McLaren F1: Motorsports and Competition
The McLaren F1 is the finest driving machine yet built for the public road. It possesses more performance than most of the cars racing at Le Mans this year, but that is almost incidental compared to its real achievements: containing such performance within a car without guile. A car that always inspires, never intimidates.
The McLaren F1 GTR
Following its initial launch as a road car, motorsports teams convinced McLaren to build racing versions of the F1 to compete in international series. Three different versions of the race car were developed from 1995 to 1997.
Many F1 GTRs, after the cars were no longer eligible in international racing series, were converted to street use. By adding mufflers, passenger seats, adjusting the suspension for more ground clearance for public streets, and removing the air restrictors, the cars were able to be registered for road use.
F1 GTR 1995
Built at the request of race teams, such as those owned by Ray Bellm and Thomas Bscher, in order to compete in the BPR Global GT Series, the McLaren F1 GTR was a custom-built race car which introduced a modified engine management system that increased power output — however, air-restrictors mandated by racing regulations reduced the power back to 600 hp (450 kW) at 7,500 rpm. The car’s extensive modifications included changes to body panels, suspension, aerodynamics and the interior. In total, nine F1 GTRs would be built for 1995.
Le Mans 1995
Although officially not part of any one racing series, the 24 Hours of Le Mans was still considered important enough for McLaren to enter. Competing at Le Mans meant racing against many of their normal GT1 competitors from various series, as well as some unique cars which ran Le Mans only. McLaren first ran Le Mans in 1995, with all seven chassis built at the time being entered. Although only six cars were being used in the BPR Global GT Series, chassis #01R which had been used as a McLaren testbed was also entered for the Kokusai Kaihatsu Racing team.
Prior to the race, it was assumed that one of the competitors in the WSC class of Le Mans Prototype would easily take the win, since they were custom built racing cars with no relation to street cars like GT1 cars. However during the race, various WSC cars succumbed to technical difficulties and dropped well down in the standings, while the GT1 class cars continued on without difficulty.
In the closing hours of the race, five McLaren F1 GTRs were still racing while only three WSC cars remained. A close battle in the final hours saw the Kokusai Kaihatsu McLaren competing against the Courage Compétition prototype, with the McLaren finally taking the overall win in one of the shortest distances covered since the 1950s. Other McLarens finished 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 13th overall, with only two F1 GTRs failing to finish.
In honor of McLaren’s achievement, the company created the five special F1 LMs for customers to mark the five finishers. The winning car, which was driven by Yannick Dalmas, Masanori Sekiya, and JJ Lehto, was retained by McLaren and never raced again.
1995 Le Mans Winning McLaren F1 GTR
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F1 GTR 1996
To follow up on the success of the F1 GTR into 1996, McLaren further developed the 1995 model, leading to a size increase but weight decrease. Nine more F1 GTRs were built to 1996 spec, while some 1995 cars were still campaigned by privateers. F1 GTR 1996 chassis #14R is notable as being the first non-Japanese car to win a race in the All-Japan Grand Touring Car Championship (JGTC). The car was driven by David Brabham and John Nielsen. The weight was reduced with around 100 kg (220 lb) from the 1995 GTR edition and the engine was kept detuned at 600 HP to comply with racing regulations.
F1 GTR 1997
With the F1 GT homologated, McLaren could now develop the F1 GTR for the 1997 season. Weight was further reduced and a sequential gearbox was added. The engine was slightly de-stroked to 6.0 L instead of the previous 6.1 L. Due to the heavily modified bodywork, the F1 GTR 1997 is often referred to as the “Longtail” thanks to the rear bodywork being extended to increase rear downforce. A total of ten F1 GTR 1997 models were built. The weight was reduced to a total of 910 kg (2,010 lb).