McLaren F1 GTR Turns Track Day Into Le Mans

We thought our first 2017 McLaren Philadelphia track day had everything you could ask for. As it turns out, we forgot to ask for just one more thing.

We should have gotten a McLaren F1.

Among our participants earlier this year was nearly every model of modern McLaren, from the MP4-12C to the 570S to the P1 to the MSO HS. But there’s something just a little more about bringing out an F1. It’s noteworthy, and it’s memorable.

The F1 is always part of the debate regarding the best road cars ever built, but perhaps more famous is its motorsports impact. The F1 GTR disrupted Le Mans in 1995, with an overall winner and four cars in the top 5, and it cemented a legacy as one of the most legendary stories in the history of the endurance race. Chassis #17R began its life running in the follow-up to that ’95 Le Mans victory, and ran competitively in the ’96 race. Its eighth-place finish is not one that gives it its pedigree, but running in the top-3 even briefly shows that it was a fast and fearsome car. Soon after, it was retired from competition and retained by BMW North America in its Classic collection.

Due to the significance – namely, the cost – of the F1, the folks in that division are reserved about exhibiting it, but are equally eager to given the right circumstance. A track day run by the sole F1 service dealership in the country in BMW’s home state of New Jersey ended up being just that. (But really, it was probably the only way we could have topped our last track day.)

We secured the GTR and it headlined our lineup for the fall iteration, though it certainly would have headlined any dream lineup we could have had. September’s event was short on the diversity of supercars that contributed to the success of the first track outing, however the F1, and an accompanying BMW Z4 GT3 LM provided by BMW as backup, proved to be a surreal experience that no one could have really expected possible.

That experience was given first-hand to a couple of our guests through a unique opportunity with McLaren Philadelphia. Visitors were offered the chance to ride along during a session with BMW factory driver Bill Auberlen, and those sessions were not just parade laps. Once warmed, the F1 attacked the Thunderbolt course with the same character that it approached Circuit de la Sarthe.

Each session was unique as the passengers had their own first experiences in an F1 GTR. As McLaren owners and enthusiasts, the opportunity fulfilled dreams and gave bragging rights among their circles, and all the media documentation will preserve the memory forever. The participants even got to have their cars photographed with the F1 the evening before at sunset for a once-in-a-lifetime pairing.

Once tossed into the mix of other McLaren supercars in the Advanced group, Auberlen and the F1 demonstrated their abilities to the fullest and gave our passengers a glimpse of what late-90’s Le Mans battles looked like. Even among modern track-focused cars like the 675LT, the F1 carved its way through traffic and chased down its competition along the straights. Regardless of how much track experience one has, few people have ever had something like that come up in their rear-view mirror.

Similar to the schedule from our first event, a run group for less experienced drivers was opened up for customers to get comfortable with their vehicles in a track setting. These laps were progressively paced again, and none of the drivers in this session were pressured by an F1 GTR barreling down on them.

The hope is that these drivers will then have their go in the Advanced sessions in the future and can further push the limits of their skills. And hopefully, we can invite the F1 GTR back to give them that Le Mans-style experience, too.