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ESTORIL, Portugal – Turning up at a racetrack to flog the living daylights out of a 566 kW supercar constitutes a magnificent day at the office, but it also triggers a mild degree of trepidation. Particularly as we’ve just been informed the newly laid tarmac at the Circuito do Estoril offers very little in the way of grip. There’s as yet no rubber laid down on the track, and residual oil from the fresh asphalt has seeped to the surface under the hot sun.

But, what the heck, this is no ordinary supercar. This is Lamborghini’s brand-new Aventador SVJ (Super Veloce Jota). “Super Veloce” is Italian for “Super Fast”, while Jota is Spanish for the letter ‘J’, which is a reference to ‘Appendix J’, the FIA rulebook governing the preparation of road-based race cars. Lamborghini will build just 900 SVJs (priced from R9 483 006), and an additional 63 "special editions" with individually numbered plaques. The latter number commemorates the year Lamborghini was born – 1963.

The SVJ’s big claim to fame comes via a staggering 6:44,97 lap at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, making it the fastest production car around the daunting 20,6 km circuit – eclipsing the former record of 6:47,30 set by the Porsche 911 GT2 RS a few months earlier.

Beating the GT2 RS’s lap required every aspect of the Aventador – chassis, drivetrain and aero – to be fettled. For starters, the SVJ’s mighty, free-spinning 6,5-litre V12 was reworked for better breathing via titanium intake valves, redesigned cylinder heads and reshaped intake runners. It also scores a new lightweight exhaust system with two large pipes exiting halfway up the rear facia to mimic extreme motorbikes. Apart from reducing back pressure, the other payoff with the new exhaust is a sonic signature that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. It’s bloodcurdlingly lovely.

The SVJ also gets 50% stiffer antiroll bars than the already hardcore Aventador SV, while its bespoke lightweight rims are shod with specially developed Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres. That said, an extra spend gets you the Kevlar-reinforced Trofeo R boots (as used by the Nürburgring record breaker) that can withstand the huge loads placed by a sustained thrashing on a long, fast, high-downforce circuit such as the Nordschleife.

And it’s downforce where the SVJ really makes its gains, thanks to a massive fixed rear wing, aggressive two-plane splitter, air-channelling vents in the top of the nose and winglets on the front corners that smooth the airflow down the flanks and channel more air to the radiator intakes. All these add up to an extra 40% of downforce compared with the bewinged Aventador SV.
Lamborghini Aventador SVJ

But the real trick bit is Version 2,0 of the clever ALA (“Aerodinamica Lamborghini Attiva”) active aero wizardry that enabled the Huracán Performante to claim ’Ring king status in 2017. The principle is exactly the same this time around. There is a pair of ducts – opened and closed by small electric motors – at the front and rear of the car, and the job of these is to either "stall" (i.e. cancel out) the downforce of the front splitter and rear wing or allow air to flow as normal across these to generate maximum downforce.

So, on the straights the ducts stall the aero addenda for a speed-enhancing low-drag setup, but the instant you hit the brakes it reverts to high-downforce mode to stabilise the car. The pièce de résistance is "aero vectoring", which stalls the outside half of the rear wing when cornering. Meanwhile, maximum downforce is applied to inner half, helping the car turn into the bend. It’s the same principle as torque vectoring, just using airflow rather than braking the inside wheels.

All great in theory, but what does the Aventador SVJ actually feel like out in the real world? In a word: gobsmacking. It’s a wonderfully playful and entertaining brute that devours straights and virtually defies physics with its ability to carry enormous cornering speeds, even on a super-slippery Circuito do Estoril.

A big part of the Lambo’s appeal is down to that epic V12. Which other engine offers so much grunt down low, yet sings its way to 8 700 r/min with such joyful ease? The addition of the free-flow exhaust to the SVJ has made it an even more sonorous motor (especially in Corsa mode), with a banshee-like wail in the upper half of its rev band and flame-spitting visual drama.

But what really separates the SVJ from past Aventadors is the confidence with which you can work up to its (or your own) limits. Even with that big lump of a V12 at the back, the car has wonderful balance, and there’s a newfound adjustability that certainly wasn’t there in the past. Dived into a corner too hot? No problem, a little lift of the throttle or light dab on the brakes instantly gets the nose tucked in.

The massive carbon-ceramic stoppers are progressive and offer good pedal feel, inspiring confidence to stand on them as late as possible even at the end of the pit straight at Estoril … with the speedo reading in excess of 280 km/h. The car squirms noticeably under full retardation, but there’s never a nagging concern that the V12-laden rear end will overtake the rest of the car.

Limitations? The Aventador SVJ is by no means flawless. The ISR gearbox might be hugely improved, but it’s still not a patch on the latest-gen dual-clutch ’boxes offered in its Ferrari/Porsche/McLaren rivals. And the cabin is still compromised in the extreme. Anyone over 1,8 metres will find their headroom restricted, while the fixed-back seats in the SVJ are fine for a brief thrash around a racetrack, but they’d be backache material after a few hours on the road. Rear and lateral visibility were hardly good in the original Aventador, but the SVJ’s massive wing pretty much nullifies whatever view existed out back.

On the plus side, Lamborghini’s engineers have extracted every last iota of dynamic potential out of the Aventador for the SVJ. It’s a fitting swansong, sending the model off with panache before an all-new replacement arrives in two years or so. A true Raging Bull great.

Author: Gautam Sharma

Lamborghini Aventador SVJ

KYALAMI, Gauteng – We drive Lamborghini's apex predator, the Aventador S Roadster, in its natural environment … at the race track.

So this is the latest version of the Aventador, is it?

Indeed, it is. Along with a mild facelift last year, the Aventador gained 30 more kilowatts and an “S” at the end of its name. This, of course, is the convertible version … if one could use that term to describe a removable roof that’s no more than two tray-sized lightweight carbon-fibre panels.

To be honest, I’m not usually much of a convertible fan (I'll always opt for a performance car with a proper roof), but think I prefer this Roadster’s design to that of the coupé...

I agree. It looks even more aggressive than the hard top ... and downright reptilian.  I know the bull is the animal associated with the brand, but given those angular body panels, extra air scoops on the roof, and fang-like air splitters on the front bumper, this surely has more in common with a bloodthirstier branch of the evolutionary tree that predates those grass-eating mammals by millennia.

And this really is something of a throwback. It’s one that proudly carries the DNA of its mid-engined, V12 ancestors – from the Countach to the Diablo and Murciélago. As supercars have become more approachable, with engine capacity and cylinders making way for whistling turbos and whining electric motors, the Aventador has stood out like a big, angry dinosaur hatched from the same clutch that spawned Godzilla. These were never cars one could pootle down to the shops in – a trait both it and its handlers were only too proud of.

Oh, stop being so dramatic. Everyone is trying to make their supercars more 'driveable'. Surely Lamborghini has also tried to tone down this Mesozoic Era mojo?

Well, it tried. Along with the bump in power, the car now also has four-wheel steering to complement its AWD system, along with a reprogrammed suspension apparently designed to make for more assured handling.

But it hasn’t really worked?

Not even slightly.

It didn’t take more than a couple of laps round Kyalami to confirm the big Lambo has retained all the squinty eyed cunning of its ancestors. Electric prods may now be the means of control, but goading it through Kyalami’s 14 corners and two straights made it perfectly clear this was a beast merely biding its time, waiting patiently to punish any lapse in concentration with a neat row of needle-sharp teeth marks.

Not that it doesn’t caution you right up front, though. There are enough visual clues both inside and out that clearly communicate exactly what you’re signing up for here. From the overlapping glass scales that reveal a huge 12-chamber heart pulsing within a carbon-fibre harness, to scissor doors that seem more inclined to sever a limb than welcome you within, there’s no doubt what you’re about to poke in the chest once you push the starter button.

It has different driving modes though, doesn’t it? Surely there is one that’s relatively docile?

It does come with strada (normal), sport, corsa (track) and ego modes – the latter allows you to tailor your powertrain, steering and suspension settings. And yes, initially, it did seem relatively docile.

Exiting Kyalami’s pits on a sighting lap – despite being in corsa mode – and keeping the revs between 3 000 and 5 000 r/min makes for a car that feels entirely manageable. The seven-speed transmission’s sequential manual ISR swaps cogs relatively smoothly, the steering feels plenty accurate and the rear-wheel steering arrangement helps persuade the heavy rear to obediently follow the front round tight corners.

Lap two onwards, though, was a different story. From 6 000 to the 8 400 r/min redline, the engine note turns into a howl, gear changes hit you in the small of the back like a tail-clubbed Ankylosaurus and, wh…

Did you Google that?

I did … and, what a moment ago was the distant end of the main straight, is now suddenly a sweeping left-hander requiring my urgent attention. The brakes, thankfully, are mighty and the ESC’s anger management system floods the reptilian brain with enough calming narcotics to keep it from bucking in protest.

The turn-in now becomes ultra-sharp as the big supercar pivots on its axis and the rear swings round. It’s a disconcerting feeling, especially through The Esses, where the rear-wheel steering gives the backend a distinctly floaty feeling; like it’s about to slap you across the back of the head with irrecoverable oversteer. Only it doesn’t. Instead, the big Aventador swivels its hips and slithers left and right, snaking through the corners with a practiced and distinctly predatory disposition.

Very poetic. I meant to ask earlier – convertibles are usually heavier, exhibit more flex and are slower than their coupé siblings. Same apply here?

The Roadster is 50 kg heavier than the coupé, but they have the same top speed and if you’re able to tell the difference between the 2,9 seconds it takes the coupé to hit 100 km/h and the 3,0 seconds it takes the Roadster, then you’re someone with way too much time on your hands. Given the Aventador’s exceptionally rigid carbon-fibre tub – and certainly with those roof panels in place – there was zero perceptible flex in the body.

So, yes, Lamborghini may have genetically engineered one or two nods to civility into its big anachronistic supercar, but you’d be unwise to ignore the strategy of extreme caution pioneered by our own ancestors. It may now be more agile and perhaps inspire a little more confidence … but don’t be fooled into unshackling its restraints.

This remains a glorious maverick of a supercar that, when driven in anger, will snap at your flanks and do its level best to confirm just why human beings have long been grateful the era of the dinosaurs never coincided with their own...
Lamborghini Aventador S Roadster

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