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Pagani Zonda R

When Pagani’s 739bhp Zonda R came to the UK, we took it to the Top Gear test track

Evo rating
  • Stig will feel right at home in the Zonda R
  • Noisey...

The box trailer tips up; planks and blocks of wood are carefully positioned to ensure a scuff-free disembarkation, and inch by glorious inch the Zonda R appears. It looks truly amazing, like an uber-posh Group C racer, its matt carbon body contrasted with gloss carbon spoilers and skirts and rose-gold centre-lock alloys. This 1.456m euros (plus local taxes) trackday toy is the answer to the question: what’s the most extreme version of the Zonda we could make, money no object?

As ever with Pagani, inside and out, from the tip of its front splitter to the trailing edge of its vast rear wing, beneath the clamshells and even in the crannies you can’t see, the detailing is exquisite and the finish impeccable. The Zonda R looks too good to drive, and Horacio Pagani says that some owners will put them in their living rooms, end of. Not this one, though; it belongs to the factory and it’s for driving, though sadly not by us today. It was wowing the crowds at the Goodwood Festival of Speed yesterday, and before heading home to Italy has made a modest diversion up to Dunsfold Park, home of the Top Gear test track.

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It’s a happy coincidence that the only circuit we could find that was both conveniently located and available is the same one that just a couple of weeks earlier played host to Michael Stigmacher and the Ferrari FXX. Not that we’re here to beat the 1min 10.7sec time set by the track-only FXX. Only the Stig (and Schuey, apparently) can do that. But we’ve brought along our VBOX timing gear so we might as well fit it to the car so that the guys from Pagani can get an idea of the Zonda R’s potential as it nears the end of its development programme.

I swing open the passenger door and it feels no heavier than a regular car’s fuel filler flap. Inside, a complex little roll-cage adds strength to the tub, which is made from Pagani’s own carbonfibre with strands of titanium woven in. It’s obviously a Zonda interior, with the breast-plate centre console and snorkel air vents, but pared back as much as possible.

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With its rear bodywork removed, the Zonda R looks perhaps even more fabulous. The gold topped, dry-sumped 6-litre Mercedes AMG V12 sits low in the chassis and six fat, white powder-coated exhaust pipes sprout from each side. They twist and turn, amalgamate, and thread through the inboard rear suspension before clustering in Pagani’s signature four-pack of tailpipes at the rear, and not a silencer to be seen. The engine, based on that of the CLK GTR racer, produces a prodigious 739bhp, which is fed to the rear wheels via a six-speed sequential gearbox and transaxle made by Xtrac.

There’s no time to admire the details right now, though; we have cadged just a couple of hours of track time and ominously dark clouds are brewing on the horizon. There’s no shortage of driving talent here. We have Pagani’s in-house test driver, Davide Testi, who must be in competition with Max Venturi from Lamborghini for the title of ‘best name for a test driver’ in the business. It won’t be Testi driving first, though. That will be Andrea Montermini, ex-F1 driver and, more recently, 2008 International Open GT champion, who is bringing valuable GT experience to the project.

The Zonda R is a proper racer. It might have a user-friendly paddle-shift box and just the two pedals, but it still needs a positive gassing to get it on its way. And here we are, joining the Top Gear track at the ‘Hammerhead’ end. Montermini gives the Zonda a tickle of throttle on the straight that follows and it snaps forward with the alarming ease that distinguishes light cars harbouring big-capacity, violently powerful engines. Adding to the menace, the roof-mounted air scoop arcs down just over your shoulder, so the sound of the V12 taking in bites of air is loud, even inside a crash helmet. As ‘Follow-Through’ rushes up, I signal right with a hand and it strikes me that it would perhaps have been better if we’d pootled out in a road car first to work out which way the circuit goes. I get the feeling that Montermini has done a bit of homework, though, because as we round the last corner revealing the start line, he says ‘Ah’ and nails it.

Unusually for an airfield, there’s a bit of elevation, the track rising gently as it goes slightly right before going back left over a little crest, so you’re unsighted for turn one, ‘Willson’, the car slightly unbalanced too. It just looks like a long sweep left on the telly, doesn’t it? Maybe it is in lots of cars, but not in truly quick ones like the Zonda R. What is becoming rapidly clear is that this is a much trickier circuit than it appears on TV.

Next lap round, I can sense chunks of the track falling into place in Monti’s mind and we arrive at Willson very hot. The speed we have gained since the start line is phenomenal, but then again this carbonfibre confection weighs just 1104kg, plus 65kg of driver and 70kg of just-beginning-to-sweat ballast. We crest going left and I’m wondering if the slicks will hang on. Monti is calm and guides the car in on the brakes before we find we’re on exactly the right line for the next bit. Even though the R has been set 30mm higher than it can be, so it could handle the blast up Lord March’s drive, there’s still an awful lot of aero action going on.

‘Chicago’ next. A tough, long, constant-radius right that spits you out towards Hammerhead. The brake point for Hammerhead is tricky to judge. The first time we approach it on full throttle, hitting 140mph, it feels like Monti is too late, but the Zonda’s 380mm carbon-ceramic discs haul the speed off so efficiently, and with minimal anti-lock actuation, that Monti has to release them again. Later, the data logger shows it can pull 1.25G. I tighten my shoulder straps so that next time I’ll stay in contact with the seat.

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Through Hammerhead the car flicks left and right obediently on warming Pirelli slicks and the boot goes in early. There’s quite a big bump on the exit that doesn’t come across on TV, and Monti twists the castellated aluminium knob to adjust the traction control, though I can’t decide whether he’s asking for more or less intervention.

The acceleration down the straight is full-on and ferocious now, the big V12 yowling to a nape-prickling 8000rpm inches from our backs, the Xtrac sequential ’box upshifting almost in an instant. Now Monti only dabs the brakes before driving the car confidently through Follow-Through, having sussed that it opens out very quickly. ‘Flat here?’ Clarkson often asks on the box. Not for us – we’re hitting 140mph before braking, it later transpires.

It’s the next corner, Bentley, that bothers me. The line of tyres on the right and a gulley drain on the left force an exit line that spits you out towards the blond, swaying grass on the far edge of the main runway, rather than left along it. With a car this fast you’d find out you’d carried too much speed when you were mowing your way to Brighton.

There are a few people from the industrial units out watching now as we tackle the last two corners, no doubt brought out by the glorious bark of the unsilenced V12. Monti is very deep into Gambon on the brakes, knocking in a seamless downshift at the last moment. The Zonda hangs into the apex beautifully, and then stays on line with just a twitch as Monti picks up the throttle early for the exit. It’s a wonderful, flowing, high-G experience, and I’m grinning. At the same time I’m ever so slightly nauseous, partly because of the fairground-ride acceleration and braking, mainly because earlier I was pointing out which way to go instead of looking where we were actually heading. So I’m rather relieved when Monti throttles off and heads back to the trailer.

It’s a demanding little circuit with a good mix of turns, a proper test of a car, and I’m looking forward to spectating, to hearing and seeing the Zonda tackling it one-up. But it’s at this point that someone arrives to tell us that the car has set off all the noise alarms at the local council offices and rattled the windows and cages of everyone with nothing better to do within a five-mile radius. It’s game over, for today.

How quick is it? Without giving anything away, easily quicker than any of the roadgoing supercars that have been round the track.

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If Pagani does get invited to Top Gear for a lap, I reckon the Stig will feel right at home in the Zonda R, and that the Zonda will feel right at home on the track. In fact, from the data we’ve seen of the R on barely warm slicks, carrying 70kg of anxious ballast and with a handy driver just getting used to the track, not even the FXX will be able to resist.

Specifications

EngineV12
LocationMid, longitudinal
Displacement5987cc
Bore x stroke89 x 80.2mm
Cylinder blockAluminium alloy, dry-sumped
Cylinder headAluminium alloy, dohc per bank, four valves per cylinder
Fuel and ignitionElectronic engine management, sequential multipoint injection
Max power739bhp @ 7500rpm
Max torque524lb ft @ n/a rpm
TransmissionSix-speed automated sequential manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential, 12-stage traction control system
Front suspensionDouble wishbones, coil springs, adjustable dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear suspensionDouble wishbones, coil springs, adjustable dampers, anti-roll bar
Brakes380mm carbon-ceramic discs front and rear, 12-stage ABS system
Wheels19in front, 20in rear
Tyres255/35 x 19 front, 335/30 x 20 rear, Pirelli P Zero slicks
Weight (kerb)1104kg
Power-to-weight702bhp/ton
0-62mph3.0sec (claimed)
Top speed233mph (claimed)
Basic pricec£1,456,000
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