In a world where even race cars are succumbing to small displacement turbocharged engines, hybrids, and electric power in the name of efficiency and saving the environment, you don’t turn down an opportunity to shake down a 6.0L V12-powered Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT that raced in the FIA GT1 class and LeMans / ALM series. Interestingly, the production Murcielagos of the time ran 6.2L motors but due to class regulations the production engine size had to be reduced to 6.0L for the R-GT racecar and a completely new camshaft had to be designed and implemented by Reiter Engineering.
The only thing that gave this car away to be something out of the ordinary was a massive rear wing that’s larger than those found on modern GT3-spec race cars. This is a GT1 car after all.
The FIA GT1 class is arguably one of the coolest “Gran Touring” classes of all time; with fields made up primarily of high-powered V12 supercars, plus some V8’s, V10’s, and the omnipresent flat-6 from Porsche. Out of all of the V12’s in the field (in the post- McLaren F1 GTR, Mercedes CLK GTR, Porsche 911 GT1 era), ranging from the Maserati MC12 GT1, Ferrari 575-GTC, Aston Martin DBR9, Lister Storm GT, the Murcielago R-GT just might be the best sounding car of the era.
V12-powered GT cars have become all but nonexistent in the past 10 years, and this example likely has not turned a wheel on track in that timeframe. Normally, during the ‘shakedown’ of a new car, there is a support team of mechanics and engineers responsible for properly warming the car up, which is a process in and of itself since you don’t just turn the key and go on a race car of this caliber, monitoring the car’s vital signs, and nut and bolting the car for safety.
While the car had been gone through and inspected at a shop, we didn’t have any mechanics on hand to diagnose any issues or make changes. However, being the first real on tarmac evaluation and assessment of the car post-acquisition, the goal was to simply see if the car runs properly or not. With only a two-minute video explaining the proper starting procedure on hand, we were ready to undergo this shakedown.
Starting the car was pretty straight forward. Priming the fuel and oil system required turning off the fuel pumps and ignition, then turning the engine over with the start button. Once primed and turning those two systems back on, pressing the start button (see below video) caused the V12 to roar to life with spine-tingling drama that drew a crowd from owners of modern exotics like McLaren 720S, Ferrari Pistas, Lamborghini Performantes, and numerous Porsche GT3s/GT3RS/GT2s.
Race cars take a while to get the oil up to temperature. This is a must in any performance car before pushing it. During this time, I set the tire pressures on a set of old slicks that had cracking sidewalls that were well past due for a road tire, let alone a race tire.
The tire was so hard that it was difficult to dig your fingernails into. I was going to proceed with caution on this shakedown. Still, I was getting more and more excited to turn a lap in the R-GT with every rev of the engine during its warmup process.
Once the engine was warm, I strapped myself into the cockpit and got ready to head out on track.
Outward visibility of Murcielagos are a bit better than its Gallardo/Huracan siblings. Head room wasn’t too bad for my 6’0” height and long torso, even with a helmet. Three pedals below my feet and a stick to the right of the steering wheel remind me that sequential racing transmissions did not last very long in motorsports history between H-pattern dog ring transmissions, and paddle-shift gearboxes. I was fortunate to have competed professionally during that small window of time, and these gearboxes and shifting mechanisms are still my favorite.
On the steering wheel there is a single button to scroll through very small, difficult to read pages on the tiny digital readout.
This also dates the car to a time when digital displays first started in race cars, prior to the large LCD color displays that can monitor every aspect of the car. But I digress, I was just excited to get this thing out on track. The only instructions I had from the owner was “I want to hear you go by on the front straight at WOT, to hear that engine scream.” That was a refreshing departure from the typical “do not crash my car” instructions that is often said before driving a new race car.
Surprisingly the clutch did not have an on/off light switch character, like most racing clutches, and was much easier to modulate than I expected. Leaving pit lane with the engine rumbling and the straight cut gears whining and rattling around as I crept out on to the track, I didn’t even start to scratch the surface of the true character of this car.
Entering Turn 2, the cold tires reminded me that not only is there very little grip, as expected, but they may not come up to temperature that fast or be all that safe because of their age. That concern quickly disappeared, though, as I rolled onto the throttle for the first time and the V12’s rumble opened up to a trumpeting howl that already put a smile on my face. And there was still another 2000rpm to redline…
As the out-lap continued, my pace slowly picked up as the tires started to warm up and increase grip. Flicking the car back and forth, everything felt in order and the steering response was sharp and communicative. Unlike modern cars, there’s no electronic power steering here. This is yet another aspect that is indicative of the era that this car raced in.
When I tested the brakes, I noticed the rear tires were locking up. I dialed a few turns of the adjustable brake bias toward the front to improve the brake balance and checked again. There was still too much rear lock up. After cranking in many more rounds with no real improvement, I decided to be cautious in the brake zones.
Normally after the first lap, you would pull in to the pits to check for leaks and assess the car. As there was no crew, I proceeded to do another lap since everything was in order. Obliging to the owner’s direction, I opened her up for the first time on the front straight, revving the engine all the way out to redline. WOW does this V12 sound amazing (hear engine roar in below video)!
Grabbing 3rd, 4th, then 5th gear on the front straight, this car has an incredible scream with a higher pitch that is closer to sounding like a Formula 1 car than most other V12 engines.
I was careful braking into Turn 1 due to the excessive rear brake bias, but there was a surprising amount of grip from the really old slicks. Turn by turn, the grip increased more and more. Despite leaving a reasonable margin on the table to the limit, I found myself going fairly quick on the first flying lap the R-GT has completed in over a decade. My smile grew wider and wider after every redline upshift.
Modern cars be damned. Race cars really need to sound like this, have this kind of power (around 600hp with restrictors), and have the feel of hydraulically assisted steering and a sequential shift lever that requires you to take your hand off the wheel to shift the car.
Corner by corner, as the speeds increased, I could start to feel the character of the Murcielago chassis. Since this was a shakedown and due to the condition of the tires and the less than ideal brake bias, this could hardly be considered a near the limit, fast lap. Having said that, turning a 1:48.28 for its first lap ever was impressively fast given the circumstances (see video below).
I can’t wait to get back in this car. Stay tuned as more will come…
Author’s Biography: Billy Johnson
Billy Johnson is a (freelance) American professional race car driver who has competed in the World Endurance Championship (WEC) and 24 Hours of LeMans from 2016-2019 for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, driving the #66 Ford GT at LeMans, and winning the 6-Hours of Spa Francorchamps. He is the 2016 IMSA Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge GS Champion for Ford/Multimatic Motorsports driving the #15 Shelby GT350R-C Mustang with Scott Maxwell. Billy also works as a development driver for programs including the Ford GT race car and road car, Ford GT MKII, Shelby GT500, GT350, and Mustang GT4 race car.
Billy’s passion for cars began early in life where he read all of his dad’s car magazines cover to cover and grew an appreciation for European, Japanese, and American cars. Over his career, Billy has raced everything from prototypes, sports cars, NASCAR, formula cars, karts, and vintage cars for marques varying from Ford, Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, BMW, Acura, Mazda, and Nissan.