A McLaren Pairing: Two F1 GTRs Came To Hampton Court To Celebrate The Model’s Le Mans Legacy
Photography by Patrice Minol
This past weekend, the Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court Palace celebrated one of the most astonishing motorsport feats in endurance racing history: the McLaren F1 GTR’s triumph at the 1995 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. By the end of the mostly rain-soaked 24 hours, a veritable squadron of F1s had stormed ahead of the prototypes to finish 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 13th. It was a dominant performance on the world’s most visible stage of endurance racing, and it was made all the more special because the F1 was famously never intended to compete. Gordon Murray was not keen on compromising any of the supercar’s roadworthiness, but Murray and McLaren eventually gave in to their clients wanting to take the F1 to the track.
The 1995 Le Mans was McLaren’s first attempt at the famed French race, and the #59 F1 GTR entered by Lanzante Motorsport under the Kokusal Kaihatsu Racing name and driven by Yannick Dalmas, Masanori Sekiya, and JJ Lehto delivered the manufacturer its first win (right in the middle of the GTR’s ascendant winning season in the BPR GT series). Though the Le Mans-winning car didn’t make it out to the grounds at Hampton Court, two F1 GTRs were on hand to commemorate the feat’s 25th anniversary (not to the day of course, but we’ll take what we can get in terms of events in 2020, yeah?).
Besides the pleasure of spending time with these twins, I was simply grateful to attend a major car show in the UK after a summer of general hiatus. The palace property was as groomed and pretty as ever, and this year’s theme brought out 50 unique automobiles to showcase the evolution of automotive ingenuity. If that seems like a pretty vague and open-ended criteria, it’s because it is. Thankfully this event draws in the best of the best, so rather than a crusty Model T and a two-year-old Tesla to represent the progress of cutting edge vehicular thinking, we got cars like this pair of McLarens.
Gordan Murray alway saw the F1 as the ultimate road car—and it’s not hard to argue that he achieved his goal—but he was eventually persuaded by privateer team heads Ray Bellm (who also ran the BPR GT series that the F1 reigned over in its debut season), and Dr. Thomas Bscher, another enthusiastic racer who saw the F1’s potential against other GT racers of the time like the Ferrari F40, Porsche 911 GT2s, Venturis, and so on.
When Murray did relent, an unused chassis that had been planned to become the 19th road car was reassigned to development prototype duty. All told though, the modifications needed for the F1 to become a potent race car weren’t nearly as extensive as most road-to-race conversions tend to be. The most obvious visual changes were the addition of more cooling vents on the front hood, while smaller inlets on either side of the body took the place of the road car’s storage compartments.
Additionally, a large, adjustable rear wing was added along with a revised front air dam design, the interior was stripped out and fitted with a full roll cage, brakes were upgraded to carbon discs, and the BMW-built V12 engine was modified to comply with regulations in the form of an air restrictor in the intake which brought the power output down to roughly 590bhp. The requisite electrical work for systems monitoring and communications was also fitted along with other supporting modifications in the course of the car’s motorsport preparation.
The two specimens on display at Hampton Court were chassis 07R and 16R, both Le Mans finishers. Chassis 07R was one of the original 1995 event contenders (this Giroix Racing Team Jacadi car placed 5th), and chassis 16R was one of three 1996-specification F1 GTRs that the quasi-BMW works team Bigazzi campaigned in the BPR GT Series and Le Mans that year, where it finished 11th.