WHIRL­WIND RISE

McLaren

Prestige Indonesia - - Contents -

SPOILER ALERT. WE’RE seated in a makeshift the­atrette in an old Ge­or­gian manor in West Sus­sex, roughly 12km from the famed Good­wood House and Good­wood Mo­tor Cir­cuit, pop­corn and beers in hand, es­sen­tially feel­ing fes­tive. “I think you’ll en­joy the movie. But I have to warn you, the lead char­ac­ter meets with an un­timely end,” says our host with a wry smile. Thanks. The name of the film was a dead give­away any­way. Pro­duced by Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures and di­rected by Roger Don­ald­son — the man be­hind Cock­tail, the Tom Cruise hit from 1988 — McLaren (2017) is more doc­u­men­tary than movie, trac­ing the whirl­wind rise of Bruce McLaren, one of only two men ever to win a For­mula 1 Grand Prix in a rac­ing car bear­ing his name. A gifted driver and engi­neer, the New Zealan­der was 32 when he fa­tally crashed at 290km/h on the La­vant Straight at Good­wood, in June 1970, dur­ing a test run of his CanAm M8D (nick­named Bat­mo­bile for its low mounted rear wing).

Most of us know the McLaren story. But this is the first we are watch­ing home video footage of nine-year-old Bruce im­mo­bilised in a stretcher as treat­ment for a hip dis­or­der, Perthes’ Dis­ease. Un­able to pur­sue his dream of play­ing rugby with the All Blacks, even af­ter the braces came off, he in­stead re­stored an old red Austin Ul­ster, got it race-ready, and in it, set the fastest time in the 750cc class at the Muri­wai Beach hill climb in Auck­land. He was only 15. Later, at 22 years and 104 days, he be­came the youngest-ever Grand Prix win­ner at Se­bring in Florida, a record that stood for over 40 years, un­til Fer­nando Alonso turned in his first win in 2003.

The film isn’t quite Palme d’Or ma­te­rial but it is en­gross­ing, what with in­ter­views with Bruce’s widow Patty and his friends in mo­tor­sports, a few of whom passed on be­tween the mak­ing of the film and its re­lease. McLaren, es­pe­cially its road car di­vi­sion McLaren Au­to­mo­tive, is clearly in­tent on giv­ing us the full brand ex­pe­ri­ence.

As it is, ear­lier in the day we al­ready toured the Sir Nor­man Foster-de­signed McLaren Tech­nol­ogy Cen­tre in Wok­ing, the stun­ning all-white fa­cil­ity flanked by a serene ar­ti­fi­cial lake with Bruce’s daugh­ter Amanda and her hus­band; and took an ex­pe­di­tious

2-hour drive through nar­row coun­try lanes in a fleet of pulse-ac­cel­er­at­ing 720S, the su­per­car con­ceived to van­quish ri­vals.

While McLaren Rac­ing Limited, aka the For­mula 1 con­struc­tor com­pet­ing as McLaren Honda, was founded just out­side Lon­don in Bruce’s Grand Prix hey­day dur­ing the 1960s, the road car pro­duc­tion arm was of­fi­cially in­cor­po­rated only in 2010, four decades af­ter his death. But what McLaren Au­to­mo­tive may lack in age (com­par­a­tively, Fer­rari cel­e­brates its 70th an­niver­sary this year, while As­ton Martin has had cameos in

James Bond movies since 1964), it makes up for with in­no­va­tive break­throughs, a de­sire to el­e­vate the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and judg­ing from to­day, a sprin­kling of star­dust.

And McLaren Au­to­mo­tive has been prof­itable.

Tak­ing over the ground floor of the Earl of March coun­try house on the first morn­ing of this year’s Good­wood Fes­ti­val of Speed — held an­nu­ally on the Earl’s front lawn — the com­pany an­nounced it had raced to its fourth con­sec­u­tive year of prof­itabil­ity thanks to a record 3,286 cars sold in 2016. The 720S, with a 341-km/h top speed and twin-hinged di­he­dral doors that sweep for­wards and up, that we drove over from Wok­ing? Al­ready sold out for the year with 1,500 or­ders taken. It was launched only in March at the Geneva In­ter­na­tional Mo­tor Show.

Good thing then that a new 570S Spi­der con­vert­ible was de­buted at Good­wood min­utes af­ter the fi­nan­cial an­nounce­ment. Jolyon Nash, head of global sales and mar­ket­ing and a self­pro­fessed petrol­head, de­scribes it as “the best Sports Se­ries car we’ve got — it’s fan­tas­tic”. Nash looked up to rac­ing greats Jim Clark and Stirling Moss as a child, and based on this alone, one would be in­clined to be­lieve him. As with other top ex­ec­u­tives, he does, at least, have the good for­tune of test­ing the cars through ev­ery stage of devel­op­ment at the com­pany’s home cir­cuit, Dunsfold Aero­drome (oth­er­wise known as the Top Gear test track), “so we can all be sure we’re go­ing in the di­rec­tion we want with a par­tic­u­lar car”.

“At McLaren, when we de­sign cars, we de­sign them com­pletely around the driver. And we pride our­selves on us­ing in­no­va­tive tech­nol­ogy to de­liver the best driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” he adds.

The goal is to pro­duce 4,500 ve­hi­cles an­nu­ally by the end of 2022, with at least 50 per­cent of them fea­tur­ing hy­brid pow­er­train tech­nol­ogy. Which makes this a good junc­ture to point out that ev­ery sports car, su­per­car, hy­per­car and be­spoke car is ab­so­lutely as­sem­bled by hand. As Stephen Don­nell, McLaren’s vis­i­tor ex­pe­ri­ence am­bas­sador and Bruce’s son-in-law, rel­ishes in re­gal­ing guests on his VIP tour at the Wok­ing cam­pus: “For those of you look­ing for­ward to some con­veyor belts and ro­bots, I’m sorry, you’re go­ing to be very

dis­ap­pointed, be­cause we don’t have any here. Not even in the paint shop.”

One shouldn’t be sur­prised. This is, af­ter all, a com­pany built around the Bruce McLaren phi­los­o­phy: If you can’t win it be­cause it’s not a race, be the best at it. If one wouldn’t put to­gether haute joail­lerie on an as­sem­bly line, why would you a £1.55 mil­lion, 1,000PS (986bhp), su­per-sexy and well­re­viewed McLaren P1 GTR?

“[Bruce’s] suc­cesses on the track were fairly well doc­u­mented, [but] not so much the fact that he was plan­ning to di­ver­sify the rac­ing team and to build road cars,” says Amanda, when we meet on the “Boule­vard” — the ex­pan­sive glass­fronted lobby at Wok­ing with an end­less dis­play of his­tory-mak­ing cars, in­clud­ing the banned M7C “Thurs­day Car” and the Le Man­swin­ning F1 GTR. “The fact that ev­ery car that goes out of here, whether it’s a race car or road car, still bears his name — is a fab­u­lous tribute to him.” Amanda, we learn, was only four when Bruce died.

It’s worth know­ing that the last of the orig­i­nal McLaren Rac­ing founders sold off their shares in the early 1980s, so Amanda’s role is purely am­bas­sado­rial. It’s even en­dear­ing that she in­tro­duces her­self as such: “Though I’m a McLaren, I’m not on the board and I don’t make de­ci­sions on be­half of the com­pany. [Stephen and I] are here be­cause we wanted to be part of what is truly the most ex­cit­ing au­to­mo­tive com­pany in the world.”

In­stead, it was For­mula 1 Team Prin­ci­pal Ron Den­nis (Chair­man of the group un­til July) who, with de­signer Gor­don Mur­ray, launched the first pro­duc­tion car, the F1, in 1993 — a good decade and a half be­fore McLaren Au­to­mo­tive was even for­malised. The rest, as they say, is his­tory. Like Phil Kerr, joint man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of McLaren Rac­ing from 1968-75, said in the film’s fi­nal scene: “The legacy of Bruce McLaren lives on.”

CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT: A LIFE-SIZE LEGO REPLICA FEA­TURED AT THE MCLAREN COM­POUND AT THIS YEAR’S GOOD­WOOD FES­TI­VAL OF SPEED; 570S SPI­DERS IN CURAçAO BLUE AND SICILIAN YEL­LOW; BRUCE MCLAREN’S MOD­I­FIED AUSTIN UL­STER IS DIS­PLAYED AT THE MCLAREN TECH­NOL­OGY CEN­TRE IN WOK­ING

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