DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – In Suite 253 above the Daytona International Speedway grandstands, Automobili Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann smiled broadly as five GT3s carrying his company’s brand buzzed around the road course below.
Winkelmann had waved the green flag on the 60th Rolex 24 at Daytona two hours earlier. But the spectacle of watching the endurance race unfold in a stadium-style environment was appealing to a self-described race fan accustomed to watching 24-hour races in Europe on the natural terrain courses such as Spa or Le Mans.
“This is equally important, but if it’s a very different atmosphere,” Winkelmann told NBC Sports in an interview last Saturday afternoon at Daytona. “You have here a closed track with an infield and where, from the central stand, you can see the entire race. This in my opinion is an incredible advantage. And that you can live in the center of the infield, this is something for me which is incredible.
“The track is pretty short so you have a lot of traffic and you have always something going on. Usually the other tracks, you have one spot, and if you’re not (watching) on video, you see one car, one car, one car and never have an idea of what is really going on. Here, this is spectacular.”
Though the Rolex 24 results weren’t quite what he wanted (the No. 61 Huracan GT3 was the highest-finishing Lamborghini in 34th overall), the Rolex 24 still could be considered a success given the opportunity to compete on and off the track against the same sports cars that Winkelmann is trying to beat in the showroom.
Aside from the suite hospitality, Lamborghini also had signage, tents and a marketing presence throughout Daytona while bringing customers and dealers to the Rolex 24.
“We’re all competitive and being in a brand like this, you have to be competitive,” Winkelmann said. “For the brand, for the U.S., this is a very important event. This is what it’s all about. To show you’re the best amongst fierce competition. This is what we like.”
With the support of Winkelmann, Lamborghini has been more aggressive about supporting its U.S. efforts in motorsports, especially sports cars. The company recently signed an extension through 2026 of the Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America series. The IMSA-sanctioned circuit will open its 10th season this spring at Laguna Seca Raceway, which Winkelmann views as a key to Lamborghini’s charge into sports car racing in America.
“I was, over a decade ago, one of the biggest pushers to re-enter into the motorsports business,” he said. “First with Super Trofeo, then with the GT, then going worldwide with all these activities. I think the success and visibility is quite important for us and working out pretty well.”
There also have been reports of Lamborghini entering a new LMDh car in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Series’ premier overall category (which is being rebranded GTP for 2023.
Though Lamborghini CEO Stefan Winkelmann wasn’t ready to confirm any LMDh news, he addressed it among many topics during the interview with NBC Sports:
Q: You obviously have spent a lot on marketing activation at Daytona. How do you measure if racing is worthy of the investment that Lamborghini is making?
Winkelmann: “We are very cautious, being a small brand, with investments, so we take this very seriously. So we think more than twice before we start something. We want to have a long-term engagement in the things we do. We are always cautious about the beginnings because we are never expecting too much. But we want to evolve year to year and this is very important for us because we cannot allow ourselves being such a small brand just to participate or just to be there or just to pay a lot of money and not be doing anything. It’s a very important engagement.
“It’s very difficult to say, ‘Race on Sunday, sell on Monday.’ This would be nice if it would be so easy. But I get a lot of feedback. I see that immense passion of our customers coming to see it also with our dealers. This is a clear sign this is working out.
Q: Why is it no longer as much about ‘Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday’?
Winkelmann: “It’s more difficult to measure because we have a constant growth in sales, so this is going hand in hand with image of the brand, the awareness of the brand, the activities you do. Out of the potpourri of activities, motorsports is a very important pillar. It’s like bringing the people to the factory Having a touch and feel of what Lamborghini is all about in the factory, the museum and with the atmosphere. Doing events. Driving a car. All this sums up.
“These are different pillars which are equally important to sell a car because when you buy a Lamborghini, we say you’re buying into a world where the car is the entry ticket. You get something which money can’t buy. You hang out with people who think alike, which have the same interests. This is something which is more and more important in the future. You’re buying into a club.”
Q: There have been rumblings about Lamborghini moving into racing an LMDh prototype in the future. Any updates on that front?
Winkelmann: “As I said, we tend to think a lot about the things that we want to do next. For sure, LMDh is an interesting project.
Q: What interests you about it?
Winkelmann: “We will see. We will see. We are working out the ideas.”
Q: Is there a timeframe for when you’d decide?
Q: IMSA already has LMDh commitments from Porsche and Audi, which also are under the same Volkswagen umbrella as Lamborghini. Does that impact you?
Winkelmann: “No, no. This is for us. We look into the overall motorsports world and then we decide whether things are working out for us, if it’s good enough or if it’s too expensive. But we are autonomous in deciding.”
Q: When you look at hybridization and electrification, how you think it’s driving manufacturer interest in motorsports?
Winkelmann: “Electrification is one thing. Hybridization is something different. Because Formula E was for a long time high in expectations and now it’s a bit less. So we tend to say we have to do the things the right way with the right partners, and hybridization is a good starting point for motorsport.
“When we speak of full electrification, we speak about Lamborghini also, but we don’t speak about motorsport. It’s something which we look at with the first model, which is coming at the end of this decade. We never thought about Formula E. We always went into a type of racing where you can recognize the car and transfer this image on the road. So the GT cars are the cars you see every day on the road. So this is important for us.”
Q: So it’s most important to have the cars you race be similar to what you sell?
Winkelmann: “This is one of the key decision points we have. Because we have a lot of gentlemen drivers (who) are fans of our brand, which is helping the idea of what we’re doing. It’s here that LMDh is different. (laughs) But we will decide pretty soon.”