Famous five?

McLaren prepares to broaden its motor racing attack. . .

McLaren is charting a course to join Porsche and Ferrari, the 'greats’ in endurance racing, with a fleet of five Gordon Murray designed F1 GTR Grand Touring cars being prepared for the 1995 season.

Ray Bellm, former World Champion C2 Sportscar driver, is the only entrant who has revealed his intention to run a 627 horsepower McLaren in the BPR Organisation's series of GT races next season, but John Nielsen's name is linked with another and the final list is expected to be impressive.

There will be five race prepared cars, as McLaren Cars' commercial director Creighton Brown confirms. All customers will be treated on an even-handed basis, "shown no favours whatsoever", but McLaren will back them up with a spares vehicle at European events and technical support.

It is not cheap to join this club. The down payment is £625,000, which covers the cost of the McLaren F1 GTR ready to go on the track. "It is a lot of money, but it's up front and we think that the McLaren will be relatively inexpensive to run," says Brown.

"BMW Motorsport supplies the 6.1-litre, V12 engines and there is no reason why they will not last a full season without a rebuild."

The customers will be invited to put £50,000 into a spare parts fund to support the race service and any parts needed will be debited from the deposit; if there is a balance at the end of the season, it will be refunded.

Even this does not represent the true valve of the McLaren racer, although the nominal price tag is £85,000 more than the road car's ex-factory value.

Development of the track version has cost more than £1.5 million, and is amortised on a handful of cars. Naturally, McLaren Cars would be delighted to build more GTRs, to special order.

"McLaren Cars will reserve some space on each car for a sponsor or supplier," says Brown. "We undertake to fill this space, and our associated company, TAG McLaren Marketing Services, will be active in seeking sponsorship.

"If the customer wants a 'clean' car entirely for his sponsor we will price the GTR at £775,000." Is that a turn-off? "A couple of customers already have two F1s on order, one for the road and one for racing. And if the customer wishes, a GTR can be converted back to somewhere near road car specification, so it should hold its value."

Although, on paper, the McLaren F1 GTR will rank with the 1994 Le Mans winning Dauer 962LM Porsche as one of the world's fastest, most efficient (and expensive) GT cars, success can't quite be guaranteed. The BPR Organisation and the Automobile Club de l'Ouest are expected to take measures to ensure that no manufacturer or team has a run of easy victories.

Air restrictors, weights and fuel tank capacities may all play their part, but in theory the McLaren has a world-beating specification: it will easily reach the 1000 kg minimum scrutineering weight, the 48-valve V12 engine is rated at 627 bhp in standard form, and it has an impeccable pedigree guaranteed by Gordon Murray's original design and race development.

The future of endurance racing on a worldwide basis is now focussing heavily on Grand Touring cars rather than open-top sprint machines, and the arrival of the McLaren F1 GTR gives the GT formula a strong boost.

Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, Honda, Lotus, Venturi, Callaway and McLaren will all be represented in the 1995 season of Grand Touring racing, which starts at Jerez on February 26. It then moves on to Jarama (March 26), Monza (April 9), the Nürburgring (April 22), Donington (May 7), Montlhéry (May 21), Spa-Francorchamps (July 16), Suzuka (August 27), Silverstone (September 17) and Zhuhai in November. A fixture in America has yet to be confirmed.

McLaren's directors have never denied interest in producing a competition version of the world's ultimate supercar. "We decided at an early stage that people will want to race the F1 whether we like it or not," Brown declares.

"For our own peace of mind we have prepared the GTR version. Gordon has gone right through the design in every detail to ensure that it is safe, reliable and competitive. Those three criteria are of absolute importance."

Although the superb, custom-built V12 engine needs no modifications, the McLaren six-speed, transverse gearbox has been given bigger bearings, the synchronised gears are straight-cut and the driveshafts have been increased in diameter.

McLaren Cars will offer a choice of final drive ratios to suit various circuits, but there will not be a choice of gear ratios. "The engine torque is so remarkable that it should not be necessary to change gear sets," says Brown.

The Brembo brake system, similar to that on later 'works' Porsche 962s, has larger diameter discs and harder pads installed. The suspension is fully rose-jointed, and detail changes go right through the car. Some new engineering was required to install a 100-litre tank, the maximum capacity allowed by the ACO in 1995.

Moving aerodynamic devices are on the FIA's prohibited list so the active brake cooling system and transverse rear flap have been deleted, and a full-width fixed wing appears on the artist's impression (which is only an indication of how the GTR will look). The GTR has completed a successful wind tunnel test at McLaren's Grand Prix facility. M L C