RAC­ING LEG­ENDS

McLaren F1 GTR

Top Gear (Malaysia) - - Data - WORDS: JA­SON BAR­LOW

The most sought-after of mod­ern su­per­cars, its uni­corn qual­i­ties are no doubt de­bated by an ex­cep­tion­ally for­tu­nate co­terie of own­ers, Ralph Lau­ren, Nick Ma­son and Jay Leno among them. Over­seen by Gor­don Mur­ray, and pow­ered by a 6.1-litre, 627bhp V12 cre­ated by BMW’s en­gine ge­nius Paul Rosche, the F1’ s po­si­tion at the top ta­ble seems as­sured.

But it wasn’t al­ways this way. It failed as a com­mer­cial propo­si­tion. Too few buy­ers were pre­pared to stump up the £540,000 it cost new in 1994. Maybe the ram­pant sin­gle-mind­ed­ness of its de­sign phi­los­o­phy sim­ply put oth­ers off. How silly do they look now… You’ll hear dif­fer­ent fig­ures bandied around, but only 64 road cars were made, and an­other 28 GTR race ver­sions, sev­eral of which were con­verted back to road-le­gal spec.

So although go­ing rac­ing was not ini­tially part of McLaren’s plan, in 1995 that’s what it de­cided to do. Rather suc­cess­fully, too: for the first time since Fer­rari’s vic­tory in 1949, a maker won the Le Mans 24 Hours at its first at­tempt.

When it de­cided to sup­ply pri­va­teer teams with F1s for the BPR GT1 en­durance cham­pi­onship, a tilt at the world’s most fa­mous en­durance race was clearly on the cards. This wasn’t a full-blown fac­tory ef­fort – but lead­ing the five-car charge was the Koku­sai Kai­hatsu Rac­ing team, which used McLaren’s de­vel­op­ment chas­sis.

It was run by well-known McLaren fig­ures Paul Lan­zante and Jeff Hazell, while car no.59 was race en­gi­neered by Gra­ham Humphrys. He re­calls a less-than-per­fect build-up to Le Mans when F1 rene­gade JJ Le­hto dam­aged the sus­pen­sion after he mon­stered the kerbs; worse still, the car needed a last-gasp en­gine swap, while Le­hto’s team­mates de­tected a gear­box prob­lem.

In the event, all five of the F1 GTRs would suf­fer trans­mis­sion glitches, a frailty that that year’s wet race thank­fully didn’t fully ex­pose.

This par­tic­u­lar win set a num­ber of prece­dents: not only had McLaren con­quered Le Mans on its first at­tempt, it was also the first win at La Sarthe for a Fin­nish and Ja­panese driver. McLaren also re­mains the only maker to have won Le Mans, the Monaco GP, and the Indy 500, the Holy Trin­ity of mo­tor­sport. Nor was it sim­ply down to good for­tune: F1 GTRs also fin­ished third, fourth, fifth and 13th. Up to 1998, the car con­tin­ued to be com­pet­i­tive, fin­ish­ing sec­ond and third in 1997, fourth in 1998. 1997’s Long­tail evo­lu­tions are ar­guably the best-re­mem­bered ver­sions of all.

The F1 was still rac­ing a decade after its de­but.

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