Amalgam Is Making Just FIVE ‘Race Weathered’ McLaren F1 GTRs
Few expected McLaren to win on its 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in 1995: the seven F1 GTRs entered for the event were put firmly in place when the best of bunch could only qualify 9th, 11th and 12th, more than 11 seconds adrift of an unexpected front row lockout for French independent, Welter Racing. On top of that, and barring the first edition of the race in 1923, only once had a brand won the great endurance event on its maiden outing (Ferrari can thank Luigi Chinetti and Peter Mitchell-Thomson’s victory in 1949 aboard a privately-entered 166 MM for that). That McLaren’s F1 GTR would also have to overcome the rise of the WSC-class prototypes made Woking’s job even harder.
And yet, Yannick Dalmas, JJ Lehto and Masanori Sekiya would go on to make Le Mans history on 18 June 1995, 25 years after team founder Bruce’s death at Goodwood and four further after his own triumph as a driver at the French endurance classic.
Speed and performance of course wasn’t in doubt: on its first six outings, Gordon Murray’s creation, quite incredibly, took all six wins and started from pole position on three occasions. The durability of the F1’s six-speed gearbox though was another matter, and confidence that the GTR could last the full 24-hour distance, even behind the shutters at Woking, was low.
Wet weather, as it turns out, would prove to be the GTR’s saving grace. With heavy showers starting to fall just one hour in, and continuing for three-quarters of the race thereafter, average speeds around the formidably quick La Sarthe slowed considerably. The prototypes at front, now without the downforce capabilities offered by a dry track, were hobbled, and the F1 GTRs, their gearboxes no longer required to run at full pelt, picked their way systematically to the front. By quarter-distance, McLaren was already running 1st, 2nd and 3rd.
It’s the closing stages though that will almost certainly be remembered. On a drying track, JJ Lehto in the Lanzante Motorsport-run, Kokusai Kaihatsu Racing #59 began to claw full seconds per lap out of Justin Bell’s lead in the #51 Mach One Racing (read ‘Harrods’) entry. A mistake from the latter, by now under enormous pressure, eventually handed the lead to the Lehto. In a further insult, the furious pace had taken its toll on Bell’s gearbox, and the Englishman was forced to the return to the pits with one working ratio. The #51 Harrods machine did recover to take 3rd, but any chance of either Derek Bell or Andy Wallace adding to their tally of Le Mans wins had gone.
That left only Mario Andretti (yikes!) in the Courage Competition-entered C34 prototype for the now leading #59 to overcome, the motorsport icon having also recovered from an earlier spin in the damp conditions in relentless fashion (the slick surface had already eliminated the Gulf Racing and West Competition McLarens). Déjà vu would ultimately be avoided though as Lehto crossed the line to take victory alongside Yannick Dalmas and Masanori Sekiya.
It was the first win at Le Mans for all three drivers, the first for drivers hailing from Finland and Japan, the first for McLaren as a manufacturer, the first for the F1 GTR, and the first for a BMW-powered car ahead of the German marque’s own win as a factory entry four years later. All the more remarkable, given that the winning chassis – 01R – had been a last minute entry after Kokusai Kaihatsu’s original car, 08R, had been destroyed in a crash at Jarama a few months earlier.
It was the also first time since the all-conquering Porsche 956 destroyed the field en-route to a 1-2-3 finish in 1982 that one make had dominated the event: barring Andretti, Bob Wollek and Eric Helary’s 2nd place for Courage, four of the top five finishers were McLarens. That year’s BPR Global GT Series championship, with David Price Racing’s Thomas Bscher and John Nielsen at the helm, crowned a remarkable maiden season for the F1 GTR.
As the motorsport fraternity, and McLaren in particular, honours its departed founder this week, what better time for Amalgam Collection to celebrate Woking’s historic win at Le Mans with a 1:8-scale, ‘race-weathered’ replica of the Ueno Clinic-liveried 01R. As you would expect from one of the most respected model makers in the business, every detail of both the #59 F1 GTR has been recreated by Amalgam’s Bristol team in exquisite detail, including race dirt, stone damage, oil stains, and even the partially torn windshield decal. All of this has been produced with archive footage and images, as well as digital scanning of the original winning F1 GTR (and yes, that includes the 600bhp, 6.064cc BMW V12). Only after being personally signed off by McLaren’s engineering and design teams could hand-built production begin.
Well, we say ‘production’. Only FIVE examples of this replica will be made, so don’t bother enquiring about the price. With that presumably herculean price though, you will also receive an archive print of the #59 provided by Motorsport Images.
*Images courtesy of Amalgam Collection and McLaren Automotive