DEMANDING & REWARDING
2019 Mclaren Senna
AUTÓDROMO DO ESTORIL, Portugal — I’ve got a tip for all you billionaires who have already put deposits down on the US$958,966 Senna that McLaren claims is the most extreme, responsive and engaging road car it has ever produced, not to mention lightest and fastest around a racetrack. Get to a gym! No matter how fit you think you are, you’re going to need to be stronger. That’s because when your driving instructor tells you, as you flash by the 200 brake marker at say 280 kilometres an hour going into Estoril’s tight first corner hairpin, to “stand” on the brakes, you really will need to stand on said brakes.
The reason for all this effort is twofold. For one thing, the Senna’s brakes are carbon ceramic, requiring mucho heat before they start operating correctly.
As well, being so track-focused, the brake pedal’s leverage ratio is set to full race car firm. But the real reason you’ll need that Schwarzenegger-like prod on the brake pedal is that gargantuan — some might say garish — rear wing out back. You see, between that and the effective, computer controlled splitters in the front grille, the Senna produces a whopping 800 kilograms of aerodynamic downforce at 255 km/h. For those needing Imperial measure to fully comprehend the incredible invisible hand of wind that guides the Senna through corners, that’s a whopping 1,763.7 pounds. The Senna, according to public relations chief Paul Chadderton, only weighs 1,198 kilograms.
That means — in very simplistic terms — that, at speed, the already super-sticky Pirelli PZero Trofeo Rs have the traction of 1,998 kg forcing their grippy rubber into tarmac but only have to actually stop 1,198 kg. Hence the reason I was humping on the left pedal like I was trying to set a record in the seated leg press.
According to Andy Palmer, McLaren’s vehicle line director for the Ultimate Series (i.e. the Senna and the stupidly fast P1), this means the Senna is capable of “over 2.0 gs” in high-speed corners, more than enough, to challenge the core muscles I’m advising you to beef up.
Yes, like all track cars, the Senna gets some one-piece (carbon fibre, natch) form-fitting seats, but despite the tight squeeze, you’re still getting flung around enough that, after six or eight laps, you really will wish you’d done more sit-ups before hitting the track. Even the (electro-hydraulic) steering the quickest McLaren has applied to a road-legal car is a challenge because everything is happening so quickly. Yes, as McLaren points out, the Senna is road legal, but its primary purpose, despite all the poseurs who will almost assuredly use it otherwise, is as a track weapon.
You’ll notice I have not mentioned the engine. Like the basic frame, the Senna’s twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 is based on the 720 S’s powertrain, albeit with tweaks to boost the entire affair some 80 horses to 789 brake horsepower. That, says McLaren, will scoot the Senna to 100 km/h in just 2.8 seconds (same as the hybridized P1) and to 200 in but 6.8 s (ditto). After that, it’s a little slower than the P1, which means it’s just a tad behind the (reputedly) fastest car on the planet.
It’s impressive stuff. Pins you in your seat, as the say. And it will certainly light up the rear Pirellis even though they measure some 315 mm across (official designation of the rear tires is 315/30ZR20; the fronts are 245/35ZR19s) and are made of rubber only slightly less sticky than glue.
It also makes big noise. This internal combustion symphony is aided by McLaren’s decision to ditch all the internal sound-deadening material — you didn’t think getting a car this powerful down to 1,198 kg with street-legal headlights would be easy, did you? — so those eight fast-spinning pistons sound like they’re blasting right in your ear.