BBC Autos

The Roundabout Blog

Track-day trinity: Huracán, 650S and Alfieri

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For the car industry, as in politics, Switzerland is neutral territory.

That means top executives attending the Geneva motor show are more willing to go off script than at more closely watched shows, where the media scrums run thick and unforgiving. The cars these executives bring to Geneva, too, reflect a bit more flair and swagger.

So it was no surprise that Volkswagen Group rolled out the Huracán, the replacement for the Gallardo, the best-selling Lamborghini in the history of its Italian sports car subsidiary, at the Palexpo centre.

Similarly, Fiat Group's Maserati, on the heels of recent movements in the prestige sedan market, used its Geneva megaphone to remind show-goers that the marque has a proud history of sports car manufacturing, unveiling the stunning Alfieri coupe concept.

A relative whelp compared to these two, Britain's McLaren Automotive feels the heat of refreshed Italian competition, so its engineers have fielded the mid-range 650S in coupe and Spider form.

All three companies were clearly proud of their products, but maybe none so much as Sergio Marchionne, the Fiat Group chief, who crowed that Dieter Zetsche, his contemporary at Daimler, had confessed his admiration for the Alfieri's lines.

Marchionne beamed when he was told that Ford’s marketing boss for North America, Jim Farley, had also singled out the Alfieri for praise on 4 March, the first day of media previews. "They out-Aston Martin’d Aston Martin," Farley had quipped.

"Is Farley here today?" Marchionne asked gamely, perhaps keen to hear more praise heaped on his subsidiary’s creation.

Asked if he could confirm Maserati's intent to build the car, Marchionne hastily retreated, instructing Fiat's global design chief, Lorenzo Ramaciotti, to reveal nothing of the company's plans.

Ramaciotti did allow that Maserati does not “design concept cars for the pleasure of the designer. The car is 95% feasible for production." Though Ramaciotti would not confirm it, the Alfieri is widely expected to preview the eventual replacement for the aging GranTurismo, which has been on sale since 2007.

Lamborghini research and development director Maurizio Reggiani spoke with no such constraints, as the Huracán has already entered production. He was eager to highlight hardware that the company hoped would help the Huracán move ahead of competitors from Ferrari and McLaren. 

The car's two primary engineering achievements are its use of a fusion of aluminium and carbon fibre for its chassis construction, creating a stronger structure than that of the Gallardo, and the installation of an aerospace-style inertial sensor that feeds all manner of data to the car's computers.

Three gyroscopes in the sensor provide data to the computers that manage the car's engine, transmission, suspension, steering, traction control and antilock brake systems. Other cars use a single gyroscope and make calculations – which amount essentially to predictions – around how to optimize performance for the given conditions. The Huracán, however, receives and processes a steady stream of data in real time. "The more a car is fast, the more you need quick reactions," Reggiani said. "The system can do what is necessary before the driver can react." He predicted that other supercar makers will follow Lamborghini's example and install such systems in the near future.

The team at McLaren Automotive knew it needed to create some distance between its new 650S and the entry-level 12C. An additional 25 horsepower from the twin-turbo 3.8-litre V8 was a good start, but it wasn't easily achieved, said executive director of product development, Mark Vinnels, requiring redesigned cylinder heads and enlarged radiators.

Torque delivery is improved over a broader rev range. Now the car accelerates from zero to 200kph (124mph) in 8.4 seconds, a rather breathtaking statistic that is also aided by new aerodynamic features. "The front splitter is more effective,” Vinnels says. “We balance that with the rear wing and you really notice it on corner entries."

As with Lamborghini, McLaren armed its car with smarter computers. Writing their own code, McLaren engineers optimised many of the systems in-house, whereas they had previously relied on outside suppliers for that task. It was all done in the name of making the 650S react as immediately as possible to inputs from road, hand and foot.

Quick reflexes – a requirement as much for the executives who green-light the cars as for the cars themselves.