The engineering genius of the modern supercar
Just over a week ago, I was lucky enough to attend the Marmalade track day (#marmaladetrackday, if you’re interested) and amongst the important safety aspects of driving, which you’ll learn about in other blog posts on here, we (the ambassadors and competition winners) also got to drive two supercars: a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder and Nissan’s GTR. Both of these cars have been around a while – the first generation of each model came out in 2003 and 2007 respectively – so with every new generation the technology inside of them advances and has ultimately made them both faster and more enjoyable to drive. I think we drove models from around 2013, yet they could not have been further apart in terms of driving feel despite years of development.
As I study engineering, Marmalade tasked me with assessing what makes these cars so good to drive from a mechanical perspective. Catching a look at both cars as they pulled into the pitlane for the first time, all of those thoughts went straight out the window, however I have had some time to reflect on my short drives: An instructor took me out onto Rockingham’s inner circuit at turn one, round one full lap and then directed me into an extended pit lane that skirted half the track to finish. I’m hardly in the position to bring you a comprehensive comparison to say the least, given the extremely limited track time, but I was familiar with the circuit layout from when I attended the track day last year so I was able to get up to speed quickly: I reached full throttle on the half of a flying lap we had.
Let’s start with the similarities. Considering that none of us drive supercars very often, I’m going to assume that the traction control and electronic stability control systems were left fully engaged. These are standard features in supercars that limit the tyre’s ability to slip under acceleration and during a corner. Both cars have four wheel drive to blast out of corners and stop the back end wandering. And then the cars differ considerably.
The Nissan GTR
I first drove the GTR. Despite the punchy twin-turbo V6 being in the front, the car’s weight distribution is almost 50:50. You can feel the extra 300 kg it carries over the Lambo, particularly at high speed, but the GTR’s powertrain is clever and helps you out by constantly redirecting torque around each wheel to prevent total disaster. I loved the steering; it’s intuitive and invites you to throw the car into the corner from the get-go. When you realise that the back end is apparently glued to the tarmac, it tempts you in further. Boosting my confidence was my laid-back instructor in the passenger seat, who encouraged me to put my foot down past his mate in the Audi R8 in front, despite us rapidly approaching the next braking zone. The double clutch paddle shift gearbox consumes gears three, four and five on the main straight with only the slightest of hesitations between each one.
The Lamborghini Gallardo
The Gallardo had a responsive, naturally aspirated V10 engine mounted in the middle of the chassis, a single clutch semi-automatic gearbox that throws you forward with each upshift (after a brief fumble around for the tiny paddle behind the steering wheel) and the steering was heavy just off centre. Your feet aren’t central in the pedal box and the cabin feels a little cramped. I’m tall (six foot dead) but not to the point where it becomes a hindrance. Italian, perhaps. The cabin feels Italian.
In the corners the car feels flat and well balanced, although I still struggled to position it where I wanted to. My new instructor was also a bit cautious with me, and reached for the wheel as I got off line slightly on the fastest corner of the track. Then again, the Lambo isn’t designed for the track. It’s more of a B road cruiser on a sunny afternoon in mainland Europe, felt additionally by the lack of a roof above my head.
So, two very fast cars that drive in very different ways thanks to vastly opposing engineering approaches. Maybe next year you can come down to Rockingham yourself and try them both with me!