• Is Pagani Afraid to Go Racing?

Be it fear or disinterest, Pagani has never backed a full-blown racing program

Pagani’s latest track-only weapon, the $3.7 million Huayra R, is still warm having been taken out of Horacio’s oven only recently. With 840 horsepower that has to move around just 2,314 pounds of weight, this V-12-powered beauty is a worthy sequel to the Zonda R but it leaves us with one big question: why doesn’t Pagani go racing? We know the people working there love racing, it’s noticeable at every step when you look at a Pagani yet Horacio never spent much to see the Pagani name in competition.

Pagani makes hypercars with no motorsports pedigree

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Pagani Automobili is the other Italian supercar maker to call Modena its home. Established all the way back in 1992 by Argentinian Horacio Pagani, the guy behind the ludicrous and ultra-light Lamborghini Countach Evoluzione, Pagani makes some of the world’s most exclusive four-wheeled contraptions that money can buy. Employing just under 60 people, the so-called boutique maker’s resume features just two models: the Zonda and the Huayra.

For most other manufacturers, this would simply be another way of saying that the company failed, tanked, and is now amongst a plethora of others that have come and gone without leaving much of a mark on the automotive scene. However, in Pagani’s case, two cars are all it needed to create the sort of cache that Lamborghini worked for decades to put together and maintain. The first model was finally sidelined merely two years ago after a 20-years-long run in production.

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Thanks to a gaggle of one-offs and mouth-watering special editions - as well as the Huayra which came to officially replace the Zonda back in 2012 - Pagani’s been able to stay relevant despite the fact that it never really had a proper lineup of models for one to choose from. At the time of writing, if you want a Pagani, you can choose from a variety of Huyaras such as the standard coupe, the roadster, or the BC (for Benny Caiola, one of Pagani’s earliest customers and a friend of Horacio’s).

Now, regardless of your Huayra of choice, you must remember two things: A) you'll wait a lot and B) you'll pay a lot.
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Back in 2012 when the Huayra was first unveiled, it came with a $1.4 million sticker price but, nearly a decade later, a Huayra Roadster BC will set you back at least $3.7 million. That’s classic Ferrari territory and there’s good reason for it. Those 50-odd people working for Pagani are true craftsmen and their attention to detail is second to none. Each car is crafted to perfection and stuff like the exposed gear linkage really set Paganis apart from a Ferrari or a Lambo.

I’ve begun this first bit of the article by stating that Pagani’s models lack the aura that a maker gets by conquering the world of motor racing. Having said that, Pagani’s customers don’t seem to be bothered by it and, while, for instance, the Zonda F was named after famed Argentine World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio, Horacio Pagani doesn’t seem to be the least bit interested to prove his cars’ prowess on the track. So why is that?

The occasional track-only version hints at what could be done

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Ferrari’s effectively built its reputation on a foundation hardened by countless trophies. With 16 Constructors’ Titles and 15 Drivers’ TItles in the F1 World Champion, and no less than nine outright wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Prancing Horse embodies sporting brilliance and many of those who buy into the Ferrari buzz do so also because of what Ferrari’s been doing on the race tracks of the world since the ’50s. Porsche too is all too keen to prove its cars’ worth on the race track and has thus become the brand with the most wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans - a whopping 19 between 1971 and 2017.

Pagani, on the other hand, has never won Le Mans. Nor has it contested and F1 Grand Prix.

As mentioned, Pagani himself doesn’t seem to entertain the idea of ever backing a factory-run motorsport program. Sure, his personal office in Modena is packed with replica helmets (including those of Hamilton and Senna) as well as a large-scale rendition of Steve McQueen’s Gulf-liveried Porsche 917, but the cars that Pagani cars are almost always street-bound. I say ’almost’ because there’s an exception. Well, in fact, there are a handful and the latest exception was unveiled a few weeks ago in the form of the Huayra R.

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As the final letter suggests, the Huayra R is meant to race. Sadly, it won’t race against other cars of similar might as, more often than not, the car’s only rival will be time itself. Wider than the already pancake-wide Huayra and that much more insane, the R’s aesthetics remind you of the edges of an F117A Nighthawk. That’s what the Huayra R is. A stealth fighter with a huge wing towering over the gargantuan rear deck that conceals, as ever, an AMG-sourced V-12.

The engine isn’t a modified version of the twin-turbo V-12 powering the ’pedestrian’ Huayra either, Pagani instead deciding to go all-in with a bespoke, N/A, 6.0-liter V-12 built by HWA that’s good for 850 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque. You probably know all of these figures by now but I can’t help not listing them here once more. So, how fast can it go? In spite of the active aero that can develop as much as 2,205 pounds of downforce, this thing is apparently capable of going 240 mph while 0-60 mph takes barely three seconds. The dry weight sits pretty at 2,315 pounds. If you want those carbon-clad 2,315 pounds to be yours you must pay about $3.1 million but you’re probably late to the party anyway as Pagani only plans to build 30 Rs.

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The company would surely find more buyers for the R if it wanted to - given the buzz created by the previous R - but the name of the game at Pagani is exclusivity. After all, it only sold 40 cars in 2017 and that was a record-breaking year for the company.

The ’other’ R is, of course, 2009’s Zonda R, that Nurburgring-bending carbon-black beauty of which only 15 copies were ever made. With 740 horsepower and 524 pound-feet of twist at its disposal (from a Merc CLK-GTR-derived powerplant), the Zonda R is less powerful and less torquey than the Huayra R while also being slightly heavier. And it’s also a tad bit slower with the official top speed being 233 mph.

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The Zonda Revolucion came in 2013 to make the R look tame. 800 ponies and an F1-inspired DRS system helped the Revolucion be as disruptive as the name suggested and Pagani stopped making them after selling five units. The Revolucion also bettered The R’s ’Ring record, delving below the R’s 6:47 benchmark by an impressive 17 seconds.

Both the Zonda R and the Revolucion were pre-dated by Pagani’s first track-only model, the one-of-a-kind Zonda C12S Monza. Named after Italy’s Pantheon of Speed, this Zonda was heavily based upon the only Pagani to actually go racing, the Zonda GR which I’ll spill more virtual ink over in a bit. So, why does the Monza exist? Simply put, because one wealthy American collector wanted it to exist and commissioned Pagani to build it.

2009 Pagani Zonda Cinque Exterior
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At the time of its introduction, at the 2004 Paris Auto Show, it stood head-and-shoulders above all other Zondas as the most expensive of the lot. Its 600-horsepower, 7.3-liter AMG V-12 engine featured new ceramic headers and the huge adjustable rear wing made its true calling all the more obvious. Adjustable shocks and dampers were also in place as well as gorgeous Speedline center-lock wheels. Happily, the car has survived to this day but the car it shares its DNA with is perhaps the reason behind Pagani’s lack of racing ambitions - even Koenigsegg showed a clear desire to go racing over the years.

Are past failures haunting Pagani?

Finally, we reach the car that started it all and also ended it all for Pagani when it comes to racing. The Zonda GR. Like the Zonda R or the Revolucion, the GR could only be driven on a race track but, unlike its more modern brothers, it was painfully and agonizingly slow. So slow, in fact, that it couldn’t qualify for the 2004 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was also cruelly unreliable with both of its outings ending in early retirements.

"Just two weeks before the ALMS racing, Carsport Modena debuted their fascinating new GTS project - the Pagani Zonda GR," read a press release issued by Carsport Modena on May 1st, 2003. Touting the new car as having "the character of a single-seater," the Italian/American/Belgian outfit planned to do the entire American Le Mans Series season that year with drivers Ricardo Gonzales and Jean-Phillipe Belloc before building customer cars from 2004 onwards in a way that would see Carsport "fulfill the same role as the (Oreca-built) Vipers have played over the past years." Lofty ideals? To say the least...

Carsport Modena was established by Tom Weickardt (boss of Carsport America), Paul Kumpen, and Toine Hezemans (who, together, were involved with Carsport Holland) with the aim of getting the Zonda project underway. Once Horacio Pagani himself was onboard - in as much as he gave his blessing not his cash - Hezemans sought the help of Mercedes-AMG, Pagani’s engine suppliers. The former race driver’s connections within Mercedes helped get an initial agreement out of the Germans that they would supply him with some unused M120S LS600 engines, the same kind of engine as that used in the FIA GT-winning CLK-GTR of 1997.

However, at some point, the deal fell through and Hezemans was effectively forced to use the next-best alternative, namely the 6.0-liter M120 V-12 powering the LS600. Handed over to German engine tuner Breuer for modifications, the engines turned out 580 horsepower which was a while away from what the CLK-GT mills would offer but would suffice.

Pagani Zonda GR

With the engine issues sorted, Hezemans turned to the car’s body in search of more over-body downforce. Increasing the car’s surface was the answer and thus Toine tried out a long-tail setup but the longer overhangs never made it onto the car as Horacio threatened he’d quit the project unless the car’s general design remains untouched. He did allow, however, for the four-pipe exhaust system to be swapped in favor of a two-pipe setup.

Also problematic was the car’s weight. it appears that Pagani had advertised the C12S’ dry weight as being 2,700 pounds which had Hezemans believe he could end up with a 2,200-pound race car. Instead, following the obligatory weigh-in, the finished GR chassis #01 tipped the scales at a frustrating 2,535 pounds. Hezemans was then appalled to find out, upon weighing a street-legal Zonda, that the car actually tipped the scales at 3,031 pounds.

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Regardless of the unwanted heft, the completed car first completed a shakedown at Adria although there are also reports of it testing at Misano. During this particular test, the car apparently spewed its engine out as a result of a broken hydraulic timing chain tensioner. With a broken engine on the bench, team Carsport went out looking for answers and found them in the shape of sprockets that Mercedes had installed in place of the typical road car-derived timing chain on the CLK-GTR. Carsport’s pockets weren’t deep enough to cover the design of bespoke sprockets for the LS600 engine and that meant the car arrived at Sebring with its Achille’s Heel in full view.

Mexican Gonzalez actually made it into Florida and was partnered by the sons of two of the co-owners, Mike Hezemans and Anthony Kumpen. The trio would’ve been fast in just about any other GTS car but, try as they might, the Zonda refused to go quicker than a badly prepped Porsche 911 GT3-RS that was running in the inferior GT category. In other words, the GR was six seconds off the GTS class pole and three seconds slower than Carsport’s Viper which was entered as a way to benchmark the Pagani.

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Come race day, the team was tense but, soon enough, the cred had ample opportunity to relax as the engine called quits after just six sluggish laps. Relaxation wasn’t on the team’s mind since the Le Mans Test Day was merely two months away and the team needed every minute of every day to improve the Zonda. While the car was indeed in better shape at the official test prior to the 24-hour race, it still wasn’t fast. Clocking in the 36th fastest lap time, the Carsport-entered machine barely scraped through to feature in June’s showdown. Then, in qualifying for the race, Hezemans was a whole 11 seconds slower than the class polesitter, a Prodrive-built Ferrari 550 GTS.

As if that wasn’t enough, the practice sessions claimed another LS600 engine meaning the team resorted to a bone-stock 400-horsepower unit they had on-site for spares. Amazingly, that engine gave away as well during a shakedown run meaning that the team had to fix one of its broken race engines before pushing the car onto the grid. Mercifully, the ordeal ended after 10 race laps but it wasn’t the engine that disintegrated. Instead, the sequential gearbox had cried enough.

Following yet another embarrassing showcase, the car made one more appearance in the colors of Carsport Modena: at the Spa 24 Hours test day. There, running on all 12 cylinders, Hezemans wrung the neck of the car to produce a top-3 performance that came seemingly out of the blue. Sadly, it was too little to late and the car never featured in any FIA GT race although it did re-emerge at the Le Mans Test Day in 2004. By then, the car had been leased to Phillipe Alliot’s Force One Festina team that, for some arcane reason, decided against running its tried and tested Viper.

Their courage was ’repaid’ with a DNQ as the car never made the cut qualifying in 41st overall and above the 107% margin. Returning in the hands of Hezemans, the car was refined some more and, fitted with an X-Trac transmission, it was trucked over to Vallelunga for some more testing. Sadly, it was there that Kumpen binned it which prompted Toine to finally sell it. Antonin Herbeck, a Czech media mogul subsequently tried to race it in FIA GT between 2007 and 2008 but never made it onto the grid of a race.

Dismayed, Herbeck decided to modify the car comprehensively to make it competitive in the DMV GTC and the FIA CEZ (FIA’s Central-European championship for touring cars, GTs, and everything in between). A new bodywork took shape over the course of many seasons and the car could be seen racing as recently as 2018. Herbeck still owns the car to this day and Hezemans is happy he got rid of it. "All we got was misery and it cost a fortune. I lost 1.5 years of my life. I’ve spent nights awake in bed worrying about it."

Perhaps Horacio worried too that another foray into GT racing would see the Pagani name forever tainted?

Michael Fira
Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert - fira@topspeed.com
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read full bio
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