Test Drive Tuesday review: 2012 Pagani Zonda R
I always thought the bedroom-poster queen, ear-screeching Pagani Zonda looked a bit like a Group C car for the road. And apparently so did founder Horacio Pagani, since in 2012 he decided to turn the already ballistic Zonda F into a track monster.
To do so, he ditched the 7.3L V12 for the more compact, race bread 6.0 V12 from the Le Mans prototype Mercedes CLK-GTR. He then proceeded to build a new car around it, because as we all know, the “base” Zonda is a bit sluggish. As a matter of fact, 90% of the car is new. Basically, everything you can lay your eyes upon is carbon fiber, or even better, sculpted in the awesomely named patented carbotanium. Sounds like something the Enterprise would use for its dashboard, right?
The bodywork is a big step forward, too: scoops and winglets have grown everywhere from the thinner front to the largely open rear-end. This, coupled with a massive rear spoiler and no-less impressive diffuser, leading to a lot more downforce. 2 000 kg of it, in fact.
Knowing that the car only weighs 1 070 kg and sends nearly 740 bhp to the rear wheels via the same X-Track ‘box than the Le Mans winner Bentley Speed 8, it’s not hard to understand how it lapped the Nordschleife in 6mn 47s. Yes, that’s 10 seconds faster than the Porsche 918.
So how is it like to drive?
Surprisingly civilized. I expected something a bit like the McLaren F1 LM, which shares the same philosophy. I expected oversteer everywhere. I expected the beast that the aforementioned stats sounded like. But the car is nothing like that. Sure it’s quick. Bloody damn quick, actually. But what you get when you get to a corner (which tend to happen quite a bit more often than you’d think, given the spaceship-like straight line speed), what you get is understeer. And yes, you’d better think about your views on the afterlife before flooring it in 1st, 2nd or even 3rd gear. But the understeer is the major thing here. The way it drives makes me think more of a noisier Huyara. But that makes sense, since the Zonda R was a test bed for the next-gen Pagani, and shares with it its suspension set-up.
You need to brake really deep into each corner to load up the front axle and get the most from the front tires. I needed to adapt my driving style to do so, because I’m quite the early braker, and in the process I did turn some tires into squares, locking repeatedly the inside wheel. It’s not as awful as it sounds because the brakes are quite good. They’re progressive, well set-up and strong enough. Not quite as strong as, say, GT3 brakes, but they get the job done without locking up all the time or sending you backwards into the barriers. And that’s no mean feat given the speeds you’ll be at the end of the straights.
An understeery car is more predictable than an oversteery one, and most of the time more accessible. But the problem with that type of behavior is that, sooner or later, you’re gonna forget about it. Just for one second, you’re going to be braking a bit later than you should have, because you’ve picked up too much confidence, because you really want to pass that guy. And then you’re in trouble. And there’s nothing you can do about it. You desperately try to steer the precious carbotanium sculpture away from the wall, braking with all the force induced by the dread of, well, crashing. But the car isn’t yours to drive anymore. No matter how hard you try, you ARE going to crash.
And because of this, racing the car can be a bit hairy, even more so in the first lap, because the tire temperature is quite an important factor here. Even clocking about 800 km in 48 hours, I still managed to wreck half the field in turn one at Watkins Glenn. But then again, it was when I was stupidly hot-headed and too confident.
All in all, it feels like the car isn’t quite sure about being a race car, or being a street car (which you’d expect, knowing it’s neither). For example, the brakes are better than a normal sports car. But then it doesn’t quite feel as nimble as one. It has a lot of aero, but you don’t drive it like it does. I think it’s all down to the tires. Pirelli says they specifically developed them for the car, making slicks out of “regular” P-Zero Corsas. I guess it’s so they last longer, but I feel like they’re not as grippy. It might play a big role in that understeer.
Now, I’m not saying the car isn’t fun to drive. It’s a joy to learn how to manage the understeer to get the most out of the engine on corner exit. Because it really is all about this engine.
The thing about good ol’ V12s is that they are full of power all across the range. This being a race engine, you admittedly won’t get much below 3,000 rpm. But then, oh boy… It goes on, and on, up to 9,000 rpm, and that with a noise so magnificent it would make angels come down and get race suits. The power delivery is smooth and controllable, and because there is so much torque everywhere, you’ll for example use only 3rd, 4th and 5th at Zandvoort with the basics settings. As a piece of machinery, it doesn’t really get any better. It’s usable, massively powerful, and a true piece of art, as is the whole car. The interior is gorgeous, with an analogue rev counter at the middle of the wheel, and then a digital cluster that provides you with all the information you need.
So, what you get with the Zonda R is a massively fast car (we’ll see as Testdrive Tusdays pile up just how fast it is) which looks and sounds like a 5-year-old racecar dream, and is, if a bit too understeery, globally an approachable car. And what it means is that you can have fun for long stints. And look badass.
Just don’t forget to hit your braking marks…
Here is the link to the Test Drive Tuesday Leaderboards: https://goo.gl/ATr6mF