It took me just more than one lap in the 2022 Pagani Huayra R to forget founder and CEO Horacio Pagani’s plea from the night before: “Please, don’t crash it.”
We were at the Four Seasons hotel in Austin, Texas, having a nightcap after the penultimate day of the 2021 Pagani Raduno, an event for Pagani owners that this time culminated at Circuit of the Americas (COTA), the big, Texas-sized Formula 1 track. I was there specifically to drive the latest and perhaps most epic of Pagani’s creations to date, the all new 2022 Huayra R. As of this writing, the bare carbo-titanium with gold and white stripes Huayra R is not only the prototype, but the only R in existence, though 30 customer examples will soon join it. All 30 of the $3,500,000 Huayra Rs are sold, with 14 coming to the U.S. Want one? The waiting list is already 24 deep, so you can’t have one. Two future owners on the Raduno that plunked down hefty deposits for the track-only macchina—as Pagani calls his latest creation—received hot laps with hot shoe Jamie Morrow. I also got a few right seat laps with Morrow, but now I get to drive. MotorTrend is the only media outlet afforded this opportunity; don’t crash it, indeed. But let’s back up a bit.
What Is the Huayra R?
Conceived, almost unbelievably, just 18 months ago, the 2022 Pagani Huayra R is the spiritual successor to the legendary track-only Zonda R. It’s almost an entirely new vehicle, too, but structurally and mechanically it shares more with the Zonda R than it does with any Huayra.
Specifically, the Huayra R shares just three things with the “regular” Huayra: the side mirrors, the Pagani-stamped titanium bolts, and the name. That’s it. The Zonda R’s engine was an evolution of AMG’s 6.0-liter V-12 found in the Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR, as Pagani has a long history with AMG engines dating back to the founder’s friendship with fellow Argentine, Mercedes ambassador, and racing legend Juan Manual Fangio. However, the Huayra R’s naturally aspirated 6.0-liter V-12 is a clean sheet, or carta bianca, design, built by Germany’s HWA, builder of Mercedes DTM race cars.
HWA was founded by Hans-Werner Aufrecht, whose surname contributed the letter A to AMG, and HWA today is just down the road from AMG headquarters in Affalterbach, Germany. HWA also built the Huayra R’s six-speed, three-disc, non-synchronizing dog-ring sequential-manual transmission, which like the engine contributes to the chassis’ overall rigidity by being hard-mounted to it. Gorgeous equal-length headers and exhaust pipes made from Inconal 625/718 are coated in heat-resistant ceramic and snake their way out of the car’s open rump. The Zonda R’s screamer was good for 750 hp and 524 lb-ft of torque. The Pagani Huayra R’s screamier V-12 pumps out an astonishing 850 naturally aspirated hp along with 553 lb-ft of twisting force between 5,500 and 8,300 rpm, the latter of which is absurd. Redline is 9,000 rpm, and there are no turbos, no hybrid assist—just 12 angry cylinders breathing fire through 48-valves. Gulp.
The shape is outlandish. The 2022 Pagani Huayra R is made mostly from Pagani’s proprietary Carbo-Titanium HP62 G2 and Carbo-Triax HP62 (the “HP” stands for Horacio Pagani). Carbo-Titanium is used in places like the passenger cell where energy absorption is key, whereas Carbo-Triax is used where stiffness is paramount (the drivetrain is mounted to Carbo-Triax). The bodywork is vented everywhere, with scoops, scallops, and slashes wherever your eyes fall. The dual, deep aero channels that begin just aft of the A-pillars and run flat down the top of the body, all the way down to moveable wings flanking the signature encircled quad exhaust pipes, are particularly intriguing. Sorry, I should say the first set of moveable wings, as a second pair made from aluminum are mounted atop the massive, fixed carbon-fiber rear wing.
There’s no rear window at all, because why would there be? Daytona Prototype or LMP1-class race car, the Batmobile—take your pick. Grown humans become babbling children in the presence of this wondrous thing. I witnessed it happen dozens of times, and in Texas of all places. The severe-looking aero is apparently effective as Pagani claims the R makes 2,200 pounds of downforce at 199 mph. It also claims a “dry weight” of 2,314 pounds, meaning that with fuel (101 octane race gas) and other fluids, including fire-suppression chemicals, I estimate a curb weight of around 2,700 pounds. Assuming that’s kind of accurate, that would be a power to weight ratio of slightly less than 3.2 pounds per horsepower. Gulp again.
Horacio Pagani spent about 30 minutes explaining the philosophy behind the Huayra R. Surprisingly, safety was the theme he kept coming back to. That notion rang a bit hollow at first, but he insisted this car is for amateur drivers who just so happen to be some of the wealthiest people on Earth. In other words, his best customers. Viewed through that lens, yes absolutely, safety makes the most sense. Pagani’s long partnership with Mercedes-Benz paid off here, as the German giant took the lead on the safety stuff—crash structure, specifically—leaving the Pagani team free to do what it does best: build rolling works of art out of the most exotic materials in the automotive kingdom.
The Pagani Huayra R’s cold start is ferocious. I stood behind the barely muffled pipes and literally flinched when the big, shrieky V-12 finally caught and roared to life. The idle was both mesmerizing and intoxicating, though it turned out I’d heard nothing yet.
Morrow had never driven the R before, so he headed out for some shakedown sessions. At 3.4-miles long, COTA is a big track, and the Huayra R was (unbelievably) out of earshot for about 90 seconds. Then, standing in pit lane, we heard the monster coming through turns 16, 17, and 18, downshifting for 19, a bit of throttle and then all the way down to first gear for turn 20. Friends, I wish you could have been there. Remember Game of Thrones, and the noise the dragons made just before they spat fire and melted Daenerys’ enemies? That’s what the Huayra R sounds like. The noise was this shriek, this unbelievable high-pitched, multi-layered, multi-tracked wail of uncorked mechanical madness. The crazy part: After getting in trouble for noise while testing in Europe, Horacio Pagani decided to install two silencers on the exhaust system. Meaning your Huayra could be much louder.
Now I was in the passenger seat as Morrow took me out for three laps. The Pagani Huayra R rolls on Pirelli P Zero race slicks, and if you’ve never been in a car on slicks, the first thing you notice is how hard the brakes bite. Not to be too blue, but because of the sub-belt on the six-point racing harness you feel the braking potency mostly via your crotch.
Between turns 1 and 2 there’s a small straight with a stretch of tortured, bumpy pavement; the Huayra R felt as if it jumped off the ground an inch or two as it hit that section. Inside the car, with a helmet wrapped around my noggin, the car seems quieter than from outside. Mind you, Morrow tried to tell me something as we rolled out of the pits at 30 mph, and I couldn’t hear him. I’ve spent a career sitting next to Randy Pobst, so I’m quite used to being a supercar passenger, but there were a few moments when the V-12’s full thrust shocked me. That much NA torque that high up in the rev range made no sense. Gulp number three.
My turn to drive. Getting in was a challenge, but too bad. My frame is about the maximum possible width for the Huayra R’s seat, and the adjustable pedals were set for a shorter person. Starting the car is a trip: Flick the main ignition switch down, flip the secondary ignition switch up, and the fuel and oil pumps start pumping. Wait for a man standing next to the car to give you a thumbs up, foot on the brake pedal, and press the Start button on the upper right side of the steering wheel. The starter whirls for what seems like 15 seconds and then Drakarys, the fire spitter behind your head starts howling.
Everything vibrates and buzzes, but not like some simple drum beat. The Huayra R has a melody to its idle, and it’s wonderful. Pull the right paddle to select first gear, though the clutch remains open. Next, you press the Drive button on the wheel’s bottom left corner to close the clutch. You now have 15 seconds to get rolling or the clutch will open again. Finally, I’m rolling down pit lane toward glorious open track. I hit the Pit Speed button to turn off the limiter, and smile.
The initial plan called for three laps. However, at the last minute, Pagani’s son Christopher said I should go ahead and take five. Morrow and I tried to work out the best way for me to get the most out of my short time (17 miles in all) in the Huayra R. Seeing as how there was no way for him to communicate with me from inside the vehicle, we decided he’d jump into the 811 lb-ft-boasting Huayra Roadster BC and I’d follow about five car lengths back. Add all that torque to the RBC’s 791 hp, plus the knowledge this very Huayra RBC is the car that set the production-car lap record at the Spa-Francorchamps F1 circuit in Belgium (beating a McLaren Senna), and yeah, it scoots. That said, considering the delta in driver skill, Morrow probably could have stayed in front of me in a food truck.
The first lap was purposely slow. As I felt everything out, I was most sharply aware my legs were way too close to my body. But hey, if being a human pretzel is what it takes, dip me in salty mustard. My first impression is how easy the admittedly super-intimidating hyper track car is to drive. Simple, really. There’s the throttle and the brake, and the gears are handled by the paddles on the back of the racing-style steering wheel. That’s basically it. Shift lights appear, starting with green, then turning yellow on their way to full red. It takes me two laps to realize the lights go full red way below actual redline, probably at peak torque. A four-digit numerical tachometer frantically changes with the engine’s revs, but I’m not looking. There’s also a digital speedometer I only pay attention to on the long back straight. I see 249 kph on the first lap—155 mph—not a bad start.
We finally start to boogie on the short front straight in full view of the grandstands—and all the Pagani owners who will not be driving the Huayra R. “Don’t crash it,” I laugh to myself as we whizz by. Big braking—wonderful braking—up the hill and down into first gear for turn 1. I’m suddenly slapped across the face with the realization that hey, it’s just a car. A supremely quick and mighty one, sure, but I got this. Pagani’s plea fades and I just start driving. The jump over the bumps I noticed from the passenger seat? Not there from where I was sitting. In fact, the R is remarkably neutral, no doubt part of Pagani’s push for safety. There’s no oversteer whatsoever, and I didn’t notice a lick of understeer, either. Was I pushing hard enough to invoke push, something Morrow complained about during his early sessions before the tire pressures were fully set? I don’t know, but in my mind, we went pretty damn hard on the last three laps. In fact, I noticed the back end of the RBC in front of me stepping out several times. On the one hand, that’s 811 lb-ft of torque for you. On the other, he’s on street tires because unlike with the Huayra R, he’s in a street car.
The Huayra R exhibited no ill behavior whatsoever. More importantly, I detected no degradation in handling, no drop off from one lap to the next. The braking distances stayed the same, the rear never wagged, the front never pushed. All cards on the table, as it was my first (and only) session, Pagani and the HWA team decided to put the throttle map in Wet for my laps. This setting makes the throttle a bit less “stabby.” We also put the traction control at 8 (out of 12, and there is no stability control) and the ABS at 8 as well. Morrow the pro ran his laps first in 7 and then in 6. The kookiest part was that on the last two laps I found myself having to lift to maintain distance behind the RBC. Pro driver in a monster of a machine in front, and rank amateur me catching him in a few spots—should be impossible, but hey, it happened. Once out of the cars, I asked Morrow how hard he had driven. “Honestly, I could have gone a little faster,” he said. “But not much.” Me too, man. Me too.
It’s funny how the demise of internal combustion is bringing forth the best engines ever built. Chevy’s LT6, a flat-plane crank 670-hp masterpiece, is the most powerful naturally aspirated V-8 of all time. The 6.5-liter V-12 in the Ferrari 812 Competizione makes 819 ponies and revs to a belief beggaring 9,500 rpm. I’ve yet to drive either of those, but I imagine the 2022 Pagani Huayra R’s fire-spitting heart bests them both in terms of not only power but raw yaw-yaws. Hey, when you don’t have to worry about emissions or noise laws, things get easier and nastier. Come to think of it, “easy” and “nasty” are my two big takeaways after five laps in this screaming dragon of a track-murdering masterpiece—there was no need to tame the Pagani Huayra R. All I had to do was ride.
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