By John Thorne – Mon, 22 Jun 2015 06:39
Weekend began simply enough, parkup at Le Mans after a spirited drive down and as we are unloading the campingstuff we spy a row of expensive looking race trucks in the fenced off car parknext door. Then as we were heading back to the campsite one truck lowers itsrear door and a P1 GTR just rolls off into the car park. Just in case you didntknow the P1 GTR is McLarens latest race car, built from the P1 road car the GTRrepresents the fastest race car McLaren have built, nearly 1000bhp and it wasat Le Mans for its first real public viewing to commemorate McLaren lastwinning the race in 1995. In other words is this not a car you just ‘see’.
Right off the truck
So, after a brief conversation through the fence (helped no doubt by thefact that we were there in a McLaren ourselves) and John (the race tech withthe car) allowed us in to have a look round. What a stunning piece ofengineering, more carbon fibre than I’ve ever seen before (and I’ve seen quitea bit over the years) and a presence just sat there in the car park that wasjust amazing.
A little later we head back and find the car park is now full ofWoking’s finest; 4 P1’s, 5 F1 GTR’s, 4 650S Le Mans and 19 650S models, all upthere was nearly $200m of cars! McLaren were there at the race to commemoratetheir last win in 1995, bringing a collection of owners there were celebratingthe 20th anniversary with a haunt down through France and culminating with aparade lap of the full le Mans track ahead of the 24hr race.
$200m, right there
Row of F1 GTR’s
Well, nothing ventured nothing gained in my view so I wondered over tothe group and said “No 12c here……..want to borrow mine?” I fullyexpected to be given a corporate Paddington Bear style glare and be politelysold to go away, but I got the complete opposite, the McLaren guys made a fewphone calls back to base and subject to a few checks (sic) they would bedelighted to have us along – result, Ethan and I would be able to participatein the track drive!
Row of P1’s
Famous Gulf livery
Any race car driver would give anything to drive Le Mans, its a roadcircuit so its not a track you can just book on a track day – its Le Mans24hr/Classic or never and seeing as I dont have the budget (or experience) todrive in the Le Mans races this was as near as I’d over get to that. Thedownside was that there was a strict speed limit of 50mph, however I’d been on’parade’ laps before, once you’re out there there is usually nothing ‘parade’about them so we were over the moon.
The group was made up of McLaren owners as well as a few select driversfrom the McLaren team over the years including JJ Lehto; one of the winningdrivers from 1995 race (where five F1 GTR’s got 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 13th)and us, in our second hand 2013 12c Spider. Understandably (and fortunately) wewere placed at the back of the group, the P1 GTR led, followed by the 5 F1GTR’s then the 650s and then us, great, we can misbehave back there I thought -there was no way I was driving round Le Mans at 50mph!Well I didnt need to worry, JJ had no intention of cruising the P1 GTR(all 1000bhp of it) round the track at 50mph, he shot off like a bat out ofhell quickly followed by the F1 GTR’s and the P1’s – even right at the back wecould hear it, and we were off.
Impressive sight of McLarens
A decent crowd ahead of the race
First few turns were quite delicate, we werent allowed to overtake (thatwas a very strict rule) and we were behind a white 650S driven by a journalist,well I think he wasnt really aware how quick these cars are so a scary momentof mid corner braking round a tight turn and decided we should hold back andget a better run at everything, downside to this was we were being shadowed bythe Audi RS3 course car – damn.Well, I neednt have worried, after a little while of me swerving abouttrying to make it fun the course car came alongside, I thought I was about toget told off but no, he gestured that we should hold back to let us (both) geta run at the track – cool, got to love the FIA sometimes!
Good ole white 650
Pit straight – no way was I cruising down here
So after that we hungback and got to power through the turns and really enjoy the track, each timewe came up behind the white 650, slammed the brakes on with the Audi catchingup and doing the same. Pretty sure he was grinning as much as I was in this andwas hilarious to see him pull up each time as we caught up the 650. Down theMulsanne straight we got up to 240km/h (before the white 650 loomed in to spoilthe fun) but the others with the more room they had got higher, the P1’s near300 km/h and the P1 GTR nearer 360km/h – thats quicker than the LMP1 cars! All too soon it was over, the idea was a photo shoot of the P1GTR and F1GTR’s crossing the finish line which meant that we had to wait at the start ofthe straight at the back of the group, the others all peeled off one by oneleaving us on our own with our friends in the Audi course car. Well I wasntabout to bimble along the finish straight at Le Mans in front of 100,000people, so we launched it, Audi in hot pursuit with our run ending with a fullon aero braked finish to avoid hitting the white 650 again – great, great fun.
Great, great fun
I’ve got to say huge thanks to McLaren, everyone we met from seniordirector level to PR staff was nothing short of fantastic, we were small fry interms of owners there (several were multiple P1 owners) but we were treatedlike royalty by everyone and all my thoughts that McLaren were a coldorganisation were completely dispelled, they really are a family. To give you anexample, Ethan was sat on his own at one point (I was engrossed in one of thecars) and seeing he was on his own a pretty senior member of McLaren staff wentover and starting talking to him, he had nothing to gain from speaking withEthan (not like a child is going to buy a car is it!) but he went over there ashe saw a guest of Mclaren on his own and looking a bit lost – thats the sort ofpeople they were.
After that we got to spend the rest of the weekend in the McLarenhospitality suite, got to meet some great people including JJ and Gordon Murray(the designer of the F1 GTR) who even signed the underside of the bonnet on ourcar. Was something very surreal about drinking champaign in an air conditionedsuite over the pitlane then walking back to our tent!
The drive back home seemed an anti-climax after all that, we had some fun getting stopped by the police (25 van loads of CRS at a service station – McLaren does that it seems) and then home.
French cops were enthusiastic
Fits snugly into the Channel tunnel trains
It was a great weekend, with great company and with great cars, roll on 2016.
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