how could I not say ‘Yes, please!’..?
The Gallardo turned out to be a blue ‘06 jobby, 500hp, manual box on Pirelli P-something road rubber. I’m kinda old-school, so I was happy about the gearbox. E-gear and paddle shifts are not for me. I know how to heel & toe properly and I’ll do the blipping of the throttle myself, thank you.
As for ergonomics and stuff…, well, I can tell you the dash reminded me of the Golf 5 rental I drove in Cape Town the day before, typical VW genes. But you’re not gonna read about cup-holders and crap here. See, I don’t really care for frilly-frally creature comfort gimmicks in a sports car, so I can’t really tell you about all the Gallardo’s cool yuppie knobs, switches and buttons. All I cared about was that the car fitted my 1.75m / 85kg frame like a glove, with all the controls within easy reach. The Steering wheel, nice and thick Alcantara jobby, not too big or small, just the right size. Instrument cluster offered good positioning of all gauges and idiot lights. All-round vision turned out to be quite good from inside the cockpit, with the rear-view mirrors perhaps better than most other mid-engine tin tops I’ve driven on a race track, but I suspect reverse parking could be a tad tricky in everyday life until you get used to the car’s blind spots.
But let’s get to the actual driving. Riding shotgun with Marius Malherbe for a few laps gave me the opportunity to experience the car in the hands of someone who drives different Lamborghinis all day long, every day. The man can pedal, and he’s obviously quite at ease, as he should be, behind the wheel of a Gallardo. He stuck in a few good laps whilst I observed him and experienced what the car was doing.
First impressions – Very capable car in the hands of a capable driver, good power and balance with the entire package in perfect harmony, just as you’d expect from modern-day mid-engine geometry. And the sound emanating from that V10 at full tilt, oh man…! A Porsche has that low-pitch powerful roar like a lion. Ferraris scream like mosquitoes in the everglades, but this thing, oh man, it growls like a tiger in mating season. Intoxicating, to say the least!
Okay, my turn behind the wheel. The driver’s foot-well is a bit cramped, you kinda get the idea it wasn’t designed to accommodate the extra pedal necessitated by the manual box. Drivers with extra large feet will have a problem driving a Gallardo with manual setup, but you know they say a man’s shoe size is directly comparable to the size of his most valuable endowment, so I guess most Gallardo drivers won’t really have a problem at all… He-he-he.
My first lap impressions of the car – The controls were designed for women and limp-wristed hairdressers, not for real men. I found everything just too light, slick and way too easy to operate for my liking. A sports-car should have a heavy clutch. Hell, I grew up on heavy clutches. The Gallardo’s clutch is so light I barely felt it through the thin soles of my driving shoes. The brakes too. Hit the brakes like you would in any race car and the Gallardo would stand on its nose. In this thing the mere weight of your big toe on the brake pedal is more than adequate to slow it down. The steering wheel is light, the accelerator pedal is light, hell, even the shifter is light and just glides smoothly into the gates.
But you get used to it quickly and it becomes an absolute pleasure to drive, well actually, you don’t drive this car, you make passionate love to it. No need to muscle the thing about, just get the car into a comfort zone and dance with it. Easy peasy.
The handling is absolutely superb and the car gives adequate feedback even though the controls are so light. There was some mild under-steer engineered into the car as expected, but I found it easy to drive around that and the front-end never pushed like a plough, as some of the Audi performance models do when pushed hard on a race track. Power of this particular car felt good and power delivery smooth, with ample torque to pull you out of the corners, but I got the feeling the car could easily cope with another fifty to sixty ponies, which, I guess, was exactly what Lamborghini were thinking when they came up with the LP560.
Before I took the wheel I joked with Marius that I didn’t believe in all the nanny stuff like traction & stability control and ABS in sports cars and that I wanted all that shit switched off, but you know what? – I pushed the car hard for a few sessions and kept all the safety nets switched on. Traction control in the Gallardo is actually quite sweet. The car didn’t just die on me like a BMW would when miss nanny conservative stepped in, instead it moderated the car ever so slightly and let me have my way. I got good amounts of slip angle in some places around Kyalami, but never got out of shape even though I was hoofing it much better. Sure, the little yellow light on the dash flickered like it was on a Vegas acid trip, but I just ignored that.
I gotta say this is a sweet car. I thoroughly enjoyed driving it, but I’m used to driving on full slicks and lowering my expectations with regard to traction is not something I like doing. I’d love to try it on slicks, or R-rubber at least. Apart from that I can only say that there is no way in hell you can call yourself a true petrol-head if you don’t like this car…
This car is not just show – it’s got go!
Thanks for the opportunity Marius, you’ll be the first guy I call when I win the lottery. I just need to save up enough money to buy the ticket…