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McLaren

MP4-12C T H E

E X C L U S I V E

I N S I D E S T O R Y


McLaren MP4-12C

‘WEWANTED THECABIN TOOFFER THELEAST DISTRACTION POSSIBLE’

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McLaren MP4-12C Contents

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Interview: Ron Dennis

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Designing the MP4-12C

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Technological marvel

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Evolution of the species

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Extreme testing

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Riding with Jenson

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Portimão to Woking in 72 hours

Why he wants to be known as an entrepreneur as well as a racer McLaren design boss Frank Stephenson explains how the engineering under the MP4-12C’s skin dictated its styling How McLaren used Formula 1 expertise to drive down weight and improve the driving experience MP4-12C’s journey from Ultima-based test hack to thoroughbred supercar From sub-zero thrashes around frozen lakes in the Arctic Circle to the extreme heat of Bahrain in the summer The 2009 world champion hasn’t got a free MP4-12C into his McLaren contract yet, but he’s working on it We take an MP4-12C on a memorable 1500-mile blast on epic roads


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How to start a car company

McLaren Automotive has been years in the making, but its factory hasn’t

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MP4-12C vs F1 GTR

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What next for McLaren?

Newcomer takes on legendary Le Mans winner — on a slippery circuit Why McLaren’s future road cars will take inspiration from wildlife

Wa s 1 7 ye a r s to o l o n g to wa i t? O n l y j u s t …

In May 1994 Autocar became the only magazine in the world to publish a full road test on the McLaren F1. After days of performance testing and road driving, we concluded that this British-made £540k megacar “may possibly be the fastest production car the world will ever see”. We just couldn’t imagine that anyone else could make a quicker road-going machine. They could, of course — eventually. But so, it seems, could McLaren. It’s taken fully 17 years to find a significantly faster road car to put through our comprehensive road test: the £2 million Bugatti Veyron Super Sport. However, if McLaren’s brand new offering, the MP4-12C, is as fast as the company claims, it will become only the second car ever to trump the legendary F1 in many of our benchmark acceleration tests. The second in a few months; that’s the irony. No one is counting any chickens; we haven’t given the MP4-12C the full road test treatment yet. But we’ve done everything else we can think of to get under this amazing car’s skin. We’ve familiarised ourselves with its technical make-up and its stylistic raison d’être. We’ve got the story on its development from the very first prototype. We’ve taken a 1500-mile, cross-continental road trip in one. We’ve even tested one on the track against a McLaren F1 GTR. Over the following pages you can read everything we’ve learned, over the past few months, about this game-changing British supercar. And once you’ve done that, you might want to put this book somewhere safe. The last McLaren supplement we published (17 years ago, funnily enough) is now a collector’s item; here’s hoping this one becomes equally collectable. MATT SAUNDERS Group editor Chas Hallett Editor Matt Saunders Art editor Chee-Chiu Lee Managing editor Allan Muir Production editor Tim Dickson Sub-editors Stuart Codling, Peter McSean Written by Steve Cropley, Steve Sutcliffe, Hilton Holloway, Matt Saunders, Matt Prior Photographers Stan Papior, Stuart Price, Jed Leicester Picture editor Ben Summerell-Youde Production Ailsa Donovan, Suzanne Philbin, Jamie Squires Publisher Alastair Lewis Group director Patrick Fuller

Autocar is published by Haymarket Consumer Media, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington Middlesex, TW11 9BE Tel: +44(0)20 8267 5000 © Haymarket Magazines 2011. Autocar, Motor, Autocar & Motor are registered trademarks. Repro by FMG, London N1. Printed by St Ives Roche. No part of this magazine may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form except by permission. The publisher makes every effort to ensure contents are correct but cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions.

With special thanks to: Mark Harrison and Gemma Petrillo at McLaren Automotive; Marcus Korbach and Henry Winkworth-Smith at McLaren Owner Exclusive; Mauro Calo

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McLaren MP4-12C Ron Dennis

l Dennis started his career on the factory floor as a mechanic with Cooper before achieving success as a racing team boss

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A

H e a d

f o r

Heights

Presiding over a successful F1 team was never quite enough for Ron Dennis. In fact, he’s wanted to start a car company for as long as he can remember, he tells Steve Cropley

R

on Dennis has wanted to be the boss of a car company for so long that he’s forgotten exactly when the idea first took shape in his mind. Certainly it was during his earliest motor racing days, when he was still a race mechanic for drivers that included Jochen Rindt and Jack Brabham, and well before he began the meteoric rise through racing’s hierarchy that has established him as Britain’s foremost motorsport team-builder. “If I were writing my own epitaph,” he says, “I’d like to be remembered as a successful entrepreneur across a variety of disciplines, not just a racing man. Winning grands prix is extremely hard, ◊

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McLaren MP4-12C Ron Dennis

∆ but understanding the basic concept isn’t so difficult. But creating a successful, well rounded automotive group has many more challenges, and that’s what attracts me now.” Dennis and McLaren have had two previous brushes with car manufacturing, both combining success and failure. The 1993 McLaren F1 (which we declared “the finest driving machine yet built for the public road”) remains an automotive icon but achieved only a third of the planned 300 units, and only reached financial success when adapted for racing and winning Le Mans in 1995. The 2003 Mercedes-McLaren SLR (or Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, to give the official title) was made by McLaren in Woking, launched at just under £300,000 and produced until 2009. Around 1200 were built, but even this fell below the 500 a year Mercedes wanted, and the car became a symbol of the differences between two proud partners. A mid-engined, Merc-powered proposal called P8 was briefly contemplated, but it was overtaken by the P11 concept, which has turned into the MP4-12C, powered by McLaren’s own components and the first product of the newly independent McLaren Automotive company. Dennis, used to keeping secrets all his life, lets very little slip about the scale and

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future products of the car business. What has emerged so far, through casual conversations and cracks in the walls, is that “up to four” models are planned, all mid-engined, all two-seaters, all using the ‘Monocell’ carbonfibre central tub (of which Dennis is inordinately proud) and including at least one open-top model. Loose-lipped suppliers have been led to believe first-year 12C sales should be about 1000 cars, but you won’t hear Dennis saying very much of this, although he does allow that McLaren Automotive sees the 12C as “the core segment” in the models it intends to offer. “Two-plus-twos and four-doors are certainly not in our plan,” he says, “but we’d be stupid to have a mindset that says we’re not going to do them for all time. Porsche’s move into SUVs has been very, very successful. You’ve got to admire them for it. But we’re an embryonic company. The worst thing we could do is to stray off piste. Our task now is to get the quality right, and mature as a company. “What I can reveal is that our new McLaren Production Centre,” he gestures at a vast but orderly building site almost out of sight across the lake from the McLaren Technology Centre, “is configured for three shifts at an annual rate of 2000 cars a shift. However, we don’t ever expect to go over two

‘HOW MANY WILL COME TO US FROM FERRARI? I’M SURE THAT MANY OF OUR NEW OWNERS WILL HAVE BOTH’


shifts – which means our maximum capacity will be 4000 cars a year.” The interviewer falls immediately on these numbers; surely they mean McLaren will always be more exclusive than Ferrari and much, much more exclusive than Porsche? This may be true, but Dennis fails to claim such a cheap advantage. The game, he knows, is bigger than this. “It’s not a question of being exclusive,” he says. “That’s simply the number that fits our business plan. And we’d be foolish to say nothing in that plan would change up or down. For now, our major preoccupation has to be with quality.” Intriguingly, Dennis says he doesn’t view Ferrari as a key competitor, despite the fact that his car is close in many of its dimensions to the new 458 Italia, and managing director Antony Sheriff will readily admit that much of the car’s benchmarking has been against it. “We have a very healthy respect for Ferrari,” says Dennis, “but I don’t see them as our prime competitor. People will compare the performance, styling and driving capabilities, but I can tell you that our prime targets are owners of other brands. How many will come to us from Ferrari? I’d say it will be a low percentage. I’m more sure that

many of our owners will have both.” It will strike you, if you’ve interviewed car industry bosses before, that Dennis – known as a racing man – sounds remarkably like someone steeped in car industry experience. Has he spent time in other people’s factories, boning up for the new tasks? “Of course I have,” he says, “but you’ve got to remember we have some experience gathered during the F1 and SLR phases. And through racing I’ve had contact with Honda, Porsche, Ford, Peugeot and Mercedes-Benz. If your ambition is to have a car company, you don’t walk around these places with blinkers on.” Even so, building the 12C without the muscle and scale of an automotive giant has involved a steep learning curve, Dennis admits. “One of my biggest ambitions is to build a perfect supplier network,” he says. “Suppliers absolutely control your destiny. If they do sub-standard work, and you don’t catch it, you’re in for a never-ending headache. Building the network we need, with the required level of commitment, trust and quality, has been very, very challenging.” Given his passion for detail, Dennis has surely spent many miles chasing details from the driving seats of prototypes – hasn’t he?

l Famed for his obsession with detail, Dennis wants to ensure the quality is right before McLaren Automotive expands its scope and scale

“My answer to that,” he says, “is two words: Vince Higgins. Vince was a race mechanic way back in the ’60s. He worked for McLaren when I was at Brabham. “We were at Watkins Glen, and in those days it was normal for mechanics to drive cars from the tech centre to the grid, quite a long way. Vince was driving a McLaren when someone stepped in front of him. He swerved and took the back wheel off on a post. From that day I decided there was no case for anyone to drive race cars other than the professionals, and that’s how we work here. “We have professional engineers whose job it is to get the MP4-12C absolutely right, and they need the freedom to do their jobs as well as they can. I did drive some prototypes in Spain with the other shareholders a year ago, and I’ll make sure I’m up to speed before the car goes on sale. But if I kept jumping in and out it would be too unscientific, too distracting. I’ll do it when the time is right.” L

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McLaren MP4-12C Design

LET’S BE

McLaren chief designer Frank Stephenson has a world-class CV, but nothing prepared Photography Stan Papior

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FRANK

him for the challenges of a clean-sheet supercar. He gives Hilton Holloway a guided tour

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McLaren MP4-12C Design

l MP4-12C’s shape was largely dictated by the engineering package beneath

FFF

l Boot may look modest, but McLaren claims it offers the best space in the MP4-12C’s class

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rank Stephenson is a famously prolific designer; he’s worked on projects as diverse and iconic as the BMW Mini, Fiat 500 and the Maserati MC12. And he’s about to explain the thinking behind the first in a future family of McLaren supercars, to be designed and built at McLaren’s Woking base. But unlike his previous projects, this brand has virtually no backstory, which offers both an unusual freedom as well as the difficulty of starting from a clean sheet. Having said that, virtually the first question that occurs to the enthusiast when looking at the MP4-12C is why doesn’t it look more like – or at least make more visual reference to – the legendary McLaren F1 from 20 years ago, if not the original 1960s McLaren M6GT? “It does make reference to the original,” says Stephenson. “It has McLaren’s strength in engineering and materials in spades. But it has to compete in its market segment – in the £160k-£170k-plus price range. It’s not the ultimate supercar. Of course we could do a car like that; we’ve done it before. But if we’re going to build a car company, we need to be in the segment that generates the biggest sales. “The last thing you want to do is be restricted. If you are styling a Ferrari or Lamborghini, there’s a DNA that you have to follow. Everything you do [as a designer] has to have that feeling of the company. What we’re doing at McLaren is a chance to start with a clean sheet of paper. We’re ◊

l To keep the fascia and scuttle low, McLaren designed its own ventilation system from scratch


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McLaren MP4-12C Design ∆ starting a whole new design language for McLaren. I’m not saying the F1 wasn’t a fantastic car, but we know there are ways of doing things better – aerodynamics and packaging – than we did in the 1990s. “You have to establish something that really hits you as containing the design cues from the new-age McLaren. But this is only the first product. Everything we do after this has to build up from this car. When Stephenson worked on the Maserati MC12, many aspects of the shape were determined by the Ferrari Enzo tub and mechanicals beneath. What, then, drove the styling of the MP4-12C? “This is pretty much the shape that could be developed around the engineering package. The whole car started from the inside out. Many people claim that’s how they approach a new car, but it’s really how we did it.” So why not just let the engineers put a skin on the package and really go for form driven by engineering function? “That’s pretty much what we did,” says Stephenson. “We took as much body mass as we could out of the car. That’s the McLaren way to do ◊ l Non-essential controls are away from the wheel to avoid distractionsf

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1 LO W H I P S

A Ferrari-style curved ‘hip’ over the rear wheel arch would look good but add unnecessary weight. The design team stuck to McLaren’s weight-paring philosophy throughout


2 CENTRAL POSITION

l New car shares no-compromise philosophy with iconic 1990s McLaren F1

The driver sits close to the centre of the car thanks to smart ergonomics, including a very narrow centre console. GPS is in portrait view to keep width down

3 DESIGN WITH PURPOSE

Stephenson wanted the MP4-12C to look “effective and purposeful, like a military aircraft”

‘THE WHOLE CAR STARTED FROM THE INSIDE OUT’

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McLaren MP4-12C Design

l Rear is designed to reduce heat build-up from the exhausts when the car is idling

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∆ it. You don’t want sensual surfaces like a Ferrari or origami shapes as on a Lamborghini. When you consciously style a car, it always ends up larger than it needs to be. Ferraris get a nice shaped hip [over the rear wheel], but in a strict engineering sense it doesn’t add anything to the car. It just adds weight and material, and there really is an obsession with cutting weight at McLaren.” Such is the priority given by McLaren to aerodynamic performance, Stephenson explains, that his design team had to follow the lead of aerodynamic calculations; the aero work was done under the aegis of

Simon Lacey, who has worked on several of McLaren’s race cars. “The MP4-12C was done the same way as the Maserati MC12, in and out of the wind tunnel and using computational fluid dynamics. We’d take a shape, put it in the tunnel and then change it. We use a 30 per cent scale model, which offers a minimal difference to using a full-size car. We’d take information straight from the wind tunnel to mill out new clay models. “The priority is to get the air to stick to the surface of the car. So we can throw special paint onto the car in the tunnel and then can


l Raised tailgate offers greater air extraction; diffuser creates a visual connection with F1

l Wind tunnel work aimed to maximise the effectiveness of the air brake (above left), as well as to provide optimum air intake and heat expulsion for the MP4-12C’s 592bhp engine

see where streaks [of paint] are detaching from the surface. From there we can tweak the section of bodywork in question. “I believe that form really is equal to function and that if it looks right, it is right. I don’t want a car that looks tortured, something that’s trying to fight against logic, because it just won’t work [visually].” With aerodynamics driving much of the design process, Stephenson’s team took great care to finesse the MP4’s aero-honed surfaces for maximum aesthetic appeal. “Once a surface has been optimised, we in the design team can then negotiate on the surface highlights, which also means going backwards and forwards to the wind tunnel,” he says. “We need a full-size clay model at this point. There’s no way that you can judge surface highlights on a screen. We need to see the highlights and feel surfaces. We need to look at it from a million viewpoints. Ultimately, of course, it has to look good.”

Air intakes

The majority of the car’s shape and detailing backs up this detailed account of its development – apart from the huge air intakes on each side. At first glance these look like pure styling. “A great deal of this car is about getting the air back to the air brake and into the side-mounted radiators,” he says. Most other manufacturers will angle the side radiators to get the maximum amount of air into them, but that’s counter to keeping the car as small as possible. We’ve mounted the radiators completely flat, parallel to the side of the car, so then you have the problem of getting the air into them.

“So when people look at this detail and say, ‘Why did you do such a funny panel for the air intake?’ it’s not styling, it’s pure engineering. This piece was designed on computer for maximum efficiency in turning the air inwards. If you moved the central blade outwards by a millimetre it would make a huge difference to the amount of air being channelled inwards. This is F1 technology.” Stephenson gets down on his knees and feels the edges of the side air intake. He says he would, for example, have liked to thicken the leading edge of the MP4’s air intake, but even such tiny changes were overruled by aerodynamic considerations. And of course, once you’ve got the optimal amount of air into the 592bhp engine and its surrounding bay, you need to get it out again. “The whole rear end is not exactly like a Swiss cheese, but there’s a lot of openings, such as the tailgate being lifted on the rear. Too many openings are not good for aerodynamics, but when you do get the heat from the engine building, you need heat evacuation areas, particularly at the back because there’s a lot of heat from the exhausts when the car is idling. The engineers gave me the amount of extraction area we needed in centimetres squared, but how that was divided up was down to us. We [the designers] had a pretty free hand.”

Although it is hard to tell when viewing the MP4-12C in isolation, the car is significantly smaller than its direct rivals. “It was critical to get the cowl area as low as we possibly could,” says Stephenson, “so we designed the HVAC [heating and ventilation system] from scratch so that it is extremely low compared with the competition. The result is that when sitting in the car the highest point of the body from the driver’s point of view will be on the fender, right over the centre of the front wheel. It’s a reference point to give you a permanent sense of the position of the front wheels.’ Stephenson also points out the steeply sloping windscreen and the ‘cab-forward proportion’. “It’s an ideal position for driving a car like this; you feel pushed to the front. “You might imagine the car will have a very small boot, but it’s probably got the best luggage space in the segment. The ◊ WWW.AUTOCAR.CO.UK 17


McLaren MP4-12C Design

5 LO W S C U T T L E

l Interior is designed to offer minimal distractions; no buttons on the steering wheel

4 AERO SCOOPS

MP4-12C’s radiators are mounted parallel to the side of the shell to minimise width; these scoops are the result of extensive wind tunnel research to maximise airflow to the engine bay

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For light overall weight and a more commanding view for the driver, McLaren created its own ventilation system rather than buying an existing one from another manufacturer


l MP4-12C is the first in a range of McLaren road cars

6 DEFORMABLE PA N E L S

Bonnet panel, wings and roof are made from Sheet Moulded Compound, a deformable material that is easier to paint and offers better pedestrian impact protection than carbonfibre

∆ size of the space in the nose was a sacrosanct area during development.” Although the MP4-12C’s chassis is a work of art in carbonfibre and aluminium, it is actually mostly skinned in Sheet Moulded Compound (SMC), a kind of high-end plastic. “For pedestrian impact reasons, three sections – the bonnet, the fender and the roof – of the skin are made in easily deformed alloy. Elsewhere we’ve used SMC. It’s not cheap, but it is the right material. Using carbonfibre panels for the outside skin would have been lighter, but it probably wouldn’t be the best material for crash performance and it takes a lot of time and effort to paint it.”

Bespoke cockpit

Lift the 12C’s door (there’s no handle, just a touch-sensitive pad) and it reveals a sober, thoughtful cabin. The only unexpected design flourish is three protruding air vents. “We wanted to make an interior that offered the least distraction possible,” says

Stephenson. “So it’s iPod-ish in that you don’t see that many buttons, and we’ve kept the buttons off the steering wheel. It’s as simple as we could make the interior. “If you need it, it’s on the touch-sensitive screen. The way of adjusting the main functions – chassis and engine settings – is similar to the manettino dials used by Ferrari. The controls you only use when you’ve stopped – the hazards, reverse selection and handbrake – are in the centre console because you can take your eyes off the road to use them. We made the car as narrow as possible and even the GPS screen is in portrait mode to save space. But it means that the driver is much closer to the middle of the car, which is a great help for weight distribution and therefore a benefit for the handling. “Everything in the interior is bespoke and even the column stalks are drilled for lightness. It’s lightweight but solid feeling. The steering wheel rim is shaped off Lewis Hamilton’s gloved hand, but slimmed down by a couple of millimetres. The gear changing paddles are mounted on a single beam, so pulling one paddle inwards makes the other paddle move out.” It wasn’t McLaren’s intention, Stephenson concludes, to make the 12C look ‘modern’. “We wanted to make this car look effective and purposeful, like a military aircraft. If you get it right, there’s no reason for the car to change through its life cycle. We followed a good, honest design direction. It’s a look that will not be in today and gone tomorrow.” L

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McLaren MP4-12C Under the skin

CARBON FO OT P R I N T Formula 1 engineers obsess over light weight, but carbonfibre isn’t the only weight-saving trick under the MP4-12C’s skin, as Steve Cropley discovers Photography Jed Leicester, Stan Papior

l One-piece carbonfibre Monocell forms the core of the 12C’s structure

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O

n one of the new McLaren supercar’s lightest and most important components, a crosscar beam cast in magnesium alloy that supports the dashboard and steering column, there’s a small McLaren emblem, spark-engraved into the metal. When a car is fully built, its owner will never see it, but chief engineer Neil Patterson points it out on a half-built chassis. “See that?” he says. “It saves 2.4 grams. That might not sound a lot, but it’s an important symbol. It reminds us every day how important it is to save weight in this car.” Patterson claims the whole car has been built using what engineers call the Five Per

Cent Rule. “You sign a part off,” he says, “and then you find another five per cent weight saving. In a whole car, it really adds up. Such passion and attention to detail is evident in every part of McLaren’s new MP4-12C. You get the flavour of it from any of the 300 people who have worked for four years to bring it to life – but none more so than Antony Sheriff, McLaren Automotive’s managing director. No one knows better that Sheriff that there is already an impressive selection of £160,000 mid-engined sports cars on the market. An inveterate sports car buyer and former senior executive with the group that controls Ferrari, Sheriff knows McLaren faces a tough battle ◊

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McLaren MP4-12C Under the skin

STRUCTURAL L AYO U T

Width is a key difference between the MP4-12C and its rivals, according to managing director Antony Sheriff. Both the 12C’s body and its front and rear tracks are 25mm narrower than those of the Ferrari 458 Italia, reflecting Sheriff’s belief that controlling overall width makes a supercar more capable on the road. The 12C is remarkably close in most major other dimensions to the 458, whose engineering brings together knowledge Ferrari has amassed in building midengined V8s in the 40-odd years since the Dino. But the McLaren has advantages in power (5.2 per cent) and torque (11.1 per cent). And its 20mm longer wheelbase (for

18mm less overall length) reflects the unusual roominess of its cabin, accessible through what McLaren calls dihedral doors. McLaren’s official dry weight of 1338kg appears to make it 50-100kg lighter overall than the Ferrari, an advantage due mainly to the weight-saving benefits

of its central carbonfibre tub, which weighs just 75kg yet has rock-like rigidity plus the strength to support an aluminium crash structure at the front (which also partly supports the front suspension) and an aluminium engine-support spaceframe that carries the rear suspension.

‘BEING AS GOOD AS THE OTHERS ISN’T THE ANSWER’

l Bespoke ‘Proactive’ damper control system reduces dive, squat and roll

∆ to create market space for its forthcoming range of up to four mid-engined models, the first of which is the 12C. But he also believes he has some excellent weapons with which to fight. The 12C’s spec includes a carbonfibre ‘Monocell’ chassis, a ‘Proactive’ damper control system that hydraulically superintends body dive, squat and roll, a unique airbrake, and a version of the Brake Steer set-up that McLaren invented for its F1 cars during the late 1990s. “Being as good as the others isn’t the answer,” says Sheriff. “We’ve designed everything to be the best. There are no carry-over components in the MP4-12C. They just wouldn’t be good enough.” 22 WWW.AUTOCAR.CO.UK

Such determination is admirable, but one question still burns: how do you go about beating Porsche and Ferrari at their own game? Sheriff says it starts with a refusal to accept compromise. “I call the 12C our ‘and’ car,” he says. “Compared with its rivals it is stronger and lighter. It’s small outside and spacious inside. It has better handling and is more comfortable. One advantage doesn’t affect another. Above all, the 12C has more performance and better fuel efficiency; with nearly 600 horsepower on tap it’s the most powerful car in its class, yet its CO2 output of just 279g/km means every horsepower is produced more efficiently than virtually any car on sale – petrol, diesel or hybrid.” L

l McLaren’s Antony Sheriff shows Cropley the details


l MP4-12C’s rigid carbon tub supports aluminium crash structures; MP4/1 (left) was the first carbon F1 chassis

CHASSIS, SUSPENSION

For the 12C, McLaren has developed a unique one-piece central chassis structure it calls Monocell, using a new process that helps reduce costs and speeds up the manufacturing process. McLaren’s carbonfibre guru, Claudio Santoni (top), says carbon was always going to be the material of choice, “because for 31 years, no McLaren has been built without a carbonfibre chassis”. The one-piece process has advantages of its own: “We learned from the SLR how much rigidity you can lose from joints, overlaps and flanges.” Carbon also delivers important packaging advantages. McLaren engineers were determined that the 12C should have an uncompromised driving position and class-beating visibility. “In aluminium chassis-frame cars, the need for a bulky structure behind the front wheel arches is likely to push the pedal box inwards,” says chief engineer

Neil Patterson (bottom), “while a bulky heating/ventilation system, usually from another production car, pushes the seats and steering column outwards. The result is a severely compromised driving position. The 12C’s compact carbon wheel arch structure and its specially built ventilation system allow the pedal box, steering wheel and seat to be perfectly aligned.” Suspension is by double wishbones and coil springs front and rear, which sounds conventional. But the McLaren is unique in using an electronically controlled, interactive damping system — McLaren calls it

Proactive — which provides the strong anti-roll, anti-dive and anti-squat qualities a 200mph supercar needs, while permitting supple bump absorption when appropriate. The driver selects Normal, Sport or Track settings from a panel inside the car. The dampers are hydraulically interconnected front to rear, and also from side to side. Through a system of sensors the car detects squat, dive, roll or warp (a kind of diagonal corkscrewing motion) as they happen and instantly configures the car to cope. Pressure (generated by the power steering pump when the car is travelling in a straight line and

therefore doesn’t need steering assistance) is retained in Citroënstyle high-pressure gas spheres and then fed to the appropriate corner(s) to tame any undesirable movements. Engineers say the car is extremely stable but its ride comfort is “out of this world”. When it settles down, 12C production is tipped to run at around 1000 cars a year to start, but it could reach 4000 cars — all mid-engined designs with carbon tubs — when the planned range of “up to four” models has been launched. All serious rivals in the 12C’s £160,000 arena have steel or aluminium chassis, usually less rigid and inherently heavier.

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McLaren MP4-12C Under the skin

ENGINE, TRANSMISSION Powertrain chief Richard Farquhar says the idea of giving the new McLaren a comparatively small and light twin-turbocharged V8 is as fundamental to its make-up as the carbonfibre tub. In the earliest days a large, normally aspirated AMG-derived engine was briefly considered, but when Mercedes and McLaren decided to go their own ways — after which today’s MP4-12C concept was framed — it became obvious that a lighter, more compact turbocharged engine made a more modern and efficient solution. A bespoke 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 was designed at McLaren, and a deal struck with Ricardo, the Britishbased technology company, to develop and build it for production. “Once we had laid out the car’s major dimensions, we knew no production-based engine would have worked in the space available,” says Farquhar. “The choice of a V8

was easy; it came from our race heritage. A V10 would have been longer. The 3.8-litre capacity gave a big enough bore size for good lowend torque, but was small enough to be compact and efficient.” Installed in the car, the engine looks tiny, and very low because of its dry-sump lubrication system and flat-crank configuration. It is a fourvalve-per-cylinder design with two chain-driven overhead camshafts per bank. The whole thing weighs

V8’s valley is well utilised, too; the oil/water heat exchanger is in there, plus an oil filter and a vacuum reservoir. The V8 is fuelled by port injection; Farquar says direct injection simply isn’t needed for the engine to achieve its objectives: 600ps (592bhp at 7000rpm) and 600Nm of torque (443lb ft between 3000 and 6500rpm). He agrees, however, that direct injection “provides us with a future opportunity”. In all, there are 34 ECUs on board. The exhaust system, usually heavy and bulky in normally aspirated supercars, is remarkably compact. It consists of a small ‘log’ manifold on each side in cast stainless steel, connecting to a small, close-coupled catalyst, with another catalyst a little further along. The two main pipes connect in a ‘mixing box’, just inside the rear body, and feed two high-mounted outlets. An even lighter sports version is available, made from a nickel chromium-based

‘NO PRODUCTION ENGINE WOULD HAVE WORKED IN THE SPACE AVAILABLE’ just 150kg and it uses a compact mounting system that allows it to sit close to the bulkhead (“We save 30mm of wheelbase that way,” says Farquhar). The ancillaries are driven by shafts running low along the sides of the engine, and the

alloy used in Formula 1 systems. Occupants hear the engine via a tuned sound generator in the inlet system that directs and varies sound into the cabin according to the chosen engine/transmission mode. The car can be muted while cruising, but highly vocal when used in anger. The gearbox is a seven-speed twin-clutch unit with Graziano internals and a McLaren casing. It is specially designed to take advantage of the engine’s position in the chassis and deliver an unusually low centre of gravity for the entire powertrain. The driver actuates gearshifts via a race-style paddle system, which rocks on a central fulcrum and allows onehanded gearchanging up or down, a carry-over from McLaren’s F1 cars. Another F1 tweak is Brake Steer, which forms part of the 12C’s chassis stability system to tame understeer and control wheelspin. In the 12C this is actually more sophisticated than the original F1 system, which used a second brake pedal and was banned when rivals complained. McLaren says Brake Steer has the same effect as a torque-vectoring diff but saves around 20kg. There are two other important driver aids. By putting a gentle initial pressure on a gearchange paddle, a driver can activate a ‘pre-cog’ function that pre-loads the clutch, ready for a quicker gearchange. There is also a handy restorative function: if the driver brakes hard and forgets to change down, he can pull and hold the left paddle to summon assistance. When he accelerates away, the car is in the right gear, and at the right revs. Naturally the 12C also has the Automatic, Winter and Launch Control modes one finds in rivals. l Compact exhaust system cuts weight; noise levels are driver-adjustable

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AERODYNAMICS McLaren’s aero expert, Simon Lacey, says the MP4-12C’s major styling features matched its aerodynamic goals well from the project’s beginnings. Even the car’s ‘waisted’ shape helps present the main engine intakes to undisturbed air. Lacey cites four main development areas: the front cooling ducts, the radiator side intakes, brake cooling, and the core task of increasing downforce and decreasing drag. Detail work has included tuning airflow into and out of the wheel arches, and making sure all intakes are fed and all outlets exhaust. The car has “a nice flat bottom” and an effective diffuser, says Lacey, and can develop 100kg of downforce at 150mph, spread over the car in proportion to its static weight distribution (43 per cent front, 57 per cent rear). Detailed aero development has brought important results. An afternoon spent with

plasticine, reshaping the exterior mirror supports, brought a wind noise reduction “anyone would notice”. Another afternoon spent changing the shape of the windscreen wiper arm achieved the same thing. McLaren isn’t keen to divulge an overall drag factor for the 12C, but claims good results. “We reckoned the car to be draggier,” says Lacey, “but it’s spot on the original targets.” The 12C’s headline aero feature is its air brake, a neat flap on the rear deck that deploys rapidly under heavy braking. Shaped like an upside down aeroplane wing, it rises to 57 degrees but is cleverly designed so that airflow acting on its base actually helps it erect itself, saving nearly 50 per cent in the weight of the mechanism. The wing also helps to counteract the heavy nosedive that comes with rapid stops, keeping the car stable and allowing the rear wheels to accept more brake effort. “It’s a great system,” says Lacey — “a no-brainer in a car like this.”

WHEELS, TYRES, BRAKES Programme director Mark Vinnels has a simple recipe for success: “There’s no substitute for miles behind the wheel.” Mindful of the ride deficiencies ultralow-profile tyres often bring to cars like this, McLaren specifies 19-inch front wheels for the 12C, “to ensure the sidewall height is large enough for good impact isolation”. The car will wear specially made Pirelli P Zeros that use a softer compound than usual because the Proactive damper system exerts better control than

conventionally suspended models. The rear wheels are 20-inchers, wearing mighty 305/35s. The brakes are cast iron discs mounted on aluminium centres, which save 8kg compared with the all-iron alternative McLaren considered at first. Optional carbonceramic discs shave 3kg at greater cost, but engineers are positive that the standard brakes deliver all the retardation the 12C demands. “We’ve had 300 people working on this car, and plenty of them have driven a long way in it,” says Vinnels. “We want our cars to be the best, and we can’t contemplate losing — to anyone.”

l Weight savings mean exotic brake materials aren’t required, though carbon-ceramic discs are optional

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McLaren MP4-12C Development

1 MULE VEHICLE

2 CONCEPT P R OTOT Y P E

Featuring a prototype version of the carbonfibre tub. Has Perspex windows, imitation exhausts and very little interior trim.

3 E X P E R I M E N TA L P R OTOT Y P E

Built in 2009, these had the right panels and parts. Used for powertrain and chassis calibration, plus crash and durability testing.

S P O T T H E

DIFFERENCE Ever wondered how to tell an MP4-12C prototype from the real thing? Matt Saunders finds out while learning more about how the car is engineered Photography Stan Papior

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One of three very early prototypes built to evaluate basic powertrain and chassis options. Ultima body hides first version of active rollcontrol suspension.


4 VA L I D AT I O N P R OTOT Y P E

Close enough in terms of appearance to the finished article to need a ‘this is a prototype’ warning sticker. Built using production-spec tooling, but in the MTC rather than the (under construction) MPC factory. Used for electronics set-up and quality checking.

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McLaren MP4-12C Development

l Concept prototype was one of 66 mules built to test chassis strength and mechanical configuration

R l Silver car is still a prototype, though much further evolved

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ight now, there can’t be many more exciting places to work anywhere in the global motor industry than Chertsey Road, Woking. That’s because McLaren Automotive is about to produce. The paint is now dry on the company’s new £40 million McLaren Production Centre, from where, in a matter of weeks, the MP4-12C supercar will begin to roll out to expectant customers. And so, after four years of intensive design and engineering and close to £750m of investment, the world is about discover exactly how good one of the most anticipated sports cars in history really is. But what if the genesis of this incredible car stopped now, before even ‘job one’ – the very first customer order – appeared completed at the factory shutters? What would Ron Dennis have to show for all that invested money and effort? The answer, aside from so many hard drives’ worth of digital ‘intellectual property’


and a very large, very quiet factory, is a warehouse full of prototypes. It’s by the design, specification, assembly, testing and subsequent disassembly of prototypes like these that all new cars find their way to the road. These are the cars that bridge the gap between the designers’ vision and the finished product. There are prototypes conceived to test the effectiveness of primary structural systems, to carry out engine and gearbox proving, for dynamic and aerodynamic development, for crash testing and active safety set-up, for the configuration of onboard electronics, for hot and coldweather proving, for the verification of final production design and more. You’d be amazed at how many ‘mule’ versions of the MP4-12C McLaren needed to build before it could even contemplate building the very first customer car. You’d be even more amazed, believe me, at what they cost, and at the provenance of some of the parts that lurk beneath the surface. Standing in one of the McLaren Technology Centre’s impossibly clean workshops, we’re currently looking at four of those prototypes. The nearest one to us is painted, trimmed, flawlessly finished – indistinguishable from a production-line 12C, really. The farthest, by contrast, is outwardly indistinguishable from an Ultima GTR kit car. And we’re about to find out exactly how McLaren progressed from one to the other.

l Mark Vinnels (above right) oversaw development; since mechanical evaluation was the priority at first, the fit and finish was very basic, even on later prototypes before the trim was finalised

Masters of disguise

“We’ve built 66 mule cars to date out of the workshops at the MTC,” explains McLaren programme director Mark Vinnels. “We’ve got eight more to go, followed by a further 16 ‘marketing cars’ – and that’s all before job one starts at the factory. The very earliest were little more than a running chassis, while the latest are built using production-ready parts and tooling; those ones don’t cost an awful lot more than production-line cars.” McLaren called its very earliest prototype MP4-12Cs, built at the beginning of 2008, ‘MVs’, short for ‘mule vehicles’. There were three of them: two for very early powertrain work, the other for the earliest proving of McLaren’s Proactive interlinked hydraulic roll-control suspension. “Our suspension car was photographed a few times,” explains Mark, pointing to the black Ultima-based chassis at the far end of the room. “We needed a car of roughly the right size and weight to experiment with this active suspension set-up, and the Ultima was perfect.” Must have delivered a frisson of amusement, too, throwing journalists and spy photographers so far off the scent with a mule car as left-field as an Ultima. After the MVs came the CPs, or concept prototypes, represented in our photos by the black and white car. These were the first MP4-12Cs that were vaguely representative of the final car in terms of underbody and outward structure. They hit the road fully two years ago, before the final production design of the car had been made public, wearing heavy disguise. “We had several early carbon Monocells pressed for the CPs,” says Vinnels, “and

we mainly used the cars to explore our structural options. We’d already committed to a carbonfibre tub and knew we wanted to make it as light as possible, but not by compromising stiffness. And so our CPs had tubs varying from 80-something kilos at their heaviest, down to 69 at their lightest.” They were expensive, too, costing McLaren up to half a million pounds each. A closer look at the zebra-striped concept prototype shows some intriguing details. From a distance it’s clearly a 12C, thanks largely to the distinctive air intakes on each side, but the closer you get, the more differences you see. The CP has got swollen front and rear bumpers, jury-rigged lights, what appear to be mock exhaust pipes buried in the rear bumper, Perspex windows and door handles that could have been lifted from an ironmonger’s bottom drawer. It’s something of a lashed-up masterpiece, but it evidently served its purpose.

Come 2009, after the CPs, came the first breed of almost undisguised prototypes: the XPs, or experimental prototypes. Vinnels says these were “mules with the right body on”, like the all-black 59-plate mule in our photos; they were ‘real’ cars built with prototype tools on the old SLR line at the MTC. It was in one of these that McLaren hotshoes Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button got their first taste of the MP4-12C. The XPs were also the first 12C prototypes to hit the development trail in earnest, running engine, chassis and electronics calibration tests all over Europe and doing hot and cold-weather tests. McLaren’s proving programme took in the IDIADA proving ground in Catalunya, as well as Nardo in Italy, the Paul Ricard circuit in France and the Nürburgring in Germany. It included a 10,000km flat-out handling test at Nardo conceived to push the MP4-12C’s chassis to the limit of its capabilities and ◊ WWW.AUTOCAR.CO.UK 29


McLaren MP4-12C Development

l Simulator was developed for Formula 1; it’s as good as the real thing

D R I V I N G T H E S I M U L A T O R

The MP4-12C’s handling was finessed virtually in McLaren’s in-house simulator. We try it out Over the years I’ve had to fill out a few disclaimers before driving things, but never so that I could drive something that looks like an oversized computer game. A few highlights from McLaren’s paperwork: “If you have any health problems or are unsure whether you are fit enough… You must wear seatbelts, a correctly fitting helmet and gloves… The steering feedback motor is powerful and could cause injury.” Eh? This simulator — which has been used to shave hundreds of hours off the MP4-12C’s development time — was developed initially for F1 cars. It’s used to find optimum set-ups for upcoming races and the differences between lap times at Woking and those recorded on race weekends are, typically, within a tenth of a second. “What happens in here is exactly the same as what happens in the real car,” says 12C development driver Chris Goodwin. And he knows, because he’s driven the same tracks, with the same set-ups, in both real and virtual 12Cs. The amount of throttle required to break traction in the virtual car around any given corner, for example, is exactly the same as it’d take in the real thing. The way it slides, stops, goes — identical. It makes the sim invaluable for trying things without actually having to try them. Most car makers’ simulators employ hydraulic rams, but

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because the vertical movements in an F1 car are small, and its reactions so fast, only the rapid response of electric motors was good enough for McLaren. That means it’s small, by sim standards. It could fit in a big front room, rather than a warehouse. What does differ is the sensation. The g-forces are lower, obviously, but different also are the steering kickback and the sensation through the seat. “The real and virtual car almost exist in parallel universes,” explains Goodwin. Once you’ve got your head around that, and learned what each movement and feedback means, you start to get it. And then, presumably, when understeer turns to oversteer a bit too rapidly and you think, “If we tweaked this by x per cent we might solve that…” and you try it and you know within minutes whether it works, then it really makes sense. Oh, and when I said it looked like an oversized computer game? Well, that was sort of true. But it’s also brilliant fun. I could have stayed in it all night. MATT PRIOR

∆ durability, and was driven in shifts. It also included an intriguing 5000km powertrain test at IDIADA that Vinnels calls the ‘IDIschleife’. “We data-logged all the throttle positions, braking positions and gearchange points from a flat-out lap of the Nordschleife,” he says, “and then repeated them on the highspeed bowl at IDIADA, over longer than we could have at the ’Ring. It was a great stress test for the engine and gearbox.” It was with the XPs that McLaren’s crash testing programme for the MP4-12C also began. “We had to be sure that the basic underbody structure of the car was strong. Structural parts like the Monocell, the car’s primary crash structures and the body-inwhite around the bulkheads – they’re all long-lead items. It takes a long time to change their design, and doing that can have all sorts of knock-on effects on the design of other components, so if you do need to redesign anything major, you need to know early on.” “Altogether, we threw 12 cars at the wall,” Vinnels goes on. “We’ve done well over a hundred barrier tests and more than 250 sled tests with all kinds of offset barriers and poles, and at various speeds. And we’re very happy with the car’s crash performance. The basic passenger Monocell is sufficiently strong that we could recover several of the tubs used in one test, fit new crash members and re-use them.”

Uncompromising approach

Standing in front of the final prototype in the workshop, Vinnels explains the raison d’être of a validation prototype, or VP. “These cars are built using production tooling; they allow us to start assessing and fine-tuning material quality and fit and finish on the car, as well as to continue tuning electronics, driving characteristics and NVH.

‘ULTIMATELY, THERE’S ONLY 300

l Lewis Hamilton drove one of the validation prototype 12Cs at Goodwood last year


l Black and white concept prototype has Perspex windows and off-the-shelf lights

OF US; FORD WOULD HAVE HAD 3000 PEOPLE WORKING ON A PROJECT LIKE THIS’ “We’ve built 22 VPs to date, having started in January 2010,” Vinnels says, speaking back in December, “and by the time we get to number 30 we’ll have arrived at a car we’re pretty much ready to sign off.” There is one further prototype stage, he explains, during which McLaren will make a number of production prototypes, or PPs. They’ll come off the factory line just like any customer car, allowing the team to validate their quality and performance one last time. If the MPC production cycle isn’t quite right – if designed-in, systemic problems are adversely affecting build quality – these cars will allow McLaren to remedy the situation without disappointing customers. So is there any part of that development process that McLaren could have skipped or trimmed, you wonder, without adversely affecting the finished car? Four years seems like an unusually long gestation, after all. Not according to Vinnels, who joined McLaren in 2005 and therefore oversaw the whole thing. “The fact that we were starting from scratch with the 12C, without any proven componentry we could carry over

from a previous model at all, added a year to the process,” he says. “We’ve also been pretty uncompromising in our approach, and that’s added time in. We couldn’t find a ventilation system for the car that was compact enough, and yet good enough to meet our requirements, for example. So, for the sake of 50mm of overall width, we developed our own. We’ve been continually focused on weight, too; the original specification was for 20kg of sounddeadening NVH insulation in the car but, after some experimenting, we’ve ended up with just 7kg.” You get the distinct impression that engineers with Vinnels’ experience (he has stints at British Aerospace, Lotus and GM on his CV) aren’t in the habit of wasting time and money without gain. “When I step back and look at the car we’ve created, I’m proud of the work – even more proud of the team that did it, though,” he says. “Ultimately, there’s only 300 of us; Ford would have 3000 people working on a project like this. When you guys finally get to drive this car, I’m hoping you’ll agree that we’ve done a good job.” L WWW.AUTOCAR.CO.UK 31


McLaren MP4-12C Extreme testing

HOT HOT HOT HOT HOT AND AND AND AND AND COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD

RUNNING TORTURE McLaren’s extreme testing programme subjected the MP4-12C to altitudes of up to 12,000ft and ambient temperatures from scorching to well below freezing

10 Yu c c a , A r i z o n a : A u g u s t 2 0 By summer 2010 the MP4-12C was at verification stage and engineers took VP11 to an airbase-turned-provingground just off America’s Route 66, near Yucca, Arizona, for hot weather sign-off. The development team spent two and a half weeks repeating hot weather tests they’d first performed in Bahrain, testing the effectiveness of MP4-12C’s

Arjeplog, Sweden: January 2009

The MP4-12C had its first major climatic test when McLaren engineers took one of the early ‘XP’ experimental prototypes to the Arctic Circle in the depths of winter 2009. “Between testing the warm-up behaviour of the car, signing off its Pirelli winter tyres and tuning its ESP for winter driving, we did a lot of basic verification to make sure door seals, window seals and door handles didn’t crack,” explains development team leader Andy Beal. “Most of our running was done in

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temperatures between minus 10 and minus 20 degrees, the latter being the coldest we expect to get optimal performance from the car. But we did limited work as cold as minus 32 degrees. At those temperatures, tyres literally freeze to the spot if you leave the car standing too long. “We were keen to find out whether snow ingress into the engine cooling ducts would be a problem. Unfortunately, that meant spending hours drifting it around on frozen lakes. But we were big enough to take one for the team on that.”

l Verification test cycle brought MP4-12C to Arizona and the legendary Route 66

climate control system at ambient temperatures up to 46deg C. “A lot of our verification test cycles are designed to mimic typical use,” explains Beal. “So we ran slow, stop-start cycles to simulate town driving, repeated full-bore launches to simulate ‘traffic light grands prix’; highspeed autobahn patterns too.” Being in the western USA also gave the team the chance to


H I T T I N G T H E WA L L : Putting MP4-12C to the ultimate test

McLaren conducted more than a hundred barrier crash tests, and around 250 sled tests, to ensure the MP4-12C conformed to the highest attainable safety standards. The car’s carbonfibre Monocell gives it remarkable body strength — so much that, although only 12 cars were built for the crash testing programme, several of their carbon tubs were entirely undamaged by impacts and could be re-used for subsequent tests. Note that the tests were done on mules without a proper roof — one of the biggest hints of all that a convertible version of the MP4-12C is on its way. l Watch the McLaren MP4-12C crash test video online at autocar.co.uk

l McLaren built 12 cars for crash simulation, and the carbonfibre tubs proved tough enough to be re-used

test the MP4-12C at altitude — specifically up at 9500ft, driving to Flagstaff, Arizona. “At high altitude, the air’s thinner and cooling systems become less effective,” says Beal. “It was important to find out that we weren’t overspeeding the MP4-12C’s turbos; we did some performance driving on dirt roads

50º

to establish that.” Weeks earlier in Spain, near Granada, McLaren’s development trail had taken the MP4-12C up to 12,000ft without issue.

S a k h i r, B a h r a i n : A u g u s t 2 0 0 9

At the height of summer 2009, McLaren’s development schedule took Beal’s team to the Sakhir circuit, home of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Their work here was dedicated to hot weather testing. A week on the circuit enabled them to test the performance of the MP4-12C’s air conditioning system running at high speed in temperatures above

50deg C, as well as to optimise the cooling of the MP4-12C’s engine, specifically its turbos. “When the track temperature is above 60deg C, you can’t do meaningful handling tests at Bahrain; the tyres immediately overheat,” says Beal. “We focused on fast laps to test engine and brake cooling. We also developed a simulated hillclimb test which

involved towing a weight behind the car in a low gear, with maximum engine load and little airflow into the radiators. “This was our last ‘big tear-up’ of the car mechanically,” Beal concludes. “We came out of Bahrain with revised charge cooling, fan placement and thermal insulation, as well as with HVAC [ventilation] improvements and better cabin sealing.”

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‘I WA N T O NE’ Jenson Button hasn’t wangled an MP4-12C into the terms of his racing contract yet – but he’s “working on it”, he tells Steve Sutcliffe

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JJJ

enson Button is looking at his absolute coolest today. His face is tanned and has that glow, the one you only ever see on the faces of the world’s fittest, highest-paid sports stars. He’s wearing a pair of fashionable black trousers that appear almost to hang from his unfeasibly slight 6ft frame. And on top of that he sports no more than a black V-neck sweater. The shoes are McLaren standard-issue black and silver Reebok trainers, the same as those worn by all members of the F1 team since Lewis Hamilton


Riding with Button McLaren MP4-12C

secured a personal contract with Reebok. I’ve met Button once before, at Silverstone towards the end of 2007, but that was a long time ago. More so in his mind, you suspect, than mine. Back then he was close to the end of his tether. Formula 1 may even have seemed like a fading dream at the time. Team Honda was on the brink of doing not much – again – and poor old Jenson was forced to spend an entire day with me, teaching me how to drive an F1 car that, in his words, was fairly hopeless beside the best. Yet he was genuinely good company that

day, not at all the recalcitrant superstar one might have expected to meet under the circumstances. We did a time trial against each other in Civic Type Rs and he beat me by over a second. And when later I drove his F1 car around the circuit, he gave me pep talks and advice on what to do. He seemed like a thoroughly likeable, normal bloke, albeit one whose career seemed to be sliding. And then two years later he was F1 world champion. And now, of course, he’s about to begin his second season driving for McLaren, doing the things that McLaren drivers do. Like flying ◊

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McLaren MP4-12C Riding with Button “because last year’s car was designed to suit Lewis, not me” – a situation that was addressed to Button’s liking during the off-season. And then he absolutely nails it down towards the first corner. The brakes in this car are, shall we say, somewhat beyond their best, hence the series of expletives that erupt from Button’s mouth when he hits the middle pedal into Turn 1 and the entire car judders under the strain. It needs new pads, having been battered all day, every day for the past week, but as ever Button uses this as a positive. “In that case, I’ll just have to show you how well it handles, and how mega the Brake Steer system is. Watch this…” he exclaims as we drift neutrally through a third-gear righthander, with the unloaded inside front wheel seemingly glued to the apex, despite the laws of physics suggesting it shouldn’t be. “That’s one of the best things about this car,” he says, giggling maniacally as we fire up the hill – towards the crest before Turn 6. ‘THE ‘THE GUYS CLAIM THERE’S ‘THE GUYS CLAIM THERE’S “There’s no roll, and the ‘THE GUYS CLAIM THERE’S ‘THEGUYS GUYSCLAIM CLAIMTHERE’S THERE’S 25 PER CENT MORE GRIP Brake Steer system [which 25 PER CENT MORE GRIP 25 25 PER CENT MORE GRIP 25 PER PER CENT CENT MORE MORE GRIP GRIP detects cornering loads via a MID-APEX BECAUSE OF THE MID-APEX BECAUSE OF THE MID-APEX MID-APEX BECAUSE OF THE MID-APEX BECAUSE BECAUSE OF OF THE THE number of sensors mounted HYDRAULIC HYDRAULIC ROLL SYSTEM, HYDRAULIC ROLL SYSTEM, HYDRAULIC ROLL SYSTEM, around the car and then HYDRAULICROLL ROLLSYSTEM, SYSTEM, AND YOU BELIEVE THEM WHEN AND YOU BELIEVE THEM WHEN the rear brakes to kill AND YOU BELIEVE THEM WHEN AND AND YOU YOU BELIEVE BELIEVE THEM THEM WHEN WHEN tickles understeer] keeps the nose YOU SEE WHAT IT CAN DO’ YOU SEE WHAT IT CAN DO’ YOU YOU SEE WHAT IT CAN DO’ YOU SEE SEE WHAT WHAT IT IT CAN CAN DO’ DO’ really well controlled. “The guys claim there’s maybe 25 per cent more grip mid-apex immediately Jenson Button the racing driver because of the hydraulic roll system than manifests himself. there is in a car with conventional anti-roll He talks me through the car’s three-way bars, and you kind of have to believe them suspension and transmission controls and when you see what this thing can do,” he says he’s not going to turn the traction beams. “Ready?” he then asks, in the same control off “because the car is faster with it tone that Jack Nicholson had when he said, on. And fast is what the 12C is all about”. “Wendy, I’m home…” We then head gingerly down the pitlane. The 12C goes light just before the top of Button says something about how much the crest and feels, just for a moment, like it he’s looking forward to this season because might actually be about to take off. We’re in the car, he feels, is going to be great. He fourth gear, I think, and the acceleration is also says he fits the cockpit better this year,

∆ to Portugal with his girlfriend, Jessica, to spend a day thrashing around a circuit in the new 12C with a succession of awe-struck journalists in the passenger seat, some of whom are from China and appear to believe that ‘our Jense’ might be some kind of deity. “The Chinese guys were great,” he says, just before we climb aboard a bright orange 12C that’s been hammered for most of the day. “They just sat there wide-eyed. One of them made this really weird noise when we went over the crest towards Turn 6. Have you been round here before?” he asks. “No, what’s it like?” I reply. “Oh it’s good, it’s great, especially the crest before Turn 6. Did I tell you about the crest before Turn 6?” The winding up continues for a while, until the PR man suggests that we might like to get on with things, given that Mr and Mrs Button should have left for their plane 10 minutes ago. So we climb aboard and

l The 2009 Formula 1 world champion gives Sutcliffe a guided tour

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just phenomenal. And then I realise what all the fuss is about. Right there, on the other side of the crest, the road falls away sharply to what appears to be a second-gear hairpin, seemingly no more than 50 feet away. It’s a shocking, sickening but curiously exciting realisation – if only because I know that, despite the drama and the bravado, Button has absolutely no intention of exiting stage left during such an early and excellent phase of his life. Besides, shot brake pads and all, the 12C is more than up to the job. Which is why we stop in perfectly good time for the corner and then sail towards the apex, again in a deliciously controlled, neutral slide. We do the same thing through pretty much every corner for another three laps, all the while Button describing what the car is doing. He seems genuinely amazed by it, even though it must feel slow and heavy in comparison with his other McLaren, relatively speaking. “So will you get given one of these as your company car?” I ask as we head back. “No, but I tell you what,” he says. “I’m working on it, because I want one.” Which just about says it all. L


l MP4-12C’s pace and agility impressed, though test car’s brakes were cooked after being thrashed for a week

T O P

T R I C K :

B R A K E

S T E E R

McLaren has updated an old trick from its Formula 1 cars to kill understeer and boost traction Jenson Button’s favourite thing about the MP4-12C is, he says, its Brake Steer system. This is a development of the system used by David Coulthard and Mika Häkkinen in the Formula 1 car in the late 1990s, which featured a second brake pedal that the drivers could use to balance the handling and aid traction on the way out of slower corners. The idea was that by tickling the rear brakes mid-corner the driver could reduce understeer, and by using it at the exit they could trim any unwanted wheelspin. The system was famously brought to light when eminent

F1 photographer Darren Heath shoved his camera into the footwell of Häkkinen’s car and took a picture of the elusive third pedal. It was later outlawed by F1’s governing body. But that hasn’t stopped McLaren from developing a similar system for the 12C. It works in exactly the same way in principle, except the car itself decides when to tickle the rear brakes, not the driver. McLaren’s Chris Goodwin developed the system by manually applying the brakes via a lever mounted on a test mule’s steering wheel. Engineers then logged the

data and worked out when, precisely, the brakes were being tickled — and then replicated the effect automatically. Result: all you are aware of is the 12C feeling incredibly well

balanced mid-corner and having extraordinary traction out of slow corners, despite not having a conventional anti-roll bar or a limited-slip diff in sight. The word ‘spooky’ springs to mind…

l Many of the 12C’s tricks are F1-derived

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McLaren MP4-12C Road trip

THE LONG W HOME

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AY

When McLaren asked us if we’d like to drive a pre-production MP4-12C from Portugal back to the UK with its development team, we could hardly refuse. Steve Sutcliffe ‘volunteered’ Photography Stan Papior

D AY O N E

5pm, Portimão, Portugal

Three laps with Jenson Button in the new McLaren is at least two laps too few after a 4am start, followed by a long day on the road to reach the middle of nowhere in southern Portugal. Then again, the circuit at Portimão – the venue chosen by McLaren to demonstrate the production prototype MP4-12C to a selected few hacks from across the world – is quite some circuit. And Jenson Button is quite some driver. And, as I’m also about to discover, the 12C is quite some car. Jenson, as you may have read on the preceding pages, is clearly a fan. He loves the way its new hydraulic anti-roll system works, is impressed by its rabid performance, and says the way in which you can trail brake into corners without the tail going twitchy makes the 12C unique in his experience. And Jenson has plenty of experience: he’s just bought a 911 GT2 RS, having sold his Veyron “because the first service cost 15 grand. I thought it would be an investment. I was wrong”. Today, though, our end goal is not just to discover how tasty the MP4-12C is to drive – or ◊ WWW.AUTOCAR.CO.UK 39


McLaren MP4-12C Road trip ∆ be driven in – around a circuit. It’s about putting miles beneath its new lightweight alloy wheels and into its twin-turbo 3.8-litre V8 engine – about 350 miles, to be precise. That’ll be enough to take us close to the border with Spain in the north of Portugal by the end of a very long day. During the next day we’ll head east across northern Spain towards Bilbao, through the Basque region and across the border into France near San Sebastián. On day three we’ll pass through Bordeaux, heading north to the tragically historic WW2 village of Oradour-sur-Glane, and eventually towards Le Mans. And on day four we’ll head back to Blighty. The total anticipated distance will be somewhere between 1500 and 1600 miles, give or take the odd detour. Our convoy consists of two production prototype MP4-12Cs, PP09 and PP10, as well as one Mercedes E-class estate and a Ford S-Max. From McLaren there is senior vehicle engineer Simon Andrew, electrical technician Chris Simmons, vehicle technician Matt Griegg and Dan the PR man. Representing Autocar is Andy Coles on video, Stan Papior on camera and yours truly on keyboards. At the time of writing (late January) the 12C is yet to gain its final seal of approval, which means our four-day mega-trip represents a small but important part of the sign-off process. The specific aim is to make sure the car’s massively complex electrical systems are all good enough to go; if so, the software can then be cast in stone within the car’s numerous ECUs for the production run. It will also give us a unique opportunity to sample the 12C as an owner might, cramming as many miles into less than a week as most drivers will cover in perhaps half a year. l Merc E-class estate support car took care of spares, although most weren’t needed

10pm, Lisbon l Road trip back to Blighty got under way immediately after the press launch at Portimão circuit

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Already I’m gobsmacked at how refined the 12C is as a motorway cruiser. We’ve done 200-odd miles already and yet, relatively speaking, I still feel fresh, calm and relaxed. The car’s ride is extraordinarily well ◊


l The McLaren averaged 19.4mpg, even after some hard driving


McLaren MP4-12C Road trip CALAIS l Leaving the cars to warm up at idle outside the hotel at 7am won Autocar’s team few friends

5. Car handles broken urban roads with aplomb. Arrive early evening on fourth day

T H E R O U T E

Le Mans

Three countries, four days, 1500 miles: this is how our road trip test of McLaren’s new £170k supercar happened

Fra n ce 4. End of day two, almost 900 miles down, 19.4mpg on the trip computer

Oradour-sur-Glane

Bordeaux 2. Performance feels incredible on empty motorway in early morning

3. We’re mobbed by teenagers on seafront

Burgos

San Sebastián

Robliza de Cojos

tug

al

Guarda

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Spain 1. Just under 350 superrefined motorway miles in four hours. Surprisingly comfortable cruiser

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PORTIMAO

∆ resolved in any of its various suspension settings on these roads, and the steering is one-finger easy. As for the drivetrain – the engine, gearbox, paddle shift operation, clutch, you name it – it’s plain spooky in its slickness of operation. The seats, too, seem to fit my frame to perfection, which is a delightful surprise considering how much time I’ll be spending in them during the next few days. I get back ache in most cars after an hour at the wheel nowadays, but after three hours straight I’ve not had so much as a twinge in the 12C. Even the visibility is exceptional for a car of this kind, be that to the front, to the sides or – crucially in a mid-engined road rocket – out of the rear. Result: we reach our destination in Guarda, in the north-east of Portugal, just before midnight, feeling amazingly fresh considering how far we’ve just driven (347 miles) in such a short space of time, and at the end of such a very long day. The McLaren boys check the oil in the two 12Cs and add a couple of hundred millilitres to PP09. Our car, PP10, is tickety-boo. 42 WWW.AUTOCAR.CO.UK

l Transmission and suspension settings are adjustable (far left), but 12C copes admirably with a variety of surfaces


‘THERE’S ICE ON THE CARS AND THE TEMPERATURE GAUGE READS MINUS SIX’

There have been no major electrical gremlins to speak of (although the air-con in PP10 did appear to throw a wobbly for a while, causing the screen to steam up, before righting itself half an hour out of Guarda). We have a short debrief in the lobby, which basically consists of me eulogising about the car until the eyes of the McLaren boys glaze over. And then we go to bed. At 1.30am the alarm goes off on PP10. Turns out I hadn’t shut the unusually large front boot properly. Chris Simmons, who has to crank himself out of bed to switch the alarm off, is not my number one fan.

D AY T W O

7am, Guarda, Portugal

Our initial destination today is Burgos in northern Spain, with the eventual aim of reaching Bordeaux by bedtime. Maybe. Although the sun has already risen, there’s still ice all over the cars and the temperature gauge in PP10 is reading minus six. So we fire up the two 12Cs and let them idle for a while, much to the joy (or otherwise) of everyone else staying in the hotel. Even at idle, and

especially during its warm-up phase, the 12C’s twin-turbo V8 emits a delicious bass rumble that gets you right in the chest. Half an hour later and we’re cruising at a steady 150-155km/h in convoy towards the Spanish border. The sun is glowing yellow-golden to our right. The roads are empty and in places still covered in the early morning dew, which makes them glisten like a ribbon of jewels that stretch towards the far horizon. And once again the 12C feels quite fantastic to be in. I didn’t get much of a chance to explore the performance properly last night, partly because it was dark when we set off but also because we were in convoy and no one knew quite where we were headed. It was not, in other words, an occasion on which to blast into the distance and hope that the others would catch up. In the daylight, though, and with the road pretty much to ourselves, it seems churlish not to let rip. Just for a moment. This is the new McLaren, after all. But the first time I put my foot down and hold it there properly, the level of thrust that’s unleashed through the rear tyres comes

genuinely and sincerely as a shock. For starters there’s the noise, which, at a steady 3000rpm/top-gear cruise had been virtually non-existent the night before but which at 8000rpm in third gear is brain-bendingly loud. Then there’s the sheer severity of the acceleration, which, if anything, is even more unexpected than the sound. It starts from the moment you nail the throttle at anything beyond 1500rpm, even in fourth gear – and by 3000rpm you can already feel your organs being squeezed hard into the seat. From there until the rev limiter at 8500rpm there is just a vast, constant wave of energy that catapults the 12C forwards with more conviction than any road car you’re ever likely to experience this side of a Bugatti Veyron – including the legendary McLaren F1. The numbers would appear to support this impression, too. According to McLaren’s own data, the MP4-12C will, in its optimum settings, dispatch 0-60mph in 3.1sec, 0-100mph in 6.1sec and the standing quarter mile in 10.9sec. When we tested the F1 in 1994 it did 0-60mph in 3.2sec, 0-100mph in 6.3sec ◊ WWW.AUTOCAR.CO.UK 43


McLaren MP4-12C Road trip

‘YOU DON’T EVEN NEED TO GO BERSERK IN THE 12C TO REALISE HOW QUICK IT REALLY IS’ ∆ and the standing quarter mile in 11.1sec. Whichever way you look at it, that means the 12C accelerates harder than the F1 – until it reaches somewhere between 160 and 170mph, at which point the oldtimer’s combination of longer gearing and lower downforce aerodynamics allow it to glide gracefully away. I didn’t get anywhere near those sorts of speeds last night, nor do I this morning. But then you don’t need to go berserk in the 12C to realise how quick it really is, because it’s the torque that leaves the biggest impression. Even at half throttle it provides enough acceleration to leave most other cars reeling in its wake, including one determined chap in a French-registered Porsche 911 Turbo who wouldn’t take no for an answer. At full throttle it feels quite magical in the way it picks up and hurls itself down the road. So much so that I’d wager a Ferrari 458 would struggle – and fail – to keep up, although we’d have to test that to be sure. 44 WWW.AUTOCAR.CO.UK

11.30am, northern Spain

We peel off the autovia half an hour after the Spanish border because Stan has spotted a moody-looking road, in the middle of a field, in the middle of nowhere. We rumble into the tiny village of Robliza de Cojos (population 223, according to the most recent census) with the two 12Cs at the front, much to the bewilderment of the locals, most of whom look like they were born in 1862. Two minutes after we stop, Stan wanders off to find his mystical road. Then PP09 drops a load of its coolant all over the village square. Turns out that the clips for the coolant hoses have been a minor issue during much of the prototype testing phase; those fitted to both PP09 and PP10 aren’t quite of the most recent specification. The chaps thought they’d be okay for our journey, despite being not of the final production spec. But the chaps, it seems, were wrong. So they hike PP09 up onto a makeshift jack that consists partly of a spare 12C rear wheel,


l This is a great place to be, even after four days on the move

then declare that they’ll be half an hour fitting the right clips – the ones they should have fitted at the circuit before we set off and the ones that’ll be fitted to the production cars, thank you very much, so stop giggling in the two-and-nines if you please. If nothing else, it gives Stan and Andy time to film and photograph PP10 in the village and, of course, to find their moodily lit road.

l Phenomenal torque delivery is likely to leave most rivals struggling to keep up

3pm, Rioja, Spain

With PP09 duly reclipped, we get back on the road and make good progress on the autovia past Valladoud, towards Burgos. At which point we head south again, deep into the countryside of Rioja, through Logroño to the hills above Najera. To the sort of place where they shoot wild boar before breakfast and then quaff a flagon of the local brew to celebrate the kill. Just outside Najera we find a road that could have been purpose built for the 12C. It meanders along one side of the valley, switching this way and that, then crosses a bridge and gets sillier still on the other side. Stan is in the passenger seat, doing his best to look for locations, aware that I’m getting increasingly carried away behind the wheel. The others are nowhere in sight but they know where we’re heading – sort of – so for the first time on the trip I get to find out what the 12C’s chassis can really do on a great road. And once again what I discover is extraordinary, perhaps more so even than its straight-line performance. The amount of grip the 12C can generate mid-corner is vaguely ridiculous for a road car, but the composure it displays and the lack of inertia it suffers from when changing direction is truly something else again. The spec sheet says this car weighs 1435kg, but from the pure agility it has on this road, it feels more like 900kg. The nose snaps to attention and glues itself on to the apex of whichever kind of corner I aim it at (and at ◊ l Coolant hose clips failed on both cars; after issues in testing, production models will be fitted with clips of a different spec

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McLaren MP4-12C Road trip

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‘I DON’T THINK I’VE DRIVEN A CAR THAT COULD GO FASTER DOWN THIS ROAD’

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McLaren MP4-12C Road trip

∆ seemingly any speed). And then the rest of the car just seems to follow. Yet despite the urgency of its responses, there’s nothing remotely neurotic in the way the 12C behaves. There are no spikes in its behaviour, no sharp edges to its handling or ride. So while it feels nailed to the ground over this most challenging of roads, it doesn’t feel nervous or scary to go with it. And that, apparently, was one of the key targets when designing the 12C’s chassis: it had to be quick in terms of response, but at the same time approachable and friendly near the limit. And supremely comfortable as well. Which is precisely how it feels over this road – to a point where even Stan in the passenger seat can’t quite believe how relaxed it feels, despite the ludicrous speed at which the scenery is passing us by. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve driven a car that could travel faster down this road without feeling like an accident waiting to happen. And then we come across a herd of sheep, grazing on the tiny bits of grass that are growing up out of the cat’s eyes – right in the 48 WWW.AUTOCAR.CO.UK

l Handling is sharp but never nervous; feels composed even when near the limit

middle of the road, in other words. That’s is when I discover how well a 12C stops, even on steaming fresh and quite fantastically slippery sheep ordure. At this point it is suggested that I might like to slow down and let the others catch up, perhaps even warn them about our four-legged friends. Stan takes a picture of the 12C with approximately 10,000 sheep surrounding it. We move on.

10pm, San Sebastián, Spain

Typical. We stop off in the food capital of Europe and all the McLaren boys want to do is eat a McDonald’s. They duly munch their way through what McLaren’s boss would probably call a non-optimal nutritional replenishment package at the side of the road as we take some night pictures of the 12C on San Sebastián’s breathtakingly beautiful


l Some people prefer a takeaway, even in a gastronomic paradise (right). A detour to war-blasted Oradoursur-Glane in France (below) provided a sombre moment

seafront. Half an hour later, as we’re parked up again outside the golden arches, a big black van pulls up alongside us and out jumps a posse of teenagers, all wanting to take photos of the 12C on their phones. It’s a nadge worrying to begin with because they’re quite aggressive in their demeanour, but on the other hand they know exactly what the 12C is. “Noo Mac-La-Ran” they bark en masse. One of them asks if it’s as fast as a Ferrari 458. “Faster,” I tell him, to which he throws me a look of absolute disbelief. Midnight, Bordeaux, France

We reach Bordeaux just after midnight, feeling pretty spent after putting another 550 miles into the 12Cs, which once again haven’t missed a beat. During the debrief I make a point about the red ‘engine start’ button glowing too brightly in the dark of night, to the point where I find it quite distracting. Simon Andrew notes my thoughts in his little black book and tells me the car has so far averaged 19.4mpg, which isn’t bad, then we all head for a well earned sleep.

D AY T H R E E

Midday, Oradour-sur-Glane, France

Next day we’re up just after dawn, and this time it’s team Autocar that heads to McDonald’s for a sausage and egg McMuffin and an espresso. Our destination today is Le Mans, where we’ll meet up with McLaren’s chief test driver and all-round top chap, Chris Goodwin. But before that we head to the extraordinary village of Oradour-sur-Glane, about 60 miles north-east of Bordeaux. In June 1944, just days before the Normandy landings during World War 2, the village was razed to the ground for no obvious reason by a German tank division. There were but a handful of survivors, the rest

of the village’s 642 inhabitants having been rounded up – under the pretext of making an identity check – and then shot. The women and children met their end in the village church. The tank division then moved north to deal with the Allied invasion, so many of the 200 soldiers died without facing justice. When Charles de Gaulle found out about the atrocity, he ordered that the village be left untouched as a mark of respect, and then he funded the building of a brand new town on the other side of the river. The original village remains absolutely as it was at the end of that appalling day on 10 June 1944: blown to pieces, a monument to the brutality of war. We take some pictures outside the village walls then head on our way, a strong ◊ WWW.AUTOCAR.CO.UK 49


McLaren MP4-12C Road trip

l GT3 version of the 12C could be racing at Le Mans before long

‘IT’S A SIGNIFICANT STEP FORWARDS IN A CLASS THAT’S ALREADY BURSTING WITH TALENT’ ∆ sense of reality in our hearts and minds. For a while no one says a lot; our epic mission in the 12C takes a back seat. 7pm, Le Mans, France

We drive into the town square where they hold scrutineering for the 24 Hours, and I recognise the beaming smile of Chris Goodwin through the window of PP09, which had been dispatched earlier to pick him up from Tours airport. He’s had a good two days at work since we last met, over 1000 miles ago in Portimão. “We signed off the ESP system on the track in Barcelona yesterday,” he says. “And today I sorted out my F1 driver [Bruno Senna] with a proper team [Renault, as a reserve driver] and got myself a really good seat for this year’s Nürburgring 24 Hours.” Goodwin is one of those people who leaves you breathless with respect when you talk to him – or, rather, when you listen to him. He does everything at 110mph but is also disarmingly eloquent. He’s one of those people the rest of us would secretly love to be. 50 WWW.AUTOCAR.CO.UK

l Test driver Chris Goodwin (far left) rejoined the party at Le Mans; he played a key role in shaping the 12C’s demeanour


And the 12C is very much his car. He drove the first ever mule, based on an Ultima chassis, way back in 2007. And he’s helped to sign off the dynamics all the way down the line ever since. He knows how good it is, knows how clever it is technically and how much hard graft has gone into its creation. But he also still loves driving it and listening to what other people who’ve driven it think. You can tell a lot about the 12C by spending an hour or two with its chief test driver.

D AY F O U R

11am, Le Mans

More pictures are taken in and around the famous Le Mans circuit during the morning. They’re even good enough to let us shoot some footage on the start/finish straight and on the hallowed section of track beneath the Dunlop Bridge, which is a treat. But by midday we’re all keen to get going, keen to head back to the UK via the Eurotunnel and complete the final leg of this marathon trip. Mild panic sets in when the coolant clip on PP10 lets go, literally as we’re about to head out of the circuit. Once again the lads set to, replacing the clip in half the time it took on PP09. The homing goggles are firmly in place now. It’s Friday afternoon and, to a man, each of us wants to get home. Goodwin jumps in PP10 beside me and we head for Rouen. He’s so enthusiastic about what the 12C can achieve, and how well it does what it does, that it can’t help but rub off. He says he spent the most time on the least obvious things: getting the low-speed steering feel just so, making sure the ride was supple, ensuring that the car is as easy to drive quickly as it is to drive slowly – so that no extraordinary skill is required to get close to what it can ultimately do, while at the same time keeping enough in reserve to satisfy the most hardcore owners. That’s where the three-way adjustable transmission and suspension settings come into their own. And the air brake, the Brake Steer (which is a revelation), the dual-clutch gearbox, the hydraulic roll control… Before we know it, we’re sitting in a traffic jam in the middle of Rouen, talking about Michael Schumacher, Bruno Senna, his uncle Ayrton and a chap called Dave Coyne (“the biggest talent never to make the big time”). We’re both amazed at how good the 12C’s ride is over such rubbishy town roads. And then just before we reach Boulogne it gets dark, and I notice that the engine start light is no longer as bright as it had been before. “Oh yeah, we changed the software on that because someone, not sure who, reckoned it was too bright,” says Goodwin. And at that point I realise our job, as they say, is done. On the Eurotunnel we say our goodbyes and I detect a genuine sense of respect in all directions. We’ve made it, after all, without any major dramas, and without losing each other for over 1500 miles. As for the 12C, it’s an extraordinary car – a significant step forwards in a class that’s already bursting with talent. I feel incredibly privileged to have been invited to drive it for such a long time. And I’ll never look at its engine start button in the same light again. L

l Driver-focused 12C pleases in a variety of environments; the controls you don’t need while driving are on the console (left)

l After four days and over 1500 miles, the convoy arrives in Calais — and Sutcliffe catches up on some well earned sleep

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McLaren MP4-12C The company 26TH MAR

6TH APR

29TH JUN

The Factory: March 2010-May 2011

HOW TO S TA R T A C A R CO M PA N Y It’s taken more than five years to establish McLaren Automotive. Steve Cropley finds out how it was done

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he name is different now, and so is the corporate plan. McLaren’s third phase of building cars for the road is nowadays handled by a division called McLaren Automotive – it used to be McLaren Cars – whose declared intention is to become a car company. The new MP4-12C is its centre of gravity, but several surrounding models will arrive to expand and stabilise the business. So says managing director Antony Sheriff, who joined McLaren at the beginning of 2003 to improve and expedite production of the then-current Mercedes SLR McLaren, but whose secret after-hours task was to use his skills as a former Fiat-Alfa-Ferrari-Maserati executive engineer to dream up the models and company structure that would at last turn McLaren into a ‘living’ road car marque. “The job began with the mythical clean sheet of paper,” says Sheriff, “except that we had the twin strengths of the McLaren brand and its technical capability at our disposal, which is a wonderful place to start. The company had previously built its cars serially – starting with one model and wondering what to move on to when it was finished – but for all sorts of reasons, principally economic, we weren’t going to be able to do that again. “But what should we do? The answer looked complex but it was also simple: we needed to build McLarens. That meant our next cars had to be technically the most advanced in their class, but we knew we could leverage a lot of F1 technology and speed of execution for that task. Our new McLarens would need to be winners, where winning means being the best. We wouldn’t just be trying to build the quickest cars, but the most efficient and spacious as well.” Sheriff spent 2003 assembling a team and getting the SLR operation working, and most of 2004/5 on keeping that humming and fleshing out the business case for the McLaren Automotive operation only they knew was coming. Now, he says, they have a range of “three or four” models that will be on the market until 2020, all mid-engined and all using the carbonfibre Monocell chassis tub being pioneered by the MP4-12C. As this is written, MP4-12C prototypes have just proved that they can accelerate from 0-200km/h (125mph) in under nine seconds, undercutting the Ferrari 458 Italia (“the best of our challengers”) by around 1.5sec, and the all-conquering Ferrari Enzo by a cool

half a second. The car can pull a constant 1g of longitudinal acceleration all the way through first gear, on its way to a 0-62mph time of around 3.1sec. It’s a remarkable performance, especially since the 12C’s CO2 figure is about 285g/km, drastically undercutting everything close to it in the market. This, Sheriff explains, is his interpretation of winning. “Combining efficiency with performance in a car like this underlines the intelligence of what you’re doing,” he says. A few hundred yards away, a team led by operations director Alan Foster is also putting the finishing touches to a magnificent new assembly plant (officially dubbed MPC, for McLaren Production Centre) which nestles almost out of view across the lake from the original McLaren Technology Centre, but on the same site. Foster, a 24-year veteran of car production who acquired his experience at Ford, Toyota and GM before arriving at McLaren in 2005, says it was far from certain in the beginning that McLaren would make the 12C in Woking. “At one stage we had seven options,” he says. “We could have made cars abroad, using businesses like Magna Steyr, or Valmet or Pininfarina. “Even after we’d decided to do it here – the general feeling was it takes McLaren people to build a McLaren car – we still had two options: to lease a plant or to build one. When we decided to build, we put 18 months into the planning. Ron Dennis had just one instruction: draw me what you need. Of course, we had lots of help from Norman Foster [no relation], who designed the original MTC building…” The celebrated attention to detail for which McLaren Group chief Ron Dennis is renowned came to the fore during the late planning stages of the MPC, Alan Foster recalls. “The plan called for an enclosed area 100 metres wide and 200 metres long, all

19TH AUG

l The McLaren Technology Centre will be ready to produce its first cars just over a year after breaking ground

tiled, just like we had in the SLR factory,” he says. “Someone in the company calculated that the 220,000 tiles needed would reach from the MPC to our new showroom at One Hyde Park, in central London. “Then we had a meeting with Ron, and he dropped a bombshell. He decided it needed to be smaller. We’d done all the calculations, and most things had been agreed, so we were quite perplexed, as you can imagine. Then he explained it was only a little change: he wanted to set it all on an 18-metre grid to make it 99 metres by 198 metres. He’d worked out that, based on the size of the tiles and taking the width of grouting into account, the 18-metre grid would mean we didn’t have to cut tiles. It would save three weeks of the tilers’ time and save £50,000 on the tiling…” Foster describes the MPC as “not expensive” at £40 million (his previous car plant, for GM, cost £180 million). Reasons? Because McLaren’s approach is to be thorough with the initial planning then change very little in the build phase: “The plan is the plan.” It also helps that, like the SLR, the MP4-12C is a hand-built car. Each MP4-12C takes about 20 days to build and is moved along its production path by hand, through 45-minute assembly cycles. No one should think of the process as primitive, however; McLaren has installed an electronically based check system on all key assembly operations to ensure they are completed exactly as required. Basic engines are made in a new McLarenliveried plant at the South Coast base of the consultancy Ricardo, which assisted with design and development, but are ‘dressed’ for installation (complete with seven-speed McLaren-Graziano twin-clutch gearbox) in a separate operation near the final assembly track. When more models are launched and the plant is working to capacity on two shifts at 90-100 cars a week, annual production should reach 4500 units. In theory, the plant could run three shifts (and nearly 7000 cars), but both Foster and Dennis are adamant that a third shift is not part of their planning. The 180,000-square-metre MPC, a relatively simple structure designed to have the same air of design-forward modernity as the McLaren Technology Centre, has ◊ l McLaren operations director Alan Foster is an industry veteran

‘WE KNEW WE COULD LEVERAGE F1 TECHNOLOGY AND SPEED OF EXECUTION ’

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McLaren MP4-12C The company 17TH SEP

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l MPC construction project progressed with remarkable speed and stayed on budget; site had significant planning constraints, and all soil excavated during the dig was re-used in landscaping

l MP4-12Cs will be moved along the MPC assembly line by hand

l Low-rise building will be screened from public view; inside, VIP gallery will provide a spectacular panorama

∆ been built with amazing speed. The builders, who needed to excavate around 180,000 cubic metres of earth from the site to lower and level it, broke ground in March 2010. As this is written, Foster says the project is around three weeks ahead of schedule, within £10,000 of budget, will be handed to the company about now, and its 200 personnel should start building cars by the end of May. McLaren people are all at pains to insist that top quality, not sales or production numbers, is their first concern. Foster talks a lot about a ‘no faults forward’ production system, and Sheriff reckons the company’s volume aspirations are low enough and the pre-order list is robust enough to prevent any suggestion of forcing cars down the pipeline. No specifics are available just yet, but McLaren reckons it will build cars strictly to order and that it has established demand “for a year or so”. On the marketing side, Sheriff readily acknowledges that McLaren is entering an arena where the long-established, big-name competition sets extremely high standards. 54 WWW.AUTOCAR.CO.UK

Even so, he sees no need for special marketing strategies. “We’re going to tell the truth,” he says. “When we say we have a technological lead, it’s the truth. When we cite McLaren’s racing heritage or say we’ll draw on our relationship with the F1 team, it’s the truth. Our approach is to be who we are. There’s no need to explain the car to people; they get it.” One remarkably successful McLaren move has been to equip most dealers with an ‘open’ display model of the MP4-12C – in effect a rolling chassis minus body. The idea wasn’t part of the original plan but evolved when potential dealers and buyers visited the MTC and started seeing the built-up carbon tubs, with their extruded aluminium structures, suspension and engines. “They’ve become very effective sales tools,” says Foster. “Practically every dealer wants one.” Sheriff talks a lot about designing McLaren’s road car operation along idealistic lines. That extends, he says, to the dealers. Most marques, even luxury brands, tend to have too many dealers, he believes, which affects dealer profitability and entices manufacturers to pay too much in margins to

help keep the dealer body profitable. McLaren will have few dealers, but they’ll be very special. They will operate over large areas and “do things very, very well”. Sheriff points to the unique location and image of the London McLaren dealer, opening in the exclusive One Hyde Park complex, as an example of a high-calibre dealership. “We want to be special,” he says. “We won’t be forcing our volume. The healthiest way to operate is to find customers who really want to buy. “When you analyse customer satisfaction, you find service is far more important than the buying process. And the main driver of service satisfaction is fixing the car first time. So we’re not even going to risk a dealer not having the right parts. Instead, we’ll make sure every dealer has all of the parts of the car, at all times. The only piece we won’t supply instantly is the carbon tub, but then, if your car needs a tub replacement, it’s probably not a candidate for same-day return.” Training is a vital link in McLaren’s chain of excellence, says Sheriff. The company has already had several dozen sales execs at Woking for training sessions. Why? Because at present sales execs are more important. Now McLaren is starting on dealers’ service technicians, who are coming to Woking “to see our standards at first hand”. Sheriff, always a passionate man, is utterly convinced that once the product is right, motivating McLaren Automotive people in every corner of the operation is vital to success. “There’s no magic bullet,” he says. “You achieve success in this business by having the right attitude and using the right approach. Get the spirit of the company right and the right results follow.” L


T H E FA C TO RY: I N D E TA I L

McLaren Automotive’s factory, the McLaren Production Centre (MPC), is 99 metres long and 198 metres wide and is linked to McLaren’s HQ by a tunnel. It’s taken just over a year to build, at a cost of £40m. McLaren boss Ron Dennis (above) took three weeks and £50k out of the production plan simply by suggesting it should be sized to suit the floor tiles. It could eventually produce 7000 cars a year. l Form follows function: as a factory rather than an HQ, the MPC is a very different building from its near neighbour

DEALERSHIPS: I N D E TA I L

McLaren will have 35 dealerships globally, of which three are in the UK; the flagship outlet is McLaren London at One Hyde Park. Run by the Jardine Motors Group, McLaren London will put particular emphasis on delivering customer satisfaction through service; like all of the firm’s dealerships, it will keep all replacement parts in stock in order to provide fast and effective maintenance.

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McLaren MP4-12C Track test

WHO DO THINK Y

McLaren’s mighty F1 GTR Le Mans winner is a tough act to follow. Can the MP4-12C live Photography Stuart Price

N

o matter how much better the McLaren MP4-12C may appear in the raw than it does in photographs – and it does look miles better in the metal, especially when rendered in the dazzling silver of this particular test car – it can’t hope to compete with the visual whirlwind that is a McLaren F1 GTR. Forget, for a moment, the GTR’s radioactive orange paint and the fact that it is a racing car, pure and simple, whose purpose was to win at Le Mans – because in the end neither of these things actually matters. What does matter is that the F1 GTR always was, and always will be, one of the most beautiful-looking cars there has ever been. Amen. So although the 12C is an entirely handsome machine in its own right, beside

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a GTR its impact is cruelly diluted – in much the same way that a soap opera starlet might seem somewhat less alluring when seen on the red carpet beside, say, Angelina Jolie. Even so, the 12C has put the F1 GTR firmly in its place on more than one occasion today already, finding grip and traction during a couple of recce runs where the F1 GTR had been all over the place by comparison. But then it is just two degrees above freezing today. And the 12C has adjustable traction control, a switchable electronic diff and an incredibly sophisticated damping system to help it find purchase on the road below, even when that road happens to be wet or, worse still, icy in one or two places. The GTR, on the other hand, has no such trickery up its sleeve. It relies instead on providing a massive amount of energy from


YOU OU ARE?

up to the legen d? Steve Sutcliffe finds out on an icy race track

its 6.1-litre V12 engine, and leaves the rest up to whoever is behind the wheel. On paper it should absolutely clobber the 12C in a straight line. It has 620bhp and 480lb ft and weighs a vaguely hilarious 940kg – about the same as a Peugeot 205 XS. It’s also geared to hit its 8300rpm rev limiter in sixth at just 180mph. The 12C’s 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8, by comparison, develops slightly less power (592bhp) and produces an identical amount of torque (480lb ft). But the car itself weighs 1400kg and is geared to do over 200mph. So it’s not even in the same galaxy when it comes to raw, unshackled acceleration. Except today, of course, that’s not quite the case. Because today – on this greasy, grimy, slippery airport test track – the F1 GTR is almost too powerful for its own good. A little earlier I’d climbed aboard, thumbed

the starter motor and been thoroughly disturbed by the sheer potency of that V12 when I blipped the throttle. And when I moved away, selected second gear and gave it no more than a quarter throttle, just to see, I very nearly spun the thing within seconds of being behind the wheel. Which under the circumstances would have been the ultimate no-no. But that’s the F1 GTR in a nutshell: utterly insane, impossibly noisy and, perhaps, just a little too well endowed for its own good on a day like today. On a track like this. As a result, the first time we take to the circuit to compare these two McLarens in anger (me in the GTR and resident McLaren lunatic ◊

l Sutcliffe’s car control was tested to the limit by the ultra-rare, ultra-expensive, utterly bonkers F1 GTR

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McLaren MP4-12C Track test ∆ Kevin McGarrity driving the 12C), all I can do is sit there and watch as McGarrity and the 12C disappear into the distance. They drop me and the GTR in a heartbeat along every straight and out of every corner – often while I’m calling on every ounce of car control I can muster merely to keep the GTR pointing in the intended direction. Even in fourth gear with as little as 4000rpm showing, the GTR lights up its rear tyres and slithers sideways – and that’s when it’s pointing in a dead straight line. In the corners it’ll light them up in fifth. And in third – in any corner, on any straight – it’s just absurd. So much so that I simply can’t keep the 12C in sight. Whenever we enter a traction zone together, the 12C merely squats and goes, with maybe the slightest shimmy from its tail, indicating that McGarrity has got the traction control set either to Sport or Track, both of which allow a small level of slip before the electronics intervene. In the GTR I’m sideways and all over the road, using perhaps half as much throttle as McGarrity in the 12C. But despite the drama, the noise and the thrill of the chase, I can’t stay anywhere near him, no matter how hard I try.

Different eras

That’s the difference, I guess, between a car that’s 16 years old and one that’s very much of the moment in 2011. Technologically these cars are aeons apart in what they represent, and what they can achieve. Philosophically the gap between them is wider still. One was born into an era that many would argue wasn’t quite ready for it at the time. In 1994 the idea of a £500,000-plus supercar that could breeze past 200mph without trying was too far-fetched for most folks to get their grey matter around. Nowadays, though, the £168,000, 200mph supercar is – relatively

l Stripped-out GTR weighs just 940kg and its V12 packs 620bhp; that’s quite a power-to-weight ratio

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speaking – if not common as muck then hardly a difficult concept to grasp. Which is why McLaren hopes the 12C will, in time, become every bit as popular as a Ferrari 458 Italia or a Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4. The F1 GTR, though, will always remain an ultra-rare, ultra-exclusive car – a once-ina-lifetime sight that will bring certain types to their knees should they be lucky enough to see one on the move. Which is why this particular example is insured for £2 million, whereas the 12C is worth less than a tenth as much as that. Yet it is the new car, the 12C, that I’m most keen to have a go in once the various photos and video clips have been shot. This is the new McLaren, after all, and having been comprehensively dusted by it in the GTR for most of the day, I’m desperate to know what it’s actually like. So I ask McGarrity if he’ll take me for a spin, and through a grin that could only ever belong to an Irishman with a twisted sense of mirth, he says “yes” and off we go. What happens next is as comical as it is bewildering. McGarrity accelerates and the 12C rockets forwards with not so much as a hint of wheelspin, its twin-clutch, seamless-shift gearbox delivering upshifts faster but with less drama than I can ever recall in a road car. The engine noise is curiously distant under hard acceleration to begin with. It’s there but in the background somehow, the overriding impression being simply that of massive acceleration. Into the first corner, we reach the point of no return and I do that thing passengers do when they think they’re about to have an accident. I make a pathetic groaning noise, convinced that there is no way we are going to stop in time for the sharp, off-camber,

l MP4-12C has less power and more weight than the F1 GTR — but it’s got technology on its side

downhill left-hander that’s already at the bottom of the windscreen. And then McGarrity hits the brakes, the 12C loses 50mph seemingly in the blink of an eye, he turns in – still hard on the brakes – and we go monumentally sideways into and out of the corner for the next 150 metres. It’s difficult to know what’s more mind-boggling overall: the skills and conviction underpinning McGarrity’s driving or the astonishing composure under pressure of the 12C itself. Either way, for the next 15 minutes man and machine appear to be in complete and perfect harmony – drifting, slithering, accelerating, braking and charging towards the horizon in a way that would leave most other men and machines humbled, to say the least. And what’s most impressive about the 12C (from the second best seat in the house) is its agility –

its ability to change direction seemingly at a flick of the wrist without there being a corresponding reaction from the tail, often the key problem with fast, mid-engined cars. From the passenger seat there appears to be almost no inertia whatsoever building up under cornering loads. So even when McGarrity seems fully committed to a quick corner, he can still nudge the brakes midapex and the thing simply slows, rather than spinning, with just a telltale flicker of the ESP light within the dash indicating that the onboard systems have detected the onset of a ‘moment’ and invisibly ushered it away. From where I’m sitting, the system seems perfect in all of its various modes, but McGarrity admits that this is one of the few aspects on which there is still some tweaking to be done before final production: the speed and severity of the stability control’s intervention if and ◊

l MP4-12C displays astonishing poise and grip on track and runs away from the GTR in the wet

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McLaren MP4-12C Track test

∆ when the 12C starts to slide, especially when it’s in Track mode (bearing in mind that we are undertaking this particular comparison during December 2010). Towards the end of the day, a thought about the 12C begins to form. Although this is an early pre-production version of a road car that’s still in development, it’s become obvious – not least from the way the 12C has dispatched the legendary F1 GTR – that the 12C could make one heck of a good racing car as well. I’m not alone in thinking this: a week after our comparison, McLaren announces its intention to make a GT3 version with which serious racers and gentlemen drivers alike will be able to go racing. In the hands of a superstar like McGarrity, you wouldn’t bank against it being quite successful. Because, like the F1 GTR all those years ago, the 12C just has the feel of a winner, right from the word go. L

l McLaren test driver Kevin McGarrity (far right) knows his onions; he’s raced at Le Mans before

M P 4 - 1 2 C

G O E S

R A C I N G

Portraits: LAT

The F1 GTR won Le Mans in 1995; now a GT3 version of the MP4-12C is in development Deciding to take the MP4-12C racing wasn’t a hard decision for McLaren. “I think anyone who has looked at the road car under the skin…” tacitly began McLaren Racing team principal Martin Whitmarsh (right, above) at the Autosport show in January. “It was always intended to be a road car, but it looks like a race car underneath. “We knew if we didn’t race it, someone else was going to. And as a racing company, getting excited about going to race in GT is very easy for us.”

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So in the end it was a no-brainer, and so was appointing CRS, a race team founded by Andrew Kirkaldy (left, below), a former McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver Award winner. Why choose an external race team? Two reasons, says Whitmarsh. One is that it might be a distraction. Second is that CRS knows the GT business and McLaren doesn’t. “It would be arrogant of us to believe we’ve understood the market,” says Whitmarsh. ”Andrew and his team know

how the GT market works. This is an equivalence formula, so the natural racing instinct that we have has got to be tempered by the fact that the cars are going to have some outside control over their performance.” That means the GT3 McLaren, like its rivals in the series, is in some ways built down to the formula.

And it won’t end with the GT3-spec 12C. “There will be GT2s and GT4s and GT Endurance models,” says Whitmarsh. “The nature of the cars we’re developing — not just 12C — are very much race bred. That’s what our brand is, and what our passion is.” MATT PRIOR


l Sixteen years separate the two McLarens, but they’re both engineering masterpieces

‘LIKE THE F1 GTR, THE MP4-12C JUST HAS THE FEEL OF A WINNER, RIGHT FROM THE WORD GO’


McLaren MP4-12C What’s next

E F U T U R G G A Z I N

THE SHAPE OF FINS TO COME Giant fish and dragonflies are providing the inspiration for the shape of the McLarens of the future, as design boss Frank Stephenson tells Hilton Holloway Photography Stan Papior


FFF

l Future McLaren road cars will take inspiration from highly evolved, naturally occurring structures

rank Stephenson, McLaren Automotive’s design director, has installed a three-metrelong sailfish (weighing around 270kg) on the wall of the company’s styling studios. It’s a purposeful, if rather extreme, statement. “It’s a real sailfish,” he says. “When I was in the Caribbean I saw one on the wall of the place I was staying. On the way back I flew through Miami, bought one and sent it on through Heathrow via a taxidermist. I then sent it down to the [McLaren] F1 paint shop and had it ‘McLarenised’. “Everyone thought I was off the rails, but if you look really closely at it, you can see the reasons that a sailfish is faster than a cheetah, even though the sailfish is travelling through water. “If you look at the way the fish is shaped, you can see the kind of solutions that are applied in F1 are already on the sailfish. Gurney flaps and the jagged trailing edges of the fins. The scaling of skin creates a boundary layer, so the water flowing over it doesn’t actually touch the fish. The sailfish is an optimised design, developed over hundreds of thousands of years.” The launch of the MP4-12C marks the beginning of an all-new car company, one that will have to think about where it is heading. Stephenson reveals that he’s very interested in the idea of ‘bio-mimicry’, which could well be the longer-term philosophy of McLaren Automotive products. Officially, the next decade is all sewn up, with plans for a new MP4-12C-derived model every year from now until 2015 – including, no doubt, an open-top model and a hardcore road version. After 2015, the business case for a new range of McLaren models has been settled by company bosses. Which takes Stephenson and his team up to 2020. In the second half of last year ◊ WWW.AUTOCAR.CO.UK 63


McLaren MP4-12C What’s next “I don’t see this as a problem; the buyers for this will probably have learned how to use a laptop before they went to school. This generation’s mindset is probably more in this direction [of this proposal] than what has been in the past. It could be that anything electrical excites these new potential customers more than pistons and horsepower. They will be much more open to this kind of technology. “For our generation it might seem a bit of a stretch, because we’re leaving something behind that we were in love with, the rumble of a V8 or whatever, but for the new generation this is perfect.” McLaren is clearly taking engine downsizing as a given, even in supercars – as Stephenson goes on explain. “It makes sense. It’s about getting more powerful and more efficient at the same time. All about making more out of less. It’s our job to push automotive technology – to make the car safer, lighter, more powerful, more efficient, eco friendly and more fun to drive.” I suggest to Stephenson that people who are paying £170k or more could object to the idea of a small supercar. After all, the visual impact of a supercar, the sense of the extraordinary, is a large part of the appeal. “I don’t think it’s the size that counts,” he says, “it’s the quality of materials and technology. A diamond ring is small and expensive. For me, the appeal of a McLaren should be about technical content. “It’s every designer’s responsibility to think ahead. Of course, it doesn’t make sense for us to sit down and design a car for 2025 right now. However, ‘I’M NOT CONCENTRATING ON ‘I’M ‘I’M NOT CONCENTRATING ON ‘I’M NOT CONCENTRATING ON ‘I’MNOT NOTCONCENTRATING CONCENTRATINGON ON you can take small steps towards THE THE STYLING OF OUR FUTURE THE STYLING OF OUR FUTURE THE STYLING OF OUR FUTURE THESTYLING STYLINGOF OFOUR OURFUTURE FUTURE a larger goal. If you want to CARS; CARS; I’M THINKING OF develop cutting-edge technology, CARS; I’M THINKING OF CARS; I’M THINKING OF CARS;I’M I’MTHINKING THINKINGOF OF you have to say, “That’s the TIMELESS EFFICIENCY AND TIMELESS TIMELESS EFFICIENCY AND TIMELESS EFFICIENCY AND TIMELESSEFFICIENCY EFFICIENCYAND AND direction we’ll be heading in” THINGS THAT WORK. AND THAT THINGS THINGS THAT WORK. AND THAT THINGS THAT WORK. AND THAT THINGSTHAT THATWORK. WORK.AND ANDTHAT THAT and then steer down that path. ALWAYS ALWAYS GOES BACK TO THE “Personally, I’m not ALWAYS GOES BACK TO THE ALWAYS GOES BACK TO THE ALWAYSGOES GOESBACK BACKTO TOTHE THE concentrating on the styling of ANIMAL KINGDOM’ ANIMAL KINGDOM’ ANIMAL ANIMAL KINGDOM’ ANIMAL KINGDOM’ KINGDOM’ our future cars; I’m thinking of timeless efficiency and things that work. And “Visibility is important. This [proposal] that always goes back to the animal kingdom.” is not a fixed chassis design; we’re looking Stephenson does, though, have a set of at means of opening the body in a way that mini design mantras that tie today’s enhances the feeling of space inside, so you MP4-12C and McLaren’s 2025 project don’t feel hemmed in. The crash protection together. “Don’t oversize the car,” he says. elements of the car could change depending “Design for purpose, everything for a reason. on the materials used. For ingress and egress, Weight is the enemy. Good is not good the easiest way would be if the front end enough. Aim to make the smallest car on the opened as a capsule and you could just walk outside and the biggest inside.” L into it, rather than get in from the side.” So there would be no type of formal dashboard in this brave new supercar world? “No, I don’t know why you would need one, actually,” replies Stephenson. “If you can have drive-by-wire, you can take away a lot of the big physical elements that need to be in the car. And you could then use holograms to shoot images into the air, or onto glass, as instruments. “However,” he adds, “you have to retain the aesthetics and joy of actually getting in the car and enjoying the experience.” So how does Stephenson think buyers will react to this kind of super-futuristic organic re-ordering of the supercar, five decades after the Miura established the supercar aesthetic?

∆ year Stephenson employed a new designer specifically to look at where the company might be in 2025, just five years after the current model plan expires. Flashing up very high-concept studio sketches on the video ‘power wall’ of a room immediately next door to the styling studio, Stephenson says he’s become fascinated by the way organic structures have evolved, particularly the dragonfly. “If you look at development from nature,” he says, “these are structures that have had hundreds of thousands of years of optimisation and work extremely efficiently. We’re looking specifically at the design features that have got those organisms so far. It’s what works, not because it looks good but because it is fit for purpose. “A lot of the research we’ve done up to this point has been around membranes, the rigidity of materials and fibres, and nerve-type systems via which fibres can be made to stiffen and relax.” Pointing to a sketch of a very sparsely structured concept, which seems to be no more than a driver-enclosing pod and four widely spaced wheels, Stephenson explains, “This chassis is honed to a bone-like structure, frame and interior, and clothed in a membrane. The skin uses shrink-wrapped connecting surfaces – membrane material that could be transparent, could glow a certain number of colours. The wheels and tyres are borrowed from nature; they’re experiments in what we may be able to do with a chassis to make it cling to the road.

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E F U T U R G G A Z I N

l One futuristic concept sketch centres around a bone-like pod, with wheels and tyres ‘borrowed’ from nature


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McLaren MP4-12C

0-62MPH 3.1SEC 0-100MPH 6.1SEC TOPSPEED 205MPH 66 WWW.AUTOCAR.CO.UK


T E C H S P E C

McLaren

MP4-12C Price 0-62mph 0-100mph 0-124mph Standing qtr mile Standing km Top speed Braking 62-0mph Economy CO2 emissions Kerb weight Weight distribution

ÂŁ168,500 3.1sec 6.1sec 8.9sec 10.9sec at 134mph 19.6sec at 169mph 205mph 30.5m 24.1mpg (combined) 279g/km 1434kg 42.5% front, 57.5% rear

Engine layout

Bore/stroke Power Torque Power to weight Specific output Compression ratio Gearbox

V8, 3799cc, twin-turbo, petrol Aluminium block and cylinder head; dry sump Mid, longitudinal, rear-wheel drive 93mm/69.9mm 592bhp at 7000rpm 442lb ft at 3000-7000rpm 413bhp per tonne 156bhp per litre 8.7:1 7-speed dual-clutch auto

Length Width Height Wheelbase Fuel tank Real-world range Boot

4507mm 1909mm 1199mm 2670mm 72 litres 382 miles na

Front suspension

Double wishbones, coil springs, hydraulic anti-roll Double wishbones, coil springs, hydraulic anti-roll 370mm ventilated discs (f), 350mm ventilated discs (r) 8.5Jx19in (f), 11.0Jx20in (r) 235/35 ZR19 (f), 305/30 ZR20 (r), Pirelli PZero Corsa

Made of Installation

Rear suspension Brakes Wheels Tyres

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MP4-12C A N B O O K

Mclaren mp4 12c  
Mclaren mp4 12c