It had not been a good start to the weekend for Team Dilango Racing. The Sri Lankan team‚Äôs racecar, a gorgeous blue Huracan LP 620-2 Super Trofeo was late, ironic as that sounds. It had been shipped weeks earlier from Shanghai and was scheduled to arrive at the Sebring racetrack in Florida by Wednesday latest. So great was the hurry to ship the car off that the team didn‚Äôt even have time to carry out a basic post race service after the penultimate race of the Asian Series in Shanghai. Instead, the team was assured there‚Äôd be time to do so in America before the start of the World Final weekend. However, come Wednesday, November, 18 and the team was at the circuit but their car wasn‚Äôt. For some reason, the Sri Lankan car was delayed while other rival cars had arrived on time. The Dilango car only arrived on Thursday morning. That left very little time to test and set it up for the final race of the Asian Series that was to happen the next day. Not a good start at all.
In case you‚Äôre wondering, the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo is a one-make racing series that is held around the world in three simultaneous championships ‚Äď American, Asian and European. At the end of the three seasons is the World Final where the drivers from all three championships convene at one racetrack and face off in their categories to battle for the ultimate crown. The first World Final was held in 2013 at the Vallelunga Circuit in Rome. The second year moved to the Sepang Circuit in Malaysia and this year‚Äôs was at the iconic American circuit of Sebring.
The first race day of the World Final weekend, traditionally a Friday, hosts the final round of each individual championship to crown the champions from each series. Then, on Saturday and Sunday are the World Final races where all the drivers start on a clean slate of points and anyone can be crowned champion, irrespective of how they fared in their regional championships. Pretty simple.
The Lamborghini Super Trofeo Championship is aimed at the ultra rich ‚Äėgentleman racer‚Äô but it is also the fastest one-make race series in the world. At this year‚Äôs race at Fuji Speedway, the Super Trofeo Huracans were actually quicker than the more advanced GT3 Huracans ‚Äď Fuji‚Äôs long straight allowed them to maximise their horsepower advantage. The Super Trofeos don‚Äôt have the same levels of suspension, aero and braking but they develop a massive 620PS compared to the restricted 560PS of the GT3 car. Rear-wheel drive, solid mounted suspension and an Xtrac sequential gearbox make the new Huracan Super Trofeo a much more serious racecar, something all the drivers have appreciated. The all-wheel drive Gallardo LP 570-4 Super Trofeo of the last few years was more of a road car that was set up to compete.
Aside from a showcase of sheer speed, I‚Äôm also convinced that this is also the best looking and sounding one-make race series in the world. A dicing field of dozens of lurid Lamborghinis with massive wings and screaming V10s through flame-spitting exhausts is an enthusiast‚Äôs wet dream.
Meanwhile, Team Dilango‚Äôs fortunes had started to look up. The team was driving in the Pro-Am Category with two drivers, Armaan Ebrahim was the pro with team owner Dilantha Malagamuwa in the amateur category. In addition to being a very wealthy Sri Lankan industrialist, Dilantha is also a die hard enthusiast who‚Äôs been racing for over 30 years on two wheels and four. Dilantha and Armaan managed a qualifying of third in the category. Things were looking great but racecars can be terribly finicky creatures. Dilantha elected to go out for the first stint but almost immediately started facing issues with the gearbox. By the time Armaan was in the driver‚Äôs seat, the gearbox was being increasingly recalcitrant, and shifts, both up and down, were becoming a problem. Still, the Indian racer managed to bring the car home in a commendable third place.
The issue was Race Two. The team had to fix the gearbox in time for the second race, practically impossible, given the complexity of the task. As the rest of the drivers lined up on the grid, Team Dilango resigned to the fact that they were going to miss the race and throw away their chances of sealing second in the Asian Championship. But finally, lady luck gave them a glimmer of a smile. Instead of sprouting a silver lining, the clouds turned an ominous grey and within minutes, the track was drenched. All the cars returned to the pits to change to wet tyres and the delay provided just enough time for Armaan to start from the pitlane! After 50 minutes of brilliant driving from the pair, the team finished fourth in the category which was good enough to seal second in the championship! Everyone was super pumped for the World Final over the next couple of days.
But lady luck decided she had smiled enough. The next day, qualifying went horribly wrong. Malfunctioning ABS meant Armaan was flat-spotting the tyres all over the place and eventually had to return to the pits to avoid shredding the Pirelli P Zero slicks. I sheepishly went up to Armaan and asked how come not having ABS was such a big deal. After all, most of the karts and single seaters he‚Äôs raced never had it, so why not simply adapt? His answer was interesting ‚Äď if a car has been set-up to work with ABS, its brakes simply won‚Äôt work efficiently enough without the system. Couple with the fact that Sebring is one of the bumpiest tracks in existence and deactivated ABS is a deal breaker. Electronic assists like ABS and traction control may hurt the ego of a professional driver, but they are vital in most modern racecars. Turn them off and even professional drivers will go slower, says Armaan.
The ABS fix was easy and just involved running the car slowly for a while for the system to reset itself but the damage had been done. Qualifying was a disaster and the team had to start close to the back of the grid. Standing behind the barriers at turn three, it was incredible to watch Armaan slice his way through the field lap after lap, brake discs glowing red and flames erupting from the exhaust as he repeatedly out-braked rivals into the corner. After a determined drive by both drivers, the Dilango Huracan finished in the top ten in the Pro-Am Category.
Race Two started at the back of the grid with Dilantha taking the first stint. At the end of lap one, I stood with the rest of the crew, necks craning to see where the baby blue Lambo was placed ‚Äď still towards the end of the pack. Two minutes later, we were hoping to see him a few places ahead as he crossed the finish line for the second time. Instead, we didn‚Äôt see the car at all… The swarm of over 40 Huracans had screamed past but there was no sign of the Dilango machine. After what seemed like an eternity, but was just a few seconds in reality, No224 passed by with no signs of damage. Dilantha managed to catch some cars ahead before he handed the wheel over to Armaan, who further climbed a few spots but it wasn‚Äôt enough. Corey Lewis of America was crowned the World Champion in the Pro-Am category while Dilantha and Armaan finished in 13th, the last points scoring position. It was a World Final to forget.
So what happened? First some background. Sebring‚Äôs turn 17 is the stuff of equal parts legend and terror. I got the chance to drive a Huracan roadcar for a few laps behind a pace car. Even though the speed wasn‚Äôt intimidating, I could tell that turn 17 needs massive family jewels at race pace. You come in at the top of sixth gear which isn‚Äôt far from 300kmph in these cars before having to get hard on the brakes and drop three gears for what is essentially a very wide hairpin bend. The issue is that the track keeps tightening and braking continues deep into the corner. So you‚Äôre slowing the car down while simultaneously turning it into a decreasing radius corner. And not just any corner ‚Äď a notoriously bumpy corner on a 60-year-old racetrack that was originally an air base in WWII and still has a lot of the original concrete surface. It‚Äôs the type of corner that makes C1 at MMRT, Chennai feel trivial.
It‚Äôs an uneasy feeling, approaching a racing driver after a bad stint. I waited for a while and then walked up to Dilantha to ask what happened. ‚ÄúDid turn 17 catch you out?‚ÄĚ Dilantha smiles and says that it did in part. He was in the middle of the corner when he got bumped by a competitor while on the brakes. Any other corner and it could have been okay, but he hit a bump and the rear overtook the front. A pure racing incident and Dilantha managed to keep the car away from the wall to save the rest of the race.
My warmest memories of the weekend come from the team‚Äôs ever positive vibe, a genuine air of friendliness that seems to permeate the entire series including Lamborghini top brass. Everyone perpetually had a smile on their faces despite all the odds (did I mention that the team was missing a race engineer who couldn‚Äôt make it at the last minute?). It was a pleasure hanging around in the Dilango pit and literally hanging onto the packed little golf kart that ferried the entire team from the pits to starting grid.
Dilantha is raring to have another go next year and Armaan may well be a part of his team again. In fact, the Sri Lankan has also placed an order for a spanking new Huracan GT3 that he plans to simultaneously race in the GT Asia Series. Most millionaires who race in their spare time just have my envy. Dilantha Malagamuwa also has my respect.