A frozen lake and several Lamborghinis provide lessons on traction control

A frozen lake and several Lamborghinis provide lessons on traction control

Enlarge / You can learn a lot about traction when there’s very little of it around.

Michael Teo Van Runkle

From the passenger seat of my Lamborghini Huracán Sterrato, 24 Hours of Daytona winner Corey Lewis gives me a “slow down” hand gesture, urging me to avoid an Urus high-centered on a snow bank. I resist the childish impulse to blast by at full throttle and spray the recovery crew with a fresh layer of snow because I don’t want to be the next driver to cause a scene. Once we pass the group, I punch it again, countersteering into a wide drift as my studded Blizzak winter tires shred through snow and ice, exhaust wide open and barking at redline, cranking through a series of left-right-left transitions until we come back around to the stuck SUV.

Lewis and I both laugh—everybody spins at least once while ice-drifting Lamborghinis on Lake Catchima north of Montreal, which played host in February to North America’s Esperienza Neve winter driving academy. This year, Lamborghini invited customers out to tear up the pristine Canadian winterscape in three Sterratos, four Uruses, and two rear-wheel-drive Huracán Tecnicas—all told, about $3 million worth of cars.

Drifting in six-figure Lambos might make anyone a little nervous. In the controlled environment of a 30-inch (762 mm)-thick ice sheet, though, the consequences are minimal (there are bruised egos whenever anybody loses control and needs a tow, of course). So much power on the slip-and-slide immediately exposes driver skill—or lack thereof—despite 400 studs per tire on the Huracáns and 300 per tire on the Uruses providing grip and confidence. Even for a driver as experienced as Lewis, ice-drifting still has its value. For the mere mortals among us, all the more so.

Lamborghini's ice-driving school uses a variety of the brand's machines.
Enlarge / Lamborghini’s ice-driving school uses a variety of the brand’s machines.

Michael Teo Van Runkle

“In the real world, normally, you don’t have the opportunity to kind of test the limits of what understeer and oversteer actually feel like,” Lewis explained as we took a break on the frozen lake. “It makes you just an all-around more controlled driver on the street, whether it’s mixed conditions, highway driving, backroads, or emergency avoidance. I truly believe that events like these are a huge help for people. Plus, it’s fun, too.”

I traveled to Lake Catchima hoping to get in on the fun, but I also hoped to learn more about how modern driver’s aids make the current crop of unbelievably powerful supercars approachable for “average” owners. So, for my first round on a coned-off figure-eight, I fiddled with the various drive modes on an Urus Performante.

With TC and ESC fully activated, the super-SUV happily cruises around at tamer speeds. Start to turn the steering wheel, however, and the nannies rein in power to prevent tire spin and slides—safety first, presumably to help drivers avoid ditches and berms while shuttling the family up to Zermatt or Aspen.

Michael Teo Van Runkle

Switching into Rally mode and toggling ESC off entirely allowed me to modulate steering and throttle inputs without the computers stepping in to prevent slides. And the 4,740-lb (2150 kg) SUV performed admirably, hooking up the front tires in opposite lock but also shifting weight around predictably when I lifted off the throttle. The sensations changed up entirely in the Sterrato, thanks to the unique power and balance made possible by the naturally aspirated, mid-mounted V10.

When I switched to a rear-wheel-drive Tecnica, I could only manage a few circles before spinning out—thankfully, I never needed help to get back underway. It was another lesson learned, though, about progressive and steady inputs eventually leading to smoother donuts.

The biggest surprise? Even in the disadvantaged Tecnica, driving on snow with TC and ESC turned on remained entirely possible without too much tail-happy squirrelliness. Sure, the tire studs helped, but remember, this is a 640-hp (477 kW) supercar. To learn more about how exactly traction control and electronic stability control allowed the entire supercar industry to turn up the wick without regularly risking lives and limbs, I spoke with Lamborghini CTO Rouven Mohr about the evolution of the very nannies that so many automotive reviews regularly bemoan.

“For our product range, we can for sure say the Urus is the most used of our cars to go on a winter holiday or to go skiing,” Mohr said. “But from the development perspective, every car in our product range is running the full set of winter test sessions. This means at least two winters, so we start one winter with the basic calibration and then we have the confirmation with the second winter.”

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