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Clarkson thrashes Pagani Zonda R

  1. So. The Zonda R. It looks like a racing car, but because it
    conforms to not one single piece of racing legislation, it can’t actually be
    entered for any recognised event. Apart, perhaps, from grass-track racing.

    To make matters worse, it has no indicators or lights which
    means that you cannot use it on the road either.

    Words: Jeremy Clarkson
    Photos: Justin Leighton

    This article was originally published in the December issue of Top Gear magazine

  2. And no, it isn’t a track-day car, because almost all racing
    circuits, in Britain at any rate, are neutered by noise limits and have men in
    anoraks to enforce them. And there isn’t a decibel-o-meter in the world that
    would classify the R as quiet. Even ‘volcanic’ has a summer breeze quality to
    it in the context of an R. For a run around the TopGear test track, it was
    fitted with half-arsed mufflers and we still got complaints. From people in

    So, you will need £1.5 million to buy the car, and then your
    own race track in a desert somewhere. I’ve checked on this, and the going rate
    for one of those is around £6,000,000,000. That being what they spent on the
    recently opened facility in Abu Dhabi. So, the R then. Is it worth

  3. To make it move, Pagani has ditched the 7.3-litre AMG V12
    we’ve seen in various Zondas to date, and instead gone with a smaller but more
    powerful 6.0-litre AMG racing unit. This has a dry sump, which is a good thing
    because that prevents oil surge when the car experiences high-g turns. And as
    we discover later, the R can do such high-g turns that your brain starts to
    squeeze out of your ears.

    It’s not just the engine that’s different to other Zondas’,
    or where they’ve put it. (It’s 50mm further forwards than usual and is
    therefore bolted directly to the driver’s spine.) No. This is the first Zonda
    to be sold with a flappy-paddle gearbox. It, too, comes from the world of racing
    and, while the changes are not smooth - it’s a bit like being kicked in the
    head - they are fast.

  4. Add all this together. Weight of a Ford Fiesta. Gearbox from
    a single-seater racer. And 740bhp. And you begin to wonder why on earth it took
    six minutes and 47 seconds to do a lap of the Nürburgring. I suspect the driver
    stopped half-way round for a nap.

    I certainly haven’t driven anything in my life that goes so
    quickly. It revs like a b******, screams like a psychopath stuck in a gin trap,
    hurls itself at the end of the runway and before you’ve stopped gurning, the
    speedo is reading 320kph. That’s a nice round 200mph.

    There was much, much more to come, but the road was running
    out, so it was time to try out the brakes. The figures say it will get from 125mph
    to a dead-stop in 4.3 seconds. The fact is that 15 minutes after I’d become
    stationary, my face was still doing about 70.

  5. Savage. That’s the best way of describing this car. They may
    have given it some leather door-pulls to suggest it’s refined, but it isn’t.
    Like all Zondas, it’s much easier to drive than you could possibly imagine, but
    because of the thunderous noise and the science-fiction speed, things behind
    the wheel can become a little bit - not scary, that’s the wrong word - hectic.

    Part of the problem is that in that hot, bucking, and very
    loud cockpit, you feel disturbed. You know that you can go round the corner
    ahead at 100, easily, but you cannot help lifting. Maybe braking a tad. You
    almost don’t want to let the madman do its thing, because you feel you won’t be
    good enough to sort stuff out if anything went wrong.

  6. It took me a long, long time with the R - days, in Italy and
    England - before I dared take it up to its limits. And I still didn’t find
    them. Partly, I suspect, because of the tyres…

    When a car comes down to the TopGear track on Pirellis, we
    know we are in for a short burst of extreme joy, followed by a frustrating day
    of understeer and unpleasant noises. Mostly coming from the cameraman we’ve run

  7. Pirellis give excellent bite for two or three hot laps and
    then, even though there is no visual clue on the tyre itself, they lose the
    will to live. Oh, they are legal and fine for another 15,000 miles on the road.
    But for crisp cornering and exploring the outer limits of your car’s
    capabilities? No. They’re useless.

    The tyres Bentley uses are even more peculiar. They do not
    lose any grip at all, or show even the merest hint of wear until, after a
    couple of hours, they explode, sending sheets of steel-reinforced rubber into
    the brake pipes, the anti-lock system and the delicately honed bodywork. This
    is usually followed by several irate telephone calls from Bentley’s head

  8. The tyres on a Jag meanwhile. They’re unbelievable. They
    smoke like First World War battleships, give good grip and never wear out.

    But the best tyres are those with no tread at all. Slicks.
    That’s what the Zonda R was wearing and, frankly, they skew everything. A
    Nissan Micra on slicks would feel brilliant, so the Zonda? Well, it was out of
    this world. It flowed from corner to corner like nothing I’ve ever experienced,
    it braked more beautifully, and it powered onwards past the apex without even a
    hint of the dreaded waggly tail.

    Some of that is down to the car. Some of it is down to the
    tyres. All of it, combined, is about the most perfect speed machine ever made.

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