CarStories are stories about your cars. This week, we have the Pure McLaren Driving Experience.
When I grew up watching Formula One, there was the Ferrari dynasty, ruled by the red baron, Michael Schumacher. And fighting them tooth and nail around the world was McLaren. Mika Hakkinen, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Kimi Raikkonen. They were heroes to me and McLaren became the Anti-Ferrari, the choice for those of us who saw more than red. That and they had the legendary McLaren F1, the fastest road car in the world in the 90’s, and a sportscar racing legend, driven by men like Derek Bell. So when I got the opportunity to join McLaren owners and staff out at COTA, I knew I couldn’t say no.
When I first arrived the cars were set up for a beauty shot, and it was quite the impressive array. Everything from the new “baby” McLaren, the 570S, all the way up to the hyper-car of the day, the P1. As I checked in I started chatting with some of the owners, talking about my COTA tattoo, what car they had brought, and how they came to enjoy the McLaren brand. As I got a cup of coffee I had to notice just how much care the event was put together with. From carpeting a garage and furnishing it with seats, tv’s, and magazines, to the stations where your instructor could go over your data with you. The garage for the P1 GTR cars were reminiscent of their garages for the F1 team, and they even share a few team members.
Walking around the garages taking everything in and I noticed something very special hiding away from the rest of the cars. An example of the McLaren F1, one of the three abreast seating, worlds fastest, race ready beasts. I had never seen one in person before and I had to stop myself from dropping my phone along with my jaw in shock. And after taking it all in, I heard that a certain race driver was in the paddock, and wiling to take the F1 around the circuit. Curious to who it could be, I made my way back over, and standing next to a P1 was Derek Bell, the racing legend, and another shock to my day. Seeing him and the street version of the F1 that he took to a podium at LeMans was just fantastic, and another way that the day became a waking dream.
And as we moved on from the morning, more surprises kept coming, such as three McLaren F1 cars from Niki Lauda and Emmerson Fittipaldi. One of which, a 1975 M23 was started and taken around for a few laps during the afternoon. Hearing that old Ford Cosworth DFV engine cranking, firing, and screaming along the track made me wistful for the days of V8 engines in F1. Combine that noise with the variety of twin turbo V8 engines in the street McLarens, and the day was never quiet. Combine the street cars with the factory P1 GTR track car being driven by Indy 500 winner Kenny Bräck, and you had a variety of notes coming down the front straight.
The day was a dream come true, and even though I was working, taking notes, making connections, and running up and down the pit lane, I was reminded of why I do this, and why I have chosen this industry to work in. It was a day of absorbing tales from racing legends, breathing in the smell of race fuel, and having my mind blown by the quality of people and machines around me. McLaren is still the anti-Ferrari, and they have hit that in stride.