Andrew Kirkadly on the task of making new McClaren race-ready
The new McLaren MP4years. As you can read on page 40 the vehicle is anticipated sports car for 12C is the most eagerly crammed with technology and innovation. It comes as no surprise to learn that McLaren is overrun with orders.
However, as you may have guessed McLaren is not content with just building a road car — the company wants to take it racing. This means working with a partner GT race team that has enough knowledge, experience and clout to do the MP4-12C proud. Enter CRS Racing.
The team was founded in 2007 by Chris Niarchos and former F3 ace Andrew Kirkaldy (above), and won on its debut in the 2008 British GT Championship at Ou1ton Park. Since then it has expanded into the Formula Renault 2-litre Championship, GP3 and now this GT project.
When I arrive at the CRS Racing base in Leicestershire Andrew is busy overseeing not only every aspect of the business, but a huge revamp of the building to house the new project. On the way up to his office we walk past immaculate race bays filled with Ferrari F430s, Formula Renaults and GP3 racers. Once we turn the corner, there sits an MP4-12C in bits. The cars are supplied like this and the project is still very much in the build stage.
“The McLaren’s a great base to start from,” Andrew says while showing me round the car. “The carbon chassis is one of the biggest selling points as a road car, but when you think of it from a race perspective it’s an even greater advantage. It’s stiff and it’s very safe.”
A carbon chassis is certainly a good place to start from, but the technology on the road car is baffling to anyone without a degree in electronics engineering. To give you an idea, the MP4-12C has 33 ECUs. However, Andrew is unfazed by this, as all of these will be stripped out on the race version.
What did interest him, though, was the idea of building a race car with the help of McLaren’s expertise. “”The aero on the car was designed by the McLaren Formula 1 team and they tend to know what they’re doing on that front,” he says with a wry smile. “The other big benefit working with McLaren is that we’ve been using the F1 simulator. We’ve been able to solve things like gear ratios, brake packages and weight distribution without even having a car. You just wouldn’t be able to do that usually.”
CRS Racing has 2011 to design, build, test and race the MP4-12C GT3 car, and without that advantage it would have been a monumental task. “It’s a short time frame and we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing unless we had the backup of McLaren,” confirms Andrew. “There’s no doubt about it. The resources we have at our disposal are fantastic. What’s more important is the appetite that McLaren has for the project. They’re interested in it and they’re keen to help.
“The plan is to run a factory team of two cars later this season. We’ve got quite an extensive test programme planned and then we’ll do four races and one of those will probably be a 24-hour race.” Once this has all been completed CRS will be in a position to start building 15 customer cars for sale to other teams.
“The interest in the McLaren has been massive, absolutely massive,” says Andrew. “In fact the biggest problem we have is deciding who can have a car — it’s much like the road car programme. We want to make sure the cars feature in the right championships, so we’ll have to go through a selection process of people who want to buy the cars.”
The fact that so many people are interested in racing the GT3 is a sign that CRS Racing was the right choice by McLaren and that the MP4-12C will be quick when it hits the track. Does Andrew agree? “I think everything about the car points to it being very good. It’s like anything in the racing world, though; on paper and the CAD screen it all looks really good, but you need to get out there and prove it.”
Alongside the McLaren project, CRS Racing is also looking at fielding a GT2 F430 in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup with historic racers Shaun Lynn and Roger Wills, and GT gentleman driver Pierre Ehret. As you can read over the page, Wills is particularly looking forward to this challenge. Despite Lynn and Wills’ limited experience in modern GT cars Andrew is convinced they will be on the pace come the start of the season. “I think they’ll be a real surprise. I remember when we first started CRS Racing and we had Paddy Shovlin and Michael Cullen come and do British GT. It was quite amusing really because they turned up at the first race and all the guys were like ‘who on earth are these two oldies’? They won their first race and midway through the championship they were leading it! They were showing the young lads the way all year. Roger and Shaun are even better than we anticipated so they will be just fine.”
Although CRS Racing has its GT plans cemented for 2011, it’s not clear in which direction the McLaren project will go thereafter. There could be a GT2 or a GT4 version to come, but in the meantime all eyes will be on the GT3 newcomer.
Amateur with ambition
He’s not been racing long, but his sights are set on the big one…
Imagine you take your Ards test, pass it, and then do a few races in a Formula Ford. You realise that historic racing is more fun and so move on to that for the next few years. Only five years after stating to race, you decide you want to compete in the Le Mans 24 Hours. Oh, and you’ve never even seen the race as a spectator.
Historic racer Roger Wills is doing exactly that in 2011. Wills isn’t your average classic car enthusiast, however. Last year alone he competed in 72 races in a wide variety of machinery. He races historic Formula 1 cars, big powerful sports cars like the McLaren M1B, and yes, the Gaz Volga M21 at the 2010 Goodwood Revival.
Wills was having coffee with 1993 and ’94 FIA World Touring Car Cup winner and fellow Kiwi Paul Radisich when we met to discuss his new plans. Radisich tried historic racing for the first time in 2010, and after spending 15 minutes discussing how much more fun it was compared to modern racing, I asked Wills why on earth he wanted to go the other way.
“I’m 43, and if you look at the world of sport none of us are going to become international tennis pros, rugby players or golfers,” the financier explained. “But an amateur can still go to the top echelon of motor racing and compete in sports cars at Le Mans. I just thought that before I get too much older and while I’ve got the time and capability, I really want to have a go. I really want to do the Le Mans 24 Hours.”
As well as the famous 24-hour race, Roger will contest the six other Intercontinental Le Mans Cup rounds in a CRS Racing Ferrari F430 GT2 with historic racer Shaun Lynn and GT2 regular Pierre Ehret.
The aim of the ILMC season may be to “have some fun” according to Wills, but don’t think he isn’t taking it seriously. He’s already started a fitness regime as well as watching his diet. “We did a test last December” he says. “It was a bit hairy because there was snow on the ground. We arrived at Brands Hatch to find a grit spreader on the circuit! I did the Spa 24 Hours last year in a Jota Sport GT4 Aston Martin and I settled well in that.
“I can’t say I’m really confident because it’ll be a big step up. The biggest issue will be dealing with the prototypes and the fast traffic coming through. I spent a lot of time in the race seat last year so I’m less worried about adapting to the car.
“Also when we did the Spa 24 Hours I was actually quite surprised by my fitness. Jota Sport had a physio and a nutritionist and they were constantly checking my fluid levels and the calories I was burning in the car. I actually felt great when I finished the race!”
Wills will still find time to do four or five historic races in 2011 as well as his ILMC outings, but expect this amateur racer to be fully focused when he arrives at the gates of La Sarhe for the race on June 11-12. Hats off to a man who is doing what many amateur racers only dream of.
ON THE NET
Guided track tours
You don’t have to burn rubber to learn the racing line
As many historic racers will testify, going to a new circuit usually means that five to 10 laps of first practice are wasted on finding out where the track goes. Some learn quickly, and others – like myself – can be found at the end of the session asking other drivers ‘are you sure Turn 8 is a left-hander?’
In order to save face I recently spent some time on the internet searching for footage of onboard laps, which led me to something of a find for amateur racers: www.motorsportcircuitguide.com not only contains onboard laps of over 200 tracks around the world, but also information on the circuits themselves, how to get to them, where to stay and even special deals on travel packages.
Discovery Media Group publisher Ben Lane set up the website in 2008 and aims to include as many of the world’s race tracks as possible – even though there are rumoured to be over 700.
Whether you want to go and watch a race or save five laps of precious practice, it’s worth a visit.