A while back, I got an e-mail inviting me to the track at the Monticello Motor Club about 90 minutes’ journey from New York City last week, to drive the Pagani Huayra (pronounced way-rah.) As any self-respecting gearhead would and must, I RSVP’d in the affirmative less than 0.0125 seconds later.
The last time I drove a new $1.44 million super duper car was…well, never. To be fair, I did get to drive a special edition sixteen-cylinder Bugatti Veyron that was even pricier ($1.9 million, if memory serves) once. But that was in traffic at Pebble Beach a few years ago, and for the very few smiles that were possible in a one-hour session of very few miles, my ride might has well have been a Volkswagen. So it didn’t really count.
I also got to pilot an extremely valuable 1955 Jaguar D-Type up the legendary hillclimb at Goodwood in Sussex, England, a few years back. However, even at the distinctly non-radical speeds I attempted it was over in seconds. Exercising caution – a bit of blindingly obvious common sense in the face of the D-Type’s rarity and the fact that practically all the world’s vintage racing fraternity was looking on –meant treating this original example of the LeMans-winning Jaguar, worth $4-, $5-million or more, like an old, but uniquely valuable MGB, one with tired kingpins. My old “slow in, slower out” technique of cornering may have not excited the crowds, but it suited the car’s owner and my insurers to a tee.
So driving the Huayra, the brainchild of Argentine engineer-perfectionist-fruitcake Horacio Pagani, on the track was something new for me. Because it was not just fast, but really, really fast. And while I was invited to drive it as fast as I pleased, this idiosyncratic, aerodynamic, mid-engine, low-production rocket sled – built in Modena, Italy, around a lightweight carbon-fiber-titanium tub -- was fastest when the company’s skilled test driver took me around ahead of my own two-lap drive. First, he did a “slow” lap to familiarize me with the track and its maximum of 22 turns. With helmet on and a powerful head cold I’d brought from home, even if I could have processed all the information and pearls of personal wisdom he was sharing, I largely couldn’t hear him over the whoosh of turbochargers and four, screaming, high-mounted exhaust pipes.
While my fire-suited companion barked what I imagined to be commands, philosophical footnotes, and other useful pointers, I had been rendered deeply nauseous by turn 4 and near comatose by turn 9. Soon enough, there was a second lap, only this time my host turned up the wick to show me how fast and capable the car was. With its mighty twin-turbocharged AMG V12 tuned to make 720 horsepower and massive carbon-ceramic disc brakes able to bleed off speed in double digit chunks within milliseconds, the Pagani stands ever ready to launch stomachs like yo-yoing cannon shots and send brains ricocheting around craniums at will. By the time it was my turn to drive, I was ready to lie down with a cold compress or die, whichever came first. But as Car Talk’s only man on the scene I did the best I could, which was enough to satisfy myself and my instructor that my lap times would have been pitiful if anyone had bothered measuring them. Yet I was nevertheless still very clearly driving one of the fastest cars ever built, which is always good fun. (For fans of these things, no car has ever made it around British tv show Top Gear’s test track faster than the Huayra.)
All of which underscored for me that I would make a poor candidate for Huayra ownership or any other supercar as they are too fast for public roads, and best experienced on closed circuits, where a high degree of skill and regular practice are essential ingredients to a successful outcome. Along with the eye-watering price of admission, those are two things I’ll never have. But if they asked me back for another test drive, I wouldn’t say no.