On track

I made the decision to start everything off with a couple of hours of track time at dawn. The 1.48-mile circuit at Varano de' Melegari is extremely good for motorcycles and GT driving schools. It's tight and narrow in the turns, has average run-off areas and four straight sections. So for these four big exotic cars, a lot of braking and acceleration in rapid transition was going to be needed. Given their size, precision at the wheel was another biggie.

Controlled oversteer is possible with all four cars, even the all-wheel-drive Lamborghini. Switching off traction control is the obvious first step in this exercise. It's valuable to play like this since it shows how controllable the car is. While the Murcielago and Zonda have a natural tendency to want to correct themselves to straight, both the Carrera GT and MC12 will gladly hold a slide if that's what you want. It was thrilling to try this in these cars at last and all four, particularly the Porsche, showed that they can handle almost any amount of speed you might carry into a turn.

In this scenario, the Lamborghini roadster demonstrated its preference for public roads. In tight left-right transitions on track, the weighty Murcielago sways in the rear end due to its softer suspension settings and slightly higher center of gravity. This is one of the reasons why most owners should just leave the Lamborghini's TCS on. Meanwhile, the Porsche, Maserati and Pagani are so low and stiffly set up that it's really difficult to make big mistakes even though they're all rear-wheel-drive. The 34/66 front/rear weight distribution of the MC12 may seem a challenge, but the elaborate aerodynamic design keeps it glued to the asphalt.The Pagani and Maserati have fixed aerodynamics, though you can pre-set the single rear wing angle on both for the downforce you want. Meanwhile, the Lamborghini has an automated rear spoiler with three angles possible depending on your speed, and also the very serious-looking Variable Air-Flow Cooling System (VACS) that uses two moving air intake manifolds over the rear quarters-quite the spectacle to watch. The biggest showpiece on the Porsche is the rear spoiler that deploys to a height of 6.3 inches whenever speeds exceed 75 mph.

That the Lamborghini doesn't yet have ceramic brake discs available is bad planning. Even worse, the Maserati MC12 will never get the chance to have ceramics unless owners spend a lot of their own money to get a pair of Enzo CCM discs directly from Brembo, if this will even be allowed. Not surprisingly, therefore, stopping in corners with the Pagani and Porsche ceramics was outstanding, while stopping the other two without ceramics is merely great (Lamborghini) and good (Maserati).

Important to the chemistry of any supercar is the sound of the exhaust during performance exhibitions at the track. If a supercar roar is what you seek-and I definitely do-then both the Maserati MC12 Stradale and Pagani Zonda F are right for you. One step down from these is the Lamborghini Murcielago, which again is the most reasonable for every day driving. Though everyone who drives the Carrera GT loves it, everyone also comments on the uninspired exhaust note. I, too, don't quite understand why Porsche didn't have more fun with it.

All four cars run on independent double wishbone suspensions with a sophisticated and compact pushrod damper at each corner. This is the only way to go when the lateral g-forces are regularly so high, hard turning is frequent and the overall ride height is so low to the ground. Every car performed exceptionally well for on-track handling and stability, only the Murcielago, as I've said, showed a softer setting than the other three. The Carrera GT and Zonda F both use a 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheel/tire setup with Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires, and I felt these two behaved the best on track.


2005 MASERATI: MC12 STRADALE

Last opinion: Maserati MC12 Stradale

The "Stradale" part of the name is misleading. Simply stated: If you really want to drive this car properly, take it to a large track. Its 630 bhp and 471 lb-ft of torque demand long straights and sweeping curves, especially given the car's length. The sound of the exhaust and the sensation inside the cockpit are both completely amazing. The racing Cambiocorsa transmission is fast and fun, though it would be better with a higher redline than just 7700 rpm. I hope Maserati survives, because it needs to make more cars like this if only to dominate the FIA GT1 class.

Drivetrain

Longitudinal mid-rear engine, rear-wheel-drive with TCS

Engine

6.0-liter (5,998cc) 65 V12, dohc, four valves per cylinder, integrated Bosch fuel injection

Transmission

Six-speed manual sequential

Suspension

Double wishbones w/pushrod design; horizontal Boge dampers

Brakes

Self-ventilating cast iron Brembo rotors, Bosch 5.3 ABS and EBD

Dimensions

Length x Width x Height (in.):203 x 83 x 47
Wheelbase: 110 in.
Curb Weight: 2,943 lb

Performance

Peak Power: 630 bhp
@ 7500 rpm (DIN)
Peak Torque: 471 lb-ft @ 5500 rpm
0-60 mph: 3.6 sec.
0-100 mph: 6.9 sec.
0-150 mph: 13.1 sec.
Top Speed: 205 mph

Production

Location: Modena, Italy at Maserati Corse
Run: 50 total carsBuild Time: 1 month
Base Price: $800,000

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