Tuesday, 13 August 2013

McLaren F1 GTR #02R

Photos - Mark Saunders; words - Daniel Bevis

It surprises many to learn that Gordon Murray didn't initially consider a motorsport direction for the McLaren F1 - it was pressure from punters that led to 1995's F1 GTR. It turned out to be rather a good idea; Ray Bellm took chassis #02R to victory at Jerez on the GTR's maiden outing, the first of many victories for the world's most focused supercar's racing evolution.

In total, twenty-eight GTRs were built: nine in 1995-spec, a further nine the following year, and 10 in '97. This Gulf-liveried car, #02R, was converted from road car chassis #026 in 1995; it achieved five outright wins in the BPR Global GT series, finishing third in the teams championship. It also came in 4th at that year's 24 Heures du Mans, which is a pretty sensational achievement.
The race-derived nature of much of the F1's development meant that turning a road car into a race car wasn't that complex a process (at least, compared to building a racer from the ground up). Additional cooling vents appeared, along with a large downforce-inducing rear spoiler, while the interior was stripped and caged. The brakes were replaced with carbon items, and the engine was tweaked to produce... er, less power, actually. Due to competition regs, the BMW-derived V12 had to wear a restrictor to bring peak power down to 600bhp, meaning that the F1 GTR was significantly less powerful than the road car - although, of course, power-to-weight ratios and other factors come into play and, let's face it, 600bhp isn't exactly shy. Forget the Top Trumps headline figures, the GTR was both faster and more agile than its road-going progenitor. It also speaks volumes that much of the racer - including the gearbox - was identical to the road car. Murray may not have planned a race car, but he built a great base for one through OCD-esque fastidiousness and the relentless pursuit of uncompromised excellence. There was a successful competition machine hiding inside the F1 all along.

Ray Bellm was reunited with #02R at this year's Goodwood Festival of Speed - these photos come courtesy of Mark Saunders.

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