McLaren F1 GTR
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.