Doha, Qatar — Thwack, thwack! Chunks of rubber fly off the track and smack the windshield as the speed indicator shows 160 mph. No damage, though, and I continue to follow race driver Giacomo Barri into the braking zone, paddling away at the dual-clutch transmission — ziiing, pop-pop, ziiing pop-pop — through fifth gear, fourth, third, exhaust crackling. Easing off the mighty brakes, we turn hard right, and the sticky Pirellis grip. Then from the apex to beyond the exit, the throttle helps to direct the nose, the chassis is always on alert to the imminence of oversteer.
This is the 2016 Lamborghini Huracán LP 580-2, the new rear-wheel-drive variant in the Huracán lineup. On sale now with deliveries starting in February, it’s lighter (about 73 pounds), slightly less powerful, and less expensive ($199,800 plus $4,795 in charges and penalties) than its all-wheel-drive Huracán LP 610-4 stablemate. To preserve the hierarchy among models, the LP 580-2’s 5.2-liter V-10 has been recalibrated to put out 572 hp, 30 hp less than the LP 610-4. Yet the 580-2 still dashes from 0 to 60 mph in roughly 3.2 seconds and touches 199 mph, and its 40:60 front to rear weight distribution is couple of percentage points better.
Unlike the previous generation Gallardo LP 550-2 Balboni, which essentially decoupled the all-wheel-drive system to achieve rear-only traction, the LP 580-2 was specially developed alongside the rear-drive Huracán Super Trofeo used in Lamborghini’s single-make racing series. It has specially formulated driving modes and steering rates, stiffer suspension, and Pirelli P Zero tires — our car wore available 245/30 ZR20 front and 305/30 ZR 20 rear rubber — with a distinct compound, structure, and tread design to yield sharper turn-in response. Larger air intakes in front and unique taillights further distinguish the LP 580-2 from the LP 610-4.
Whereas the LP 610-4 clocks faster laps, it sometimes feels robotic and is prone to understeer. On the other hand, at the Losail International Circuit, the 3.3-mile, 16-turn course 15 miles north of the huge construction site otherwise known as Doha, the LP 580-2 exhibits a caffeinated, bright-eyed quality, like the student who always asks for extra credit. We could easily induce oversteer, correct it, and continue on our merry, storming way. And even on Losail’s pit road — which looked almost identical to the one at Circuit de la Sarthe — the V-10’s strep-throat growl authenticated our achievement. Completing these hot laps required cunning and reflexes, and we managed it without a slurping turbocharger or unduly influential electronics.
Wait a minute. Had I really driven the newest Lamborghini on a racetrack in Qatar? Fantasies come true on this secondary peninsula of 4,247 square miles that juts from the vast Arabian Peninsula into the Persian Gulf. At the start of World War II, Doha’s 12,000 inhabitants lived in fly-infested, mud-brick houses and longed for the good old days of pearl diving. Today, after oil and gas development, native Qataris now number about 225,000, with another 1.5 million or so European and American managers, English-speaking Filipinos working in hospitality, and Pakistanis and Sudanese holding shovels and loading bricks by hand onto flatbed trucks.
Qataris live in glass towers and behind walls of villas, most of which affect postmodern Arabic style in the same way that new buildings in Santa Fe affect the Pueblo vernacular. Encountering a perfumed Qatari in his long white thob in the lobby of the Four Seasons, I learned not to expect acknowledgement. Otherwise, Doha has a familiar feeling down to the McDonald’s inside the City Center mall. And traffic looks like that of West Los Angeles except for the lack of Teslas and Priuses and the abundance of Land Cruisers.
Qatar is where a young princeling who loves cars can decide to come to America and buy an NHRA team. That’s how Khalid bin Hamad Al-Thani was dubbed drag racing’s “patron sheik” in 2009. Taking its name from the Qataris’ cheer of “Go Team Maroon,” a reference to the maroon-and-white national flag, Al-Anabi Racing spent lavishly to support Alan Johnson Racing; the combination won three Top Fuel championships but few hearts. “I know they were getting a lot of heat from the fans,” said the sport’s legendary Don “The Snake” Prudhomme. “It didn’t put a smile on my face and really didn’t do anything for NHRA. If he was spending the $50 million on me, I’d feel a little different about it.”
Sheikh Khalid pulled support from Al-Anabi Racing just before the 2015 season. Yet his sporting pursuits were only stuck in neutral. On June 23, having heard of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb for the first time, he called up race chairman Tom Osborne asking to participate. As if he’d rubbed a magic lantern, his wish was granted. “He flew in the next day and brought his folks,” Osborne told a local newspaper. By “folks” he meant a full retinue who bombed through Colorado Springs in Porsches.
Honda had obtained the pace car status for the new Acura NSX, but Sheikh Khalid followed about three minutes behind in his Porsche 918 Spyder, which had no rollcage or, as competitor Alex Lloyd observed, “the Weissach package that lightens the car significantly. If you were a track guy that would be the package you would absolutely have.” Asked about the circumstances behind Sheikh Khalid’s exhibition run, PPIHC executive director Megan Leatham explained in an email: “He was not an official competitor of the event but was more of a ‘sweep’ vehicle/demonstration run.” Naturally, I hoped to learn what terms had led to Sheikh Khalid’s sweeping debut, but Leatham wrote, “We don’t want to comment on this any further.”
In September, Sheik Khalid reappeared in the news after a reported street race between a Ferrari LaFerrari and Porsche 911 GT3 ended with smoke coming from the Ferrari’s engine bay in a Beverly Hills driveway. When police arrived, Sheikh Khalid denied being the driver. And besides, he claimed diplomatic immunity. Subsequently, the Ferrari disappeared; a private jet, said to be registered in Bermuda, arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia. Sheikh Khalid was traced to a hotel there.
Qatar has produced other motorsports figures, but Sheikh Khalid’s prodigality has even managed to overshadow countryman Nasser Al-Attiyah, who in 2015 won his second Dakar Rally.
On my first night in Doha, I strolled along the promenade past the Museum of Islamic Art, which is fronted by a large sculptural representation of a dallah, the traditional Bedouin coffee pot.
This well-lit white vessel makes a strange sight in the same view as the Doha Tower, 46 stories of what French architect Jean Nouvel calls, ahem, “fully assumed virility.” Closer to Al-Jazeera Tower, a roar went up on Corniche Street: a Mustang and Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8 took off from the stoplight, with the SUV winning by a nose. It reminded me that Sheikh Khalid had started street racing at age 15, perhaps right here on this six-lane boulevard.
Nowadays, Al-Anabi Racing is active in the Arabian Drag Racing League’s events staged at the Qatar Racing Club facility just beyond Doha’s industrial area. Coming up that weekend was the National Day 4×4 and Stunt Driving Event. It would send up big clouds of tire smoke in tribute to Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed Al-Thani’s 1878 unification of Qatari tribes.
Doha now made sense for the press launch of the LP 580-2. What an automotive culture: drags, drifting, sand buggies, and of course track days at Losail are all within 30 minutes of the Corniche. Anyone with the hankering could go to Lamborghini Doha, located in Al Muftah Plaza. First opened in 2004, the sales point was upgraded in 2007; Automobili Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann stood by at the ceremony as dealer principal Sheikh Abdulrahman bin Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Thani said, “Lamborghini remains the epitome of performance, exclusivity, and luxury, and Qatar is one of the most dynamic and wealthy countries in the Middle East.”
Your title here…
In fact, the brand is well represented on the Arabian Peninsula and in the Gulf states. Besides Doha, there are showrooms in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman. Saudi Arabia has three. On the second night of my stay, Winkelmann, who is reportedly stepping down as Lamborghini CEO to assume a position at Audi’s Quattro division, presided during dinner at the world’s largest Nobu, located on a man-made spit extending into Doha Bay. He said that during his decade plus at the helm he’s visited all those locations short of Muscat, Oman.
When Winkelmann is back at headquarters in Sant’Agata Bolognese, he samples the latest prototypes. As such, he had a small hand in development of the LP 580-2. “I’m not an extreme driver; I’m the fastest of the slow,” he said, extolling the new car’s “controllability, rawness, and excitement.” He acknowledged Lamborghini’s brand characteristics include naturally aspirated engines, extreme design, and all-wheel drive. “We are the only supersports car manufacturer that is doing four-wheel-drive cars. But this doesn’t mean we’re unable to do what the others are doing, and to do it even better.”
Indeed, the LP 580-2 drives into a corner on the edge of Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s sushi knife, points the way out like a vizsla hunting dog, and delivers big grins during countersteering. The Ferrari 488 GTB and McLaren 570S make more power with smaller, turbocharged V-8s, but the boost can be overwhelming, and they lack the V-10’s thrilling, high-rpm shriek. On the mean streets of Beverly Hills or main straight of Losail, the new Lambo strikes its own sweet note.
2016 Lamborghini HuracÃ¡n LP 580-2 Specifications
- On Sale: Now
- Price: $204,595
- Engine: 5.2L 40-valve DOHC V-10/572 hp @ 8,000 rpm, 398 lb-ft @ 6,500 rpm
- Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Layout: 2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD coupe
- EPA Mileage: 15/22 mpg (city/hwy) (est)
- L x W x H: 175.6 x 75.7 x 45.9 in
- Wheelbase: 103.1 in
- Weight: 3,062 lb (dry)
- 3.2 sec (est)
- Top Speed: 199 mph