After letting me drift and wriggle around Hampton Downs race circuit in all manner of Lexus GS models and even the hot-to-trot V8-powered iSF, Toyota New Zealand had to put its foot down, as it were, because of the increasingly wet conditions. It couldn't afford for me to smash its fabulous LFA supercar into the wall, or dig a hole for it in one of the circuit's many run-off areas.
Instead, I had to make do with a few extremely fast laps with Aussie touring car and rally ace Neal Bates. He's well-qualified and well-trusted by Toyota, having spent 19 years running the company's official rally programme in Australia.
Even under his control the LFA was a handful - what I'd have done in the soggy conditions doesn't bear thinking about - but with a flick and a slide, it was fun to witness a car at the top of Toyota's developmental game in the hands of a driver at the top of his own.
While the jury isn't even sequestered on the LFA's complex - and some say overwrought - styling, no-one can be less than impressed with the machine's power, or the noise it makes when producing it.
There are V10 engines and there are V10 engines. Audi and Lamborghini efforts are cultured and almost mellifluous in the way they sound, the Italian maker proving a little more operatic when the wick's turned up. The Dodge Viper V10's truck heritage makes a sorry sound by comparison, sounding dull and disinterested, despite its gobs of power and torque.
Even with the knowledge and experience of those other V10s, I was not prepared for the LFA's 4.8-litre unit, which with 412 kilowatts of power and 480 newton metres of torque on tap, can slingshot its contents to 230kmh plus on Hampton Downs' short pit straight and a top speed well in excess of 320kmh.
With a fully tramped throttle, the car can rev to its 9000rpm red line in just over half a second, building from an almost rattly, reticent idle to a goose-bump generating shriek with a voice like a very pained, aggressive cat. It brings tears to your eyes.
It's even better when the car passes by, snatching each of its six ratios through the automated sequential gearbox in just a fifth of a second, with an accompanying lilt from the engine, like some metallic descant written to accompany its frantic progress. Downshifts are even better. As Bates squeezes the down paddle on the steering shaft for each approaching corner, that descant works in reverse, blipping the throttle ready for the revs to accurately match the lower, incoming ratio. Its music is uncannily beautiful, made all the more so when you realise how it's generated by carefully arranged explosions, occurring within 10 alloy-sheathed cylinders, just to entertain and accelerate you, the observer.
Inside the car, the rising and falling doppler effect you get when the car drives past is absent. There's just the rise and fall of revs and it's all the purer as a result. Especially when you add the lateral and longitudinal side forces. A car that can duck into the threes for the zero to 100kmh sprint is quite violent, especially under launch control, while even in the wet, its massive 390 millimetre front and 360mm rear disc brakes can stop the car as if it hit a concrete wall.
Side forces too, are little mitigated by the weather. The LFA will stick to the road like the proverbial to a blanket until the laws of physics call "goodnight nurse".
I'm almost glad they wouldn't let me drive the car, for two reasons. One, I'd make an ass of myself and a mess of the car, and secondly, I wouldn't be able to appreciate that amazing engine when concentrating on keeping the car under control.
I wouldn't be going as quickly as Neal Bates, either. His hands blur like a good pianist's, fingers squeezing paddles and stroking the wheel as he commits, corrects and sets up this $800,000 car on Hampton Downs' wicked changes of radius and elevation.
Both ends drift gently wide as he balances the car through rain-sodden corners, but Bates is still able to gather up the beast into a flat-out lunge whenever the tarmac looks like straightening.
Then it's that hackle-raising shriek of engine-generated pleasure as the stand seats and the pits blur on each side, and the ratios slam-dunk sequentially without any accelerative interruption at all.
This is followed by a strap-hanging welcome to the braking process, as the belts force the air out of your lungs.
Thank heaven this car stops as well as it goes.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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