McLAREN SENNA

Strap your­self in for six in­tense, brain­scram­bling laps of Sil­ver­stone in a pro­duc­tion-spec pro­to­type of McLaren’s ul­ti­mate road-le­gal track car

Evo India - - CONTENTS -

THE FIRST SE­RI­OUS MO­TOR RACE I went to at Sil­ver­stone, ‘our’ track when grow­ing up, was the then WEC equiv­a­lent World Sportscar Cham­pi­onship round of 1988. The era of Group C. Big cars, He-Man aero, even big­ger power. Given I was a car-mad young­ster, my life was never the same again af­ter that day.

To­day, as the McLaren Senna’s but­ter­fly door clicks shut above my head, and the thud of the V8’s bari­tone ex­haust blare in­stantly switches to a deep hum down the ear canals and a tin­gle in the back, that bit­terly cold spring day in 1988 flashes across my mind: here I am, in a brutish, mid-en­gined ma­chine, wrap­around screen and pared-back pod of a cock­pit, 789bhp un­der my right foot, be­spoke Tro­feo R tyres that, in spite of tread, must surely give a 30-year-old de­sign of slick a run for its money, and an al­most weight­less car­bon rear wing to ri­val the one on an AEG-spon­sored Sauber-Mercedes C9. Gulp.

You’ve prob­a­bly al­ready read plenty about the Senna – McLaren’s ul­ti­mate road-le­gal track car. Like most of us, you may have gasped, per­haps in hor­ror, at the ini­tial pic­tures, and shared a col­lec­tive scep­ti­cism when those who had seen the car in the car­bon seemed in­fat­u­ated by it. I am of that camp: be­mused on first ac­quain­tance, but be­sot­ted hav­ing walked around it, un­der­stood the crazy shapes, and felt its pres­ence. The Senna has stel­lar pres­ence, just like its name­sake had when he walked into a room.

We’re at Sil­ver­stone – the In­ter­na­tional cir­cuit to be pre­cise – to have a first ‘go’ in the Senna. This is not the main launch event, sim­ply half a dozen laps in the car, but there are no cone chi­canes, and while I have WEC GTE pro Euan Hankey sit­ting be­side me, he’s there to ad­vise, not to limit rev us­age or top speed.

Hav­ing sus­pended my­self in mid-air across the sill and then fallen with as much grace as I can muster into the 8kg moulded car­bon­fi­bre seat – with cush­ioned pads in strate­gic places – I’m clamped in place, no­tably across the shoul­ders, and I clip in the four-point har­ness

that the McLaren tech then pulls tight over the HANS de­vice.

We’re in Race mode, with ESP off but some of the Senna’s trac­tion-en­hanc­ing soft­ware on. I click in first gear with the smooth, en­gi­neered ac­tion of the right-hand pad­dle and brush the throt­tle to ten­ta­tively edge us away from the pit garage.

You don’t faff about when driv­ing the Senna. Hankey has al­ready briefed me about the brakes; that they don’t re­spond to be­ing fi­nessed – they’re about mus­cle power, con­fi­dence and, to some ex­tent, ag­gres­sion. The idea be­hind the Senna is that it, and you, are to­tally fo­cused on the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. This it achieves be­cause there re­ally isn’t much to look at in­side, and more than that, there isn’t time to look around, nor to ad­mire the scenery. As I squeeze the throt­tle to the stop in third gear the car sucks the road’s sur­face to­wards us and Vil­lage corner im­me­di­ately beck­ons. Yep, that brake pedal is solid, but won­der­fully re­as­sur­ing at the same time, as if wilt and in­ad­e­quacy are ab­hor­rent.

Across the Link sec­tion, feel the car go light over the awk­ward bump and the rears get slightly ag­i­tated. Now guide the nose early into the right-han­der, let­ting it then run wide as there’s room on the exit. Time, then, to un­leash the full straight-line fury of the Senna. There is no pause, it’s al­ready in the zone, and an­gry – an­grier than vir­tu­ally any in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine I can re­call. I’m op­er­at­ing en­tirely by feel and sound: sens­ing the en­gine in­creas­ing in rev­o­lu­tions by the shift in har­mon­ics, how at a cer­tain rpm the V8 in­duces a fizzy twitch in my spinal cord, how the dor­sal in­take re­ally sucks and screams as the red line ap­proaches. Colours

The Senna digs into the asphalt like it has drilled down to the hard core and moored it­self on gi­ant chains

flash in my lower pe­riph­eral vi­sion, which I take to mean ‘change up now, you fool’. I reg­is­ter a glimpse of 8000rpm, I think, pos­si­bly, and so it goes on, each gear tak­ing less than you’re re­quir­ing to read a line of this story, the Han­gar Straight a bit­stream of grey and green. And Stowe is ap­proach­ing.

Ah Stowe. A hero’s corner. Mansell’s corner. I don’t know how quickly we’re trav­el­ling, but fifth gear, that must be re­ally fast, right? Re­sist­ing every last urge to brake, I leave it un­til what seems lu­di­crously late and then stamp on that left pedal. What fol­lows is what sep­a­rates the Senna from any other road car I’ve driven. The Senna just stops; digs into the asphalt like it’s drilled down to the hard core be­neath that old RAF run­way and moored it­self on gi­ant iron chains.

I was too early. Far too early. Never mind. Guide the nose into Stowe. Don’t apex too early. Those at­tributes that we look for in a road car – the re­sponse, weight­ing and ac­cu­racy of the steer­ing, the sense of bal­ance to the chas­sis – all seem spot-on. I don’t once

ques­tion their authen­tic­ity. It’s an­other big stop for Club Corner, where a trail­ing-in on the brakes re­veals a won­der­fully pre­dictable sense of ro­ta­tion, then out past the Wing building and the fin­ish­ing line.

The Abbey to Farm Curve com­plex high­lights the Senna’s other key at­tribute: aero – all 800kg of the stuff at 250kmph. Dam­mit, with each lap I try to leave the gas on more, just breath­ing on the brakes and turn­ing in ear­lier, even when that seems like a ticket to un­der­steer obliv­ion, only to hear Hankey’s en­cour­age­ment to push harder still on the en­try. It’s the same at Stowe, which my left shoul­der can at­test to as it’s crushed re­peat­edly against the seat.

I’m leav­ing the brak­ing that bit later, squeez­ing that cor­ner­ing speed a bit higher. I know I’m nowhere near the limit yet, but oh man does it feel fast. Yet there’s some­thing else: by the last lap I am get­ting tired. Or more specif­i­cally, the Mk1 eight-bit de­vice atop my shoul­ders is start­ing, just slightly, to lose its grip. A missed apex here, an in­cor­rect gear choice there. I am glad to pit – I need to di­gest ev­ery­thing, ru­mi­nate, then head out again. If only.

Yes, the Senna is mind-fry­ingly quick, but it’s the brak­ing and cor­ner­ing speed that as­tound. That, and the in­ten­sity of the ex­pe­ri­ence. This val­i­da­tion pro­to­type – VP736 – is ‘cur­rently what we think will be pro­duc­tion spec’. We’ll drive the fin­ished ar­ti­cle this sum­mer. I may have just about calmed down by then.

Adam Towler

(@AdamTowler)

The Senna is mind­fry­ingly quick, but it’s the brak­ing and cor­ner­ing speed that as­tound

Above: evo’s Towler is briefed by Hankey be­fore head­ing out. Be­low and right: The Senna has the mea­sure of F1-grade cir­cuits such as Sil­ver­stone, yet it can be legally driven on the road, too

Above: Di­he­dral doors add much in the way of drama. And prac­ti­cal­ity. Left: Mas­sive rear wing con­trib­utes to gen­er­at­ing an equally mas­sive 800kg of down­force at 250kmph

Left: Brakes re­quire mus­cle, con­fi­dence and ag­gres­sion, not fi­nesse

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