It's not a road car and it's not a race car, but the Essenza SC V12 is the boss Lamborghini in terms of performance. Indeed, according to Emanuele Pirro, the five-times Le Mans winner who worked closely on its development, the SC V12 is quicker around any given race track than a full works GT3 Huracan. It's a point reinforced when I'm sent out to learn the track at Vallelunga in one of Lamborghini's one-make Super Trofeo Evo 2 race cars and warned the Essenza will be a step up.
While many struggle to take track-only specials as seriously as those cars that have to meet the myriad requirements to operate legally on a road, Lamborghini reckons it has found an under-served niche for the Essenza. This isn't a car so much as a part of a broader experience, with a series of Essenza-only track days on elite circuits in addition to the ability for buyers to use their cars freely at other venues, with or without factory support. So owners can rock up - often by private jet - find their car pre-prepared and ready to go, blast around for as little or as long as they would like to, relax in the hospitality area and shoot the breeze with fellow billionaires, or take some one-to-one tuition from Pirro or one of his colleagues. Then, with that itch scratched, head back to one of their houses, or onto the next expensive adventure, while expert mechanics take the car away and lovingly re-prep it for the next time.
Beyond the fact you can indeed purchase it, for a predictably huge amount of cash, this is the sort of experience that is often labelled 'money can't buy.' And for Essenza customers, the price really isn't an issue: Lamborghini says it has already built 10 of the limited run of no more than 40 cars and has started holding events. The day at Vallelunga was one of the first of these, with a couple of real owners in attendance.
The car I got to drive was a beat-upon prototype wearing both an ugly orange disguise wrap and the entirely superfluous legend 'Attenzione macchine veloce' - 'warning, fast car'. But mechanically this was in identical spec to the far smarter looking freshly-delivered production examples that were circulating on the 2.5-mile track at the same time.
My first encounter takes place as the Essenza sits in one of the pit garages with its front and rear bodywork removed. It is a truly spectacular looking thing, and substantially different from the Aventador it is only distantly related to. There is some common structure underneath, but the Essenza's carbon fibre monocoque is much more substantial, having been constructed to meet the safety standards of the FIA's Le Mans hypercar race class without the need for a separate roll cage. (Despite this there are categorically no plans to take it racing.) The most obvious mechanical change is at the back where the 6.5-litre naturally aspirated V12 has been turned arsey-facey so it can drive a transversely mounted X-Trac six-speed sequential gearbox mounted behind it, this powering the rear wheels. The Aventador sends power forwards to its central gearbox.
The engine itself hasn't been substantially changed over the Aventador, running without catalysts allowing it to make 818hp accompanied by 560lb-ft. It isn't a stressed component - although some thought was apparently given into how to turn it into one - but the gearbox does have the rear suspension mounted directly to it and is therefore structural. Something which has necessitated the use of a substantial Forth Bridge style truss around the huge V12 to link the transmission to the body. Good reasons the relatively porky 1470kg 'dry' weight doesn't come as a surprise.
Beyond the mass, and some much nicer cabin trim than you'd find in a true competition car, the Essenza is obviously motorsport derived. It sits on Pirelli slicks and shares much of its suspension componentry with its racing sisters. The prototype's brakes are vast Brembo steel discs; carbon-carbon is an option but apparently most buyers have opted for the cheaper and more easily swapped metal ones. The aerodynamics are also spectacular, with the combination of moveable front elements and the huge adjustable rear wing capable of making up to 1,200kg of downforce.
It's fair to say I'm feeling a fair amount of nervous tension as Pirro gives what is effectively a pre-flight briefing, most of which involves talking around the various functions of the cut-down yoke style steering wheel. Most of these are obvious or unlikely to be used, but less familiar features include switchable levels of ABS and traction control, variable power assistance and switchable pre-load levels for the rear differential, this effectively adjusting the handling balance front-to-rear on the way into corners. After a very condensed lesson I'm strapped into the car - which is markedly easier to get into than the Trofeo Evo 2 - with a strong feeling I'm not qualified to be operating such a potent weapon.
Fortunately the basics are all easy enough. The engine starts on the button and immediately fills the cockpit with vibration and angry noise. Beyond the need to remember to hold down the neutral button when selecting gear operation is as easy as a regular paddle-shift supercar. Most GT racers still have clutch pedals for launching and manoeuvring, but Lamborghini has opted to give the Essenza an automated clutch which seems to treat any pressure on the accelerator as a request for a race start. But once rolling the sequential box changes without it.
The intimidation level might be high, but it only takes a couple of corners to discover the Essenza is impressively unscary to drive as I follow works driver Milos Pavlovic in a pace-setting Super Trofeo Evo 2. With the track temperature at a sweltering 50 Degrees Celsius there's little need to worry about bringing the Essenza's tyres up to temperature, and it's soon clear it has more than enough grip to deal with its huge grunt.
As always the Lambo V12 makes less low-down torque than a turbocharged alternative, but as it lives for revs that is hardly an issue on track, and the throttle response is as direct as I've ever experienced. It sounds truly savage even through the padding of a helmet well before the change-up lights start to progressively illuminate. One of the controls on the steering wheel is a power restricting mode controller and, at Pirro's advice, I take the first lap in position one, which limits the SC V12 to around 650hp. Even in this state it can stick with the Super Trofeo on acceleration. Turning the mode to 5 and unleashing the full 818hp proves the Essenza definitely has the legs over its racing sister on straight line pace, although Pavlovic's skills keep him ahead in the corners.
Gaining speed is easy, but losing it initially seems to be harder. The fastest point of the circuit is heading into a pair of right handers called Cimini and - the first time I reach these at speed - even picking what feels like a cautious braking point turns out to be marginal. It's only after returning from my first stint that Pirro says I haven't been pushing the brake pedal hard enough. The onboard telemetry reveals I'd only managed a peak of 72 BAR line pressure while apparently it requires over 100 to get the pads biting as hard as they can. I do better when I go out again, but pushing harder requires serious effort, and also gets the brake pedal close to the floor.
Lateral acceleration is more impressive. On the Vallelunga's few higher-speed corners vast aerodynamic assistance is squashing the Essenza into what feels like unstickability, with a sizeable bump that turned the Super Trofeo distinctly squirrely digested without drama. On a faster track it's likely that fading neck muscles would be one of the big limiting factors to length of stint for anyone unused to such G-loadings. That and the heat of the cabin when wearing the mandatory fireproof race suit. Lambo's prototype didn't have the optional air con, but anyone buying an Essenza would be a bit mad not to tick that box.
In slower turns the slicks behave differently to even the most aggressive road-legal rubber. The Essenza does boast more steering feel than the Super Trofeo, which in a fine example of life imitating art had similar on-limit sensation to a force feedback gaming wheel. But the SC V12's transition from grip to slip is still a sudden one, and without the playful hinterland that comes from permissive stability control and drift modes. It's not meant to be that sort of car, of course. Both Pirro and Pavlovic say the Essenza works best when driven using the same technique as a modern GT racer, with late apexes and lines chosen to maximize straights rather than prioritize minimum corner speeds.
Don't read that previous paragraph as faint praise. No, it's not as hoonable as an MX-5 on a wet roundabout. But on a fast, dry circuit the Essenza is as exciting as anything, viscerally thrilling in a way that even regular supercars just aren't. This is a car that can deliver sharp-end race pace in a way that even those who haven't served a long apprenticeship in competition machinery can experience.
This isn't a cheap club to get into, of course. The €2.2m pre-tax price for the Essenza includes a year's storage with Lamborghini in Sant' Agata - although you can take it home if you'd prefer - plus a shakedown test. But the official track days will cost at least €30,000 a time, with the cost of mechanics, tyres, fuel and everything else on top of that.
Does that make the Essenza ludicrously expensive? Possibly so, but only from the perspective of those without the liquid wealth to join the club. If you are in the one percent of the one percent and want the maximum amount of automotive experience with the minimum amount of hassle it would be hard to find something to beat a turn up and drive Essenza session. Other events this year include Spa in August, the Nurburgring GP in September and both Catalunya and Misano in October. For buyers the events and wider ownership infrastructure will be as important as the car itself. For the rest of us, it's a good reason to keep buying EuroMillions tickets.
SPECIFICATION | LAMBORGHINI ESSENZA SCV12
Engine: 6498cc V12, naturally aspirated
Transmission: Six-speed sequential, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 818hp @ 8500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 560lb-ft @ 7000rpm
0-62mph: 2.5-sec (estimate)
Top speed: 200mph+
Weight: 1470kg 'dry'
Price: €2.2m plus VAT
Economy: not great
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