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AutoWeek - 12/28/2009

During the second week of December the team at Underground Racing had the privilege of inviting Izod IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal to test his hands on the wheel of a 1,000+ hp Underground Racing built Twin Turbo Gallardo LP560-4. Auto Week writer Mac Morrison and photographer Rick Dole were on call to capture the exciting moment.


VERY BAD THING
Underground Racing 2009 Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4
(This story comes from the 12/28/09 issue of AutoWeek magazine)

Story by: Mac Morrison, Photos by: Rick Dole

The only way to get rid of temptation, Oscar Wilde wrote, is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing.

Just ask Izod IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal, age 21, who was sick during the second week of December--less than 12 hours before we met in Charlotte, N.C., to drive Underground Racing's twin-turbo, 1,000-plus-hp Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4. A middle-of-the-night text message described symptoms in detail (we'll spare you) and appeared to wipe out weeks of planning.

Then we read Rahal's last line: "But I can't miss this!"

Yes, it sounded like a decision born from bacteria-eroded judgment. Yet if any street-legal car could elicit such an irrational response from someone familiar with piloting an earth-bound fighter plane around Indianapolis Motor Speedway, this is the one: 1,000 hp to 1,500 hp, measured at the wheels. Output depends on the package ordered, and prices range from $35,000 to $109,000 (plus the cost of the car itself). Opt for the full "race" conversion, and you get 1,100 lb-ft of torque, 0 to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds, 60 to 130 mph in 3.5 seconds and the quarter-mile in 9.1 seconds at 169 mph. The car recently recorded a standing mile at 241.68 mph (see the run at http://tinyurl.com/y9gxxcc), and Underground says its most extreme tune will top out at 257 mph.

All of this is the work of two polite, quiet, young Southerners and their nine-man staff working in a 5,000-square-foot shop in Charlotte. K. C. Howeth, 28, and his brother Kevin, 36, seem an unlikely duo to modify Italian supercars. The Texas natives were raised on American muscle by a family of stock-car and drag racers.

They moved to Charlotte in 1989, where Kevin began to buy, tune and sell Ford Mustangs while working in the family construction business. The Howeths developed a reputation for supercharging Saleen Mustangs in their spare time before opening a shop in 2003 and expanding their résumé to include turbocharging Dodge Vipers. Eighteen months ago, a customer asked them to modify his Lamborghini, leading to Bugatti Veyron power and performance at a fraction of the price. Their work is a hit in the well-heeled enthusiast community. Lambo business now dominates their original garage, and they will soon take over an additional 6,500-square-foot facility.

Engine overhaul

Underground's "race" Gallardo modification starts with a dyno test of a customer's stock car. From there, technicians remove the V10 and send it to Pro Line Race Engines near Atlanta, where it receives Carrillo billet steel connecting rods and CP aluminum pistons. Pro Line also removes the stock Gallardo's aluminum cylinder linings and bores out the engine slightly to accommodate steel linings while maintaining the direct-injection powerplant's 5.2 liters of displacement.

The engine returns to Charlotte, where Underground installs its own aluminum cylinder heads and custom twin-turbo system, which features TiAL Sport pop-off valves, Precision ball-bearing turbos, an air/water intercooler and a proprietary 3.5-inch stainless-steel exhaust system.

Further modifications include stronger rear driveshafts and reinforced CV joints, a Tilton Engineering triple-disc carbon clutch and flywheel, a GReddy electronic boost controller mounted in the glovebox, a triple-adjustable Penske coil-over suspension, Motech or AEM electronics, a taller final drive ratio to increase top speed and a reworked transmission with new, hardened billet steel gears. From a visual standpoint, the car can ride lower than the factory model if the driver sets the suspension to do so, and the car seen here features striking HRE CF43 two-piece wheels with lightweight carbon-fiber barrels and forged aluminum centers. The rear tires (305/30R-19) are wider than the factory's, while the fronts remain the same (235/35R-19).

The standard Gallardo, with 552 hp and 398 lb-ft of torque, is a world-class sports car, but when K. C. Howeth turns this key and steps on the gas, long-standing ideas about what constitutes "exotic" are sucked into the turbos and jettisoned out the exhaust. Think you know? Better think again.

The V10 fires up with a louder, meaner roar than other Gallardos, though not to an offensive degree. But under wide-open acceleration? The turbos whine loudly like a dentist's drill, and when full boost comes on a tick past 3,000 rpm, the acceleration is so unfathomable that it makes describing it a serious challenge. Raise your hand if you've driven an NHRA dragster. Or a JATO rocket. Or Doc Brown's time machine. No? Neither have we, but it's hard to conceive that the human brain can differentiate between the speed this car generates and that produced by a vehicle that might actually be faster.

No loss of driveability

The engine spools up so quickly and everything happens so fast that there is no time to feel fear. Just make sure the front wheels are pointed straight before really hammering down, because even with all-wheel drive, the car gets a bit squirrelly when shifting up into second, and into third, depending on the road surface. Most stunning, our experience came with the boost dialed down and the car making "only" about 900 hp. That was still far more than enough to recalibrate perceptions of what road cars are capable of.

Perhaps just as impressive, and quite surprising, Underground's creation behaves like a normal, modern supercar under partial throttle, pulling away smoothly from stops and generally cruising around as comfortably as any showroom-new Lamborghini. With boost turned down to 8-15 psi, rather than the 25-30 psi that is possible, and running on pump gas rather than race fuel, many people would not even realize they were seated just inches in front of a street-legal neutron bomb ready to detonate at the press of a pedal. Drivers can use this car exactly as they do their untuned Gallardos and lose nothing in the way of driveability.

Reliability might be another matter, but Underground provides a two-year/24,000-mile warranty--as long as customers use Mobil 1 oil exclusively. Kevin Howeth said he expects his cars to run for 75,000 miles or more, and he pointed out that no one playing in this league has asked Underground the question. They've no doubt been more concerned with ridding themselves of temptation.

Those fortunate souls find out soon enough that Wilde was wrong. Temptation only grows stronger with each stint behind the wheel.

GRAHAM RAHAL: Underground's turbo Gallardo is fast and refined

People ask how a road car, even a very fast one, can excite me, since I drive race cars for a living. I understand the question. A sports car definitely feels very different from an Indy car, which naturally has lots of speed, is much lighter and responds quicker; it will always be faster. But my love of road cars is about having something that gives you an ear-to-ear smile every time you get into it--and that's what Underground Racing's Lamborghini Gallardo did.

When I first saw pictures of the car and turbo kit a year or so ago, I thought it would be incredible. I read Internet posts from Kevin Howeth, and once I saw and heard the car on video, it really caught my eye. It is expensive, but for the price, you can't beat the performance. I had to drive it.

I have a Gallardo Superleggera, and, not to take anything away from the stock Lamborghini, while it's fun, it doesn't have a wow factor in terms of raw speed. This turbo kit takes it to a level that just doesn't compare with any road car I've driven. Ferrari F430 Scuderia and 599, Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, Porsche 911 GT3--nothing matches 1,000 hp at the wheels.

I finally saw the car in person on the Mobil 1 stand at this year's SEMA show in Las Vegas, and when the opportunity arose with AutoWeek to do a story on the car, I couldn't resist. However, as Mac said, the night before our drive, I returned to Indianapolis from an Izod advertising shoot in Panama, where I picked up an E. coli infection. I was in bad shape. But I was more excited to drive this car than I've been to test anything else. No way I was going to cancel, and when I finally drove, I knew it was worth it.

I was so impressed. Underground turned down the power since we were on public streets and the temperature was only about 50 degrees, but this Gallardo was still incredibly fast. Every time I stood on the throttle, I said, “Wow, this thing is amazing!”

The driveability impressed me a lot. Sure, the speed is unreal, but equally noteworthy is that the car feels unmodified under normal conditions. I've driven a lot of “tuned” cars but never anything that was so refined. And the minute you stomp the throttle, it's just...gone. Very cool.

Beyond the performance, the car looks great, and the turbo work is really something to see--the finish of the piping, the quality welding, it's beautiful. You want to drive with the rear bumper off so you can see the turbo plumbing at all times. A Lamborghini is a work of art, and this just makes it better.

My smile? It's still there. This is the coolest, most enjoyable performance road car I have ever driven and about as close as most will ever get to Indy-car speed. There is no way Underground's Gallardo won't get your adrenaline pumping, no matter what you do for a living.

Article Link: http://www.autoweek.com/article/20100104/CARREVIEWS/100109992