Featured: Lamborghini Accademia at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
I found it to be a rare, genuinely rewarding educational experience.
Lamborghini is putting more effort into its North American motorsports efforts and promotion, so we recently attended its first-ever Intensivo driving school at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, spending a day behind the wheel of both its Huracán and Aventador supercars. Offered under the Squadra Corse banner, Esperienza is designed to provide a taste of Lamborghini’s cars on a circuit, Accademia Intensivo is designed to maximize track-time learning, and Accademia Advancada – only in Europe for now – is focused on the driver and driver technique. Beyond those, Squadra Corse can also provide Super Trofeo instruction to get you fit for the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Series and GT3 racing, too.
In a static learning environment, like at a university, the odds of having the perfect educational experience in a given course are stacked well against you. The professor speaks in gobbledygook and the textbook can feel like it’s been written by wombats. The whole class has to slow down for classmates drowning in the material, or the class is so big it’s hosted in an amphitheater and you can’t get the one-on-one instruction you need. Those issues can carry over into driving schools, and then be exacerbated by the fear inside a miniscule classroom doing 140 miles per hour toward a double-apex hairpin.
As for the day of Intensivo, when it was over, I found it to be a rare, genuinely rewarding educational experience – so good, in fact, that for a moment I thought I might have been duped.
This writer is no track rat, and single-day track events go against my GranTurismo 6 method of getting better: pile on the laps, slow at first, make each one quicker than the last. My ideal driving day would begin with us telling an instructor, “Gimme the keys, I’ll meet you in the pits in an hour.”
But a driving school wants to get you up to literal speed as quickly as possible. It is how a school does this – how the instructors manage individuals who each have their own way of learning while accounting for individual levels of competency (and bad habits) that determines a program’s level of success. Adding to the difficulty is such programs’ constant mandate to extract the greatest improvement in just a few hours’ time, often on a course no one has ever seen. At 140 mph. Into double-apex hairpins.
Our teachers were an international lot, almost all of them with decades of racing experience.
Intensivo training begins at a table: my group was shuttled to Monterey’s 1833 restaurant to have dinner with the instructors and a few executives the night before our track day. Our teachers were an international lot, almost all of them with decades of racing experience, at least one of them a Lamborghini Super Trofeo series double champion.
I sat with five other gentlemen, four of them high-net-worth guests there to drive; the one next to me owned a couple of Ferraris, and he was there because his friend – the Bentley owner sitting next to him – called him three days before and said, “Want to try it out?” Their lofty personal valuations proved to be incidental, in fact – fundamentally; all the women and men we spoke to were enthusiasts. Sure, we didn’t discuss anything that cost less than $200K, but no one had anything to prove and they all possessed the same openness, excitement and curiosity as the people you talk to at the Woodward Dream Cruise or Cars and Coffee. That was my first surprise.
The next day began early, the soles of my Chuck Taylors hitting the Laguna Seca infield at 7:30 AM. Our group’s next surprise came after the catered breakfast: introductions and technical briefings lasted just thirty minutes. The course assumes you have some knowledge of track-craft, and Lamborghini wanted us kicking up marbles ASAP, so it was, “Here are the cars, here are the instructors, here’s the run-of-show [big clap], let’s go.”
We spent much of the next three hours behind the wheel. After a recon lap with an instructor riding shotgun, I did lead-follows, with an instructor in a Huracán and three ducklings behind in either a Huracán or Aventador. The instructors watch you in their rearview mirrors and guide you over walkie-talkies, running as fast as you can while they talk you through improving your line. And they want you to go as fast as safely possible; I didn’t hear of anyone being held back by an instructor who wouldn’t uncork the bottle.
The course assumes you have some knowledge of track-craft, and Lamborghini wanted us kicking up marbles ASAP.
We started with six laps around the track in the Huracán, changing position every two laps so that everyone could get two laps behind the instructor. Even if you’re the fourth car in the group and can’t see the instructor’s line, though, you still get useful tips because you can hear everything being said to the other drivers over the walkies.
After that, we swapped Huracáns on track for Huracáns at an autocross course set up in the infield. I watched an instructor run the course, then got an installation lap as a passenger, and then it was into the driver’s seat for three laps to learn the circuit, an instructor alongside feeding me directions before each bend. After the learning laps, I ran three timed autocross laps, the instructor providing guidance only when needed.
There were two conspicuous takeaways with this:
1) In my experience with other, similar programs, if the driver coach is in the car with you, he usually has you braking well before the limit, seemingly afraid that if he lets you find it, you’ll both die a fiery death. In effect, you’re sucked in with, “Come enjoy our amazing cars at a track!” then they pair you with your great grandfather. Not so at with Lamborghini Accademia; every coach we rode with let you prove you needed a tighter leash before reining you in, because as one of the instructors said to us, “After all, these are just cones.”
2) While the Huracán is massively capable on track, I came to relish it on the autocross course. Under hard braking from triple-digit speeds, it squirms and its all-wheel drive makes for a distinctive mechanical movement around corners. But those same high-po carbon stoppers and ability to change direction with a tick! make for awesome reflexes through the cones.
The autocross completed, it was back to the track for six lead-follow laps in an Aventador. Larger, heavier and even more mechanical than the Huracán, it’s as stable as stone, and once you figure it out, you can commandeer a corner the same way it commandeers all human faculties.
At this point we’d done 12 laps of Laguna Seca in half-a-million-dollars worth of cars, plus another six laps blasting around an autocross. The instruction was great, but even better, our mentors wanted us to enjoy what we could do and what the cars could do, and we did. That doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should.
Instructor Dean DiGiacomo played our lap videos and analyzed our driving around Laguna Seca, noting the telemetry, track position and line.
During the catered lunch that followed, we were briefed on the afternoon’s activities: videotaped laps, personal instruction, then more laps to use what we’d learned. We hopped in a Huracán set up with cameras and telemetry equipment, then did five more lead-follow laps, and got three more laps in an Aventador while we waited for our instruction group to be called.
Afterward, we were called to the Telemetry Garage with six other students and sat in front of a large television. One by one, instructor Dean DiGiacomo played our lap videos and analyzed our driving around Laguna Seca, noting the telemetry, track position and line. I had never done this on a course before, and it was excellent. The graphs don’t lie, and the instructor can dissect your exact inputs – how hard you pressed the brake, where you got on the throttle, how many Gs you pulled through a turn. The key is that he can do all this and, because of the giant video image, you can relate his instruction to a precise point on the track. It omits the ambiguity of, “Midway through this turn,” so he can say, “Right here, you should be…”, and you’ve got that specific location locked in. Among my untidy habits, DiGiacomo pointed out a different line and throttle sequence through Turn 3 and 4 that we decided to focus on, and he took time to explain to me how it would affect the car to create more speed.
If I had my way, every educational activity – driving and otherwise – would be just like this.
Then we went back out in the Huracáns for five laps to use what we had learned. From the off, I was quicker through Turns Three and Four, and not just by a little. And because I had been told what I was doing with this new technique, I understood it and could take it with me beyond those turns. Admittedly, I’m not talking about revelatory racing knowledge; but after having done 20 laps of the circuit, I had learned something that made me immediately and appreciably faster on the 21st lap, and that’s the point of a driving school.
Come five o’clock, our day concluded with cocktails and an award ceremony, then a shuttle back to the airport for our departure. While there, I had a chance to speak to the two gentlemen from dinner the night before, and I asked them what they thought. They felt the same way I did, that it was suspiciously good: the instructors were on the money, everyone was friendly – including every other guest, and the day was a blast. And unlike your author, they felt this way and they had paid $4,995 to be there. And did we mention that we got to drive Lamborghinis all day? If I had my way, every educational activity – driving and otherwise – would be just like this.
Image Credit: Nick Busato / Lamborghini