x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The ace on the track

Richard Whitehead spends some time at the Yas Marina Circuit with Max Venturi, the man with the world's coolest job.

The world's coolest driving instructor also has one of the world's best names: Max Venturi. "Ace" Venturi, as we shall call him, is neither a pet detective, nor a speccy nerd sat on the wrong side of a compact car with dual controls. For the world's coolest driving instructor with the world's best name also has the world's greatest day job: he is Lamborghini's head test driver. Ace's task for today is to bring my driving up to scratch behind the wheel of one of the world's fastest cars. Bearing the legend 00 - the first of 350 units built - the vehicle in question is Lamborghini's hottest firebrand, the Murciélago LP670-4 SuperVeloce. With near supersonic performance - more than 340kph top speed and zero to 100kph in under three seconds - it isn't your standard driving institute fare, and the quieter lanes of Al Muroor would not, in this case, provide the instruction route.

Swapping suburban streets for the width and curves of the Yas Marina Circuit, Ace greeted me and helped me into the groin-garrotting contours of the ultra-light sports seats with all their harnesses and buckles. Now sat at my side - slim, baby-faced and a template for Italian chic - he calmly pointed out the differences between the SuperVeloce and other Lamborghinis I might have driven in the past.

"This is nothing like the Gallardo. Nothing at all," he advises as if timing every sentence to fit in between imaginary gear changes. "This is essentially a race car. Everything about it is uncompromising. It is tough to drive. You have to measure out the corners. You have to feel everything you do as well as see. More than anything, you have to be smooth. Smooth with the steering. Smooth with acceleration. Smooth with your braking."

I gingerly pull out of the garage and ease along the slow underpass of the pit lane, heading towards the circuit proper. Still in second gear, but with the broad spread of the track looming ahead, he quickly points out what not to do. "Don't brake while turning." Gear change to third. "If you do, you might find the back end overtakes you." Fourth now, and opening up the engine down the straight. "This car is 100 kilos lighter than the standard Murciélago, so it needs more precision." Fifth gear, change down then smooth braking into a loose hairpin. You have to think about the weight of the car whenever you manoeuvre."

Foot down, accelerating into an open curve, changing gear. "When you brake, you shift the weight to the front and the rear loses traction, giving oversteer." I brake, shift down and turn, provoking some mild oversteer. Ace gives me a look. "You have to make sure you have slowed the car to exactly the right point. Then you turn." I attempt this on the next tight right-hander but don't apply enough brake. The squeals of the understeer and thuds of the rumble strip drown out his next commands. Silence now as I get my act together. I've had a practice lap and now it is time to show I'm a quick learner.

Into the straight, standing on the accelerator and marvelling at the sound and feeling from behind. If there's one thing I love about all Lamborghini models, it is the sense they give you that you are an integral part of their precision machinery. Like a second drive shaft, you are at one with the shunt of the gears; the vibration of the engine tingles the nape of your neck. A perfectly executed brake-shift-corner-accelerate brings no response from Ace. Through the apex and wide out into the chicane and then that tough hairpin-left. Oversteer, understeer, the look once again. I feel I have failed him.

"You are doing very well," he consoles, as he would to a highly strung teenager, albeit without much of the condescension. "You just need to focus on your timing. You have to feel it. There is no mathematical formula. You have to feel the turns through your body." Is there no hope for me, I ask? "Of course there is," he replies, sympathetically. "You just need to practice again and again. It will come. As I said, it is all about feeling it. This just comes with time."

And I'd like to take him at his word. However, it will take more than the next three laps for me to synergise with a 6.5L V12 that produces more than 630hp, and I'm not sure how many more opportunities I'll have to hone my skills. But I should be content with my lot. Without one of the world's coolest names like Max Venturi, I should never expect to have any great racing proficiency behind the wheel of a Lamborghini.