"So what do we do with our luggage? Send it ahead by FedEx?" Cue nervous, stifled laughter throughout the room, as Stephan Winkelmann, Lamborghini's president, thinks on his feet for a couple of seconds. The American journalist who posed the question during the press conference just asked out loud what we were all wondering anyway.
"You, ah, travel to your destination with the roof up. Then, when you have checked in to your hotel, and your bags are not in the car, you can have some fun with the roof off," comes his considered reply. Cue more sniggers, this time a bit more relaxed. Winkelmann knows that the new Aventador Roadster is a ridiculous car, an extreme machine, and that if you really need practicality in your life, you won't be buying one of these as the daily driver.
Of course, the "normal" Aventador does, indeed, have a small luggage compartment sited within its nose, like practically any other mid-engined supercar you can think of. But the Roadster? Well, that's where you keep the two roof panels, which slot beautifully into place where you'd normally be packing your clean underwear. Once those panels are snapped into place above the car's open cockpit, normal space duties resume, so Winkelmann's theory is the only one that makes even the slightest bit of sense. The Aventador's interior does feature a small cubbyhole between the seats but even that is only sufficient to house a couple of credit (or organ donor) cards.
The fact is, that the Aventador Roadster is about as far removed from "normal" as it's possible to be when it comes to motoring. It's a statement piece, a halo car for a brand that, this year, celebrates its 50th anniversary. Against all the odds, Lamborghini has survived financial destitution, often suspect product ranges and a succession of owners who, frankly, had no clue what to do with the company set up as an almighty nose thumbing to Enzo Ferrari.
Under Audi's parentage and, more crucially, the careful steerage, love and care demonstrated by the remarkable Winkelmann, Lamborghini is in finer fettle than ever, and the Aventador Roadster, if the company never introduced another car, would be a legacy few could ever hope to achieve. This car is the result of half a century of pushing the envelope, tearing down boundaries and maintaining a reputation for being the "bad boys" of the automotive sphere.
There isn't a single duff line on this car. It is an utterly perfect design, at once jagged, vicious, sharp and creased, yet beautiful, harmonious and stunning in its execution. While the Murcielago and the Diablo before it were outrageous, they both appeared awkward from some angles, but not this thing. It's an absolute triumph and, even if it were rubbish to drive, it would still be worth buying, just to be able to open the garage door and look at it. Something tells me, though, that this car will be anything but rubbish to drive.
Having previously spent some quality time in the coupé, I know the Aventador to be capable of incredible feats. It's four-wheeled sensory overload. Despite the rather oddball statements seen in various sections of the motoring press about the model being a bit "soft", I know full well that this car is more than capable of biting you in the derrière when you screw up your inputs, even with the electronic safety systems working flat out to keep you on the straight ahead. And there's no reason whatsoever to think that, just because the car is now sans roof, it will be any more forgiving. And I'm about to spend an entire morning driving the car hard, on the banking and twisty infield sections of the Homestead-Miami Speedway, where 65,000 empty seats are normally filled on the last Nascar race of every season.
Miami, Florida, is the perfect environment for Lamborghini, especially for models that allow for open-air thrills, such as this. If you think it's hard turning heads in the UAE with your exotic wheels, this place is even more used to seeing the extraordinary and the outrageous. Yet the Aventador Roadster, from what I've experienced so far on this trip, is a sensation. Pedestrians cheer as the cars rumble through the streets of South Beach, shouting out to ask if the drivers mind if they take a photo or shoot some video footage with their phones. If Megan Fox was to disrobe and walk into town, she wouldn't get any more attention that this car. It's a bona fide superstar.
Homestead has, though, claimed numerous lives since its opening in 1995. And this little nugget of information means that, today at least, I'll be taking it a little easier than normal. The drill is a familiar one on Lamborghini launch events: three or four cars out on track at a time, with a lead car up front, whose driver is in communication with the rest via a radio. Four hot laps, then a cool down lap, then it's back to the pits for a coffee until it's your turn to go again. The beauty of doing things this way is that, although you're constantly under supervision, you really do get to give the car a hammering, because those lead drivers don't hang about. It's your duty to keep up with everyone else and it's a proper adrenaline rush when your fellow drivers are really on the pace.
My first lap is one that could best be summed up as "hesitant". It's been almost 18 months since I last drove an Aventador and I've forgotten just how brutal it is when you're driving hard. Every gear change snaps back my neck, the gathering of pace relentless and violent when I open the taps and allow all that pent-up fury of the V12 behind my head to vent itself. This is a car that absolutely demands respect, despite its four-wheel-drive transmission and its carbon brakes. Seven hundred horsepower can be a corruptible force, especially when one is hammering around an unfamiliar and unforgiving circuit.
There seems to be loose gravel and other detritus covering large swathes of the track surface, and the Roadster in front of me on my first couple of laps is obviously struggling to retain traction. Its rear end is shimmying around - its driver must be petrified. We've been forbidden from disengaging the traction control, so there will always be a degree of electronic intervention, but it does not do to throw oneself entirely upon its mercy. You need to think ahead, at all times, and preempt as many potential problems as possible.
This means not straying too far up the banking around the main track, and getting on the brakes hard as you're approaching the sharp corners of the infield areas, leaving it as late as possible to get back on the power, without losing your momentum. It's a nerve shredding exercise for the first few laps but, when it's my turn again, I delve and find reserves of bravery I thought had long since vanished. And the resulting laps are extraordinarily thrilling.
The structure of any Aventador is made up primarily of carbon fibre - a material Lamborghini has been busying itself with for decades. A short walk from the main factory in Sant'Agata, Lamborghini has developed a dedicated carbon fibre facility, where the tub for this car and other structural parts will have been made, and the fact that this has been kept in-house means that the facility has become something of a consultancy for other companies that don't have the necessary skills or resources necessary to use this amazingly strong and lightweight material for themselves. And that expertise has paid off big time with the Roadster.
Because, even without a roof in place, this car is as stiff as it gets. The structural integrity provided by the central tub makes for zero flex, even when you're taking corners at ridiculous speeds. When the two roof panels are fixed in place, the structure becomes even stiffer, and the Roadster feels every bit as honed and as tight as its coupé brother.
It's astonishing to see how a car's design can look even more coherent, more harmonious, when something as fundamentally important to overall looks as a roof is taken away. The effort that has been put into making this model as good as it is, is exemplary and yes, FedExing those bags would be a worthwhile exercise, just so you can enjoy the hedonistic, riotous fun this car provides.
But while, given the right amount of respect, the car can indeed be fun, it still bites the hands of those who make the occasional mistake. On the infield circuit, just before the banking begins, another journalist makes an error, probably due to a split-second lapse of concentration, and he gets on the power just that little bit too early when coming out of the final, tight bend. The car is in its normal Strada drive mode, which is the most forgiving and benign of its three settings, yet in the blink of an eye he enters a spin from which there is no way back.
He tries to steer into the skid, tries to control the slide with the brakes, but it's all too little, too late. The spinning car leaves the track, hits the grass and digs itself in, coming to a rest. It's all happened within two or three seconds and, in order to avoid a pile-up, the two drivers behind have ended up going off-piste as well. What could have been carnage, however, ends up being one stoved-in front spoiler section and a properly bruised ego for the guy who was first bitten by this wild car. It could have happened to anyone.
What this car needs is space, and lots of it. The circuit here is too tight - what we need is a wide, perfectly smooth road, with long and sweeping bends. I know just where to take it when the Roadster lands in the UAE and that will be another story for another day. Take it from me, though, that the Aventador Roadster is currently the pinnacle of what Lamborghini is capable of. It's fast on an epic scale, it's extremely well engineered and exquisitely crafted and yes, it's still wild - just like a V12 Lambo should be. And yes, it's ridiculous in every single way, but aren't you glad that there's still at least one company out there that isn't afraid to stick its neck out and be different from all the rest?
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