Lamborghini CEO Winkelmann on brand’s U.S. investment in sports cars, LMDh future

Lamborghini CEO Winkelmann LMDh
Automobili Lamborghini

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.

Automobili Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann, whose brand races GTD Pro and GTD in IMSA but has been linked with LMDh, waved the green flag on the start of the 60th Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“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.”

Automobili Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann, whose company has been linked to LMDh, stands on the Rolex 24 grid with the No. 63 TR3 Racing Huracan GT3 (Automobili Lamborghini).

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?

Winkelmann: “Soon.”

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.”

Alexander Rossi ‘fits like a glove’ with his new IndyCar teammates at Arrow McLaren Racing

Alexander Rossi McLaren
Nate Ryan

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – There are more than three dozen fresh faces on the Arrow McLaren Racing IndyCar team, but there was one that Felix Rosenqvist was particularly keen to know – Alexander Rossi.

The driver of the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet is the most high-profile new hire for McLaren, which has expanded to a third car to pair with the No. 6 of Rosenqvist and No. 5 of Pato O’Ward.

And there is another layer than Rossi just being the new kid. McLaren marks only his second team in NTT IndyCar Series after seven seasons at Andretti Autosport, where he began with a victory in the 2016 Indy 500 and was a championship contender for several seasons.

Rossi is a mercurial talent, and when things go wrong, the red mist quickly descends (and sometimes has led to feuds with teammates). He went winless during two of his final seasons at Andretti and was out of contention more often than not, often bringing out the prickly side of his personality.

Yet there has been no trace of the dour Rossi since joining McLaren. The pragmatic Californian is quick to remind everyone he hasn’t worked with the team yet at a track (much less been in its car), and there surely will be times he gets frustrated.

But it’s clear that Rossi, who made five Formula One starts in 2015 after several years racing in Europe, already is meshing well with an organization whose England-based parent company has deep roots in F1.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Rosenqvist said Tuesday during IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in IndyCar. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, he’s been super nice, super kind. He fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah, good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

There are many reasons why Rossi’s transition from Andretti to McLaren should be smoother than his abrupt move from F1 to IndyCar seven years ago. Namely, he no longer is the only newcomer to the team’s culture.

“It’s been kind of a good time to come in because everyone is finding a new role and position and kind of learning who’s who, finding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

But while Rossi might have questions about the team, he has none about the series. Unlike when he arrived at Andretti without any oval experience, Rossi joins McLaren with his IndyCar credentials secured as an established star with eight victories, seven poles and 28 podiums over 114 starts.

Even in his swan song with Andretti, Rossi still managed a farewell victory last July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that snapped a 49-race, three-year winless drought. It seems reasonable to believe he immediately could re-emerge in his 2017-19 title contender form.

“I know the series, and I know kind of everything that goes into American open-wheel racing vs. the European open-wheel racing, which is really the biggest transition,” Rossi said. “Certainly it’s the largest kind of team switch. I’ve obviously driven for different teams in the past in Europe, in sports cars, whatever, but never really in my full-time job. I’ve driven for the same organization for a very long time and have a lot of respect and fabulous memories with those people.

“So it has been a big kind of shift, trying to compare and contrast areas that I can bring kind of recommendations and experience to maybe help fill the gaps that exist at Arrow McLaren. Again, all of this is in theory, right? I don’t really know anything. We’ll have a much better idea and plan going into St. Pete (the March 5 season opener).”

He has gotten a good handle on how things work at its Indianapolis headquarters, though, and has been pleased by the leadership of new racing director Gavin Ward (who worked in F1 before a championship stint with Josef Newgarden at Team Penske). McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown also seems omnipresent on both sides of the Atlantic, making appearances at IndyCar races seemingly as much as in the F1 paddock.

“I think what’s very cool about Arrow McLaren is we do have the resources of the McLaren F1 team,” Rossi said. “They very much are being integrated in a lot of respects. It’s not two separate entities. McLaren Racing is one organization that has its people and resources and intellect in kind of everything. It’s been pretty cool to see how that can be an advantage to us in terms of people, resources, simulations, software, kind of everything. We’ve been able to kind of rely on that and use that as a tool that maybe other teams certainly don’t have.”

That will be helpful for Rossi with the methodologies and nuances of racing a Chevrolet for the first time after seven seasons with Honda.

And of course, there will be the relationship with O’Ward, who has been McLaren’s alpha star since 2020.

Rossi was in a similar role for Andretti, which raises questions about how McLaren will handle having two stars accustomed to being the face of the team. But O’Ward said IndyCar regulations should allow each driver to maintain their own style without being forced to adapt as in other series.

“At the end of the day, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want,” O’Ward said. “Rather than in Formula 1, (it’s) ‘This is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car.’ In IndyCar, it’s very different where you can customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us.”

Though Thursday at The Thermal Club will mark the first time the trio works together at a track, Rosenqvist said he’s hung out a lot with Rossi (both are 31 years old) and deems his new teammate “well-integrated” in the simulator.

“I think the fit has been good with him, me and Pato,” Rosenqvist said. “On a trackside perspective, it’s obviously huge to have always a third opinion on things. Every driver’s opinion is valuable in its own way.”

Said O’Ward, 23: “It’s been great. (Rossi has) been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

Ever the realist, though, Rossi still is tempering some of his enthusiasm.

“Again, we haven’t really done anything yet other than some meetings and some team activities together,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done in IndyCar and also their prior careers. I think that we all bring something a little bit different to the table, which I think is really unique in terms of not only personalities but driving styles and experience levels.

“I think we have the ingredients to really be able to develop the team and continue to push the team forward to even a better level than what they’ve shown in the past. It’s been a really positive experience. Really I have nothing at all negative to say and can’t actually wait to get to work, get on track and start working together.”