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Wednesday 23rd May 2012


MCLAREN AT THE 'RING 24H

Well, at least our MP4-12C made it back from the 'ring 24-hour intact...


At the very moment I'm waiting at the McLaren Technology Centre for 'my' MP4-12C to be brought round, a few hundred miles away in Germany three of its GT3 racing cousins are out on track limbering up for their debut in the world's maddest 24-hour race.

Holy leaping racing cars Batman!
Holy leaping racing cars Batman!
They're gatecrashing the sausage-waggling fest that is the Nurburgring 24-hour, basically the German car industry's annual showcase of automotive might amid a fug of barbecued meat, terrible techno music and Bitburger in the Eifel mountains. It's enough to have you humming Deutschland Uber Alles in your sleep.

It's a party McLaren wants a part of, the motorsport aspirations for the new MP4-12C GT3 including participation in the 'ring 24-hour and various other high profile GT races. It's got a fight though, previous instalments of the VLN resulting in a DNF and a 10th place at best. Not where McLaren expects to find itself.

First time for everything
Though a regular Nurburgring visitor, I've never been to the 'ring 24-hour before. Nor have I spent much time with the McLaren MP4-12C. The debut of the GT3 in the 40th running of the most anarchic endurance race on the calendar seems like a good opportunity to address both.

Even stationary on a train the 12C captivates
Even stationary on a train the 12C captivates
Ahead of me lie several hundred miles of Europe'sdullest motorways before anything remotely interesting happens. Plenty of time to distract myself in the getting-to-know-you phase, then.

And, though it's been said many times, the first thing that strikes you after the wow factor of the fit, finish and measured aggression of the design is how comfortable and easy it is on these kind of journeys. The visibility is great, it doesn't feel too big and it rides beautifully. OK, so the stillinoperative IRIS system means I've got a road atlas rather than nav. But I know the way anyway and after an uneventful Eurotunnel crossing - bar a few admiring fellow passengers stopping to shoot the breeze - the dull schlep past Dunkirk and into Belgium beckons. Predictably, it starts tipping it down.

Lambo loser
Things liven up past Spa. My route usually involves leaving the main road at Prum and heading across country via Gerolstein and Kelberg. But I've always gazed longingly at the derestriction sign just yards before the Prum exit. And after keeping the MP4 on a cruise controlled leash for the last four hours I think to hell with it. Just as a bright orange Gallardo peels onto the autobahn from my right. Supercar fantasies are made of less.

Brief diversion past the old Spa track
Brief diversion past the old Spa track
Hitting the 'Active' button wakes up my preconfigured 'Sport' and 'Track' settings on chassis and powertrain respectively, the MP4 instantly tensing and the thrummy engine suddenly waking from its slumber thanks to the Intake Sound Generator all 12Cs now have in response to folk like me saying it sounded dull. The Lambo's not playing - boo, spoilsport - and is reduced to a rapidly diminishing orange speck in the mirrors as, quite possibly, my ears start to bleed. Careful what you wish for and all that. It certainly adds drama, though the noise completely disappears as soon as you lift off. That's because, even with £4,040's worth of sports exhaust, it's carefully channelled induction noise, there being none of the gurgling and popping overrun you'd get in a 458. To be fair the latest direct-injection Ferrari V8s and V12s sound just as flat as the McLaren on a light throttle, their noise no less contrived but undeniably more convincing.

Guess what happened next ... go on
Guess what happened next ... go on
What's German for 'B-road'?
The backroads to Daun are the stuff of dreams, draped lazily over the twists and folds of the rolling Eifel topography and scribing long, beautifully sighted, constant-radius arcs over the vivid green landscape.

It's deserted, I can see for miles and the 12C is game. And everything suddenly starts going in fast forward. Turn-in is perhaps a tad softer than the hyperactively pointy 458 but the eery flatness contrived by the Pro Active Chassis Control deceives and frankly ludicrous cornering speeds are there for the taking. Like everything (well, IRIS and air-con that lacks any real enthusiasm aside) on the MP4-12C the experience, even at this level of commitment, exudes a very McLaren cool air of competence. Like any modern supercar the ragged edge isn't for the tasting on the road. But it's not without its thrills. If only I knew which gear I was going to get.

German B-roads are a dream
German B-roads are a dream
Maybe it's user error. But even after a good few miles I'm still not entirely sure whether Pre-Cog is going to deliver the gear I want. And that's a problem. In Track mode I'm more interested in having a definitive sequential response to each click of the shifter than the fact they're exactly 25.1mm from the wheel for optimum, F1-honed ergonomics. Hold and click in the MP4 and that fifth to third shift you'd double tap in with a click-BWAAA, click-BWWWAAAAAAA in a 458 could deliver second. Or maybe fourth. As I say, it may be user error. But once uncertainty sets in it's very, very hard to shift.

Guten tag Nurburgring
It also makes the crowd pleasing displays of noise and drama demanded by the beered-up hordes lining the roads in the final few kilometres to the GP track something of a challenge. Not that they care, the mere sight and novelty value of the 12C's arrival enough to get cheers, camera phones and thumbs up aplenty in our wake.

Gemballa fielded a single MP4-12C
Gemballa fielded a single MP4-12C
We've missed qualifying but finally manage to hook up with McLaren PR man Dave to get the skinny on qualifying. The two Dorr cars are down in 27th and 29th respectively and the fastest of the two nearly 13 seconds down on the pole-sitting Z4 GT3. The Gemballa car rounds out the top 40 and there's clearly work to do but tomorrow is another day and all that.

One that dawns with blue skies and a growing sense of anticipation out in the forests. The barbecues are stoked, fresh supplies of Bitburger have been crated in but over at the GP track it's all a lot more like a regular race, albeit one where the crowds can mingle with frustrated pit crews trying to move tyres, cars and kit around in the throng.

The Gemballa car at Pflanzgarten
The Gemballa car at Pflanzgarten
Looks the part
The race 12Cs look fabulous too; clean and uncluttered compared with many of the rival cars and every inch the desirable customer race car McLaren wants it to be. The carbon-tubbed construction is exotic, even in this pitlane, but there's no cause for complacency and the Z4s look ominously quick, the Audis ditto, the AMGs noisy and fast and the Porsches, well, everywhere.

Parade laps of go-karts (yes, a full tour of the Nordschleife and all) and Bentleys prelude the main event and, finally, come 4pm it's go,go, go in the 24. Hospitality on the GP straight is very nice but there's little engagement with the action so I tramp off to get the 12C and head out into the woods, a Mexican wave of raised thumbs and cheers in my wake. A man could get used to this.

£215K's worth of supercar, dumped on a verge
£215K's worth of supercar, dumped on a verge
Gingerly parking the McLaren on the verge near Pflanzgarten seems a bit wrong but within seconds the car is mobbed and I'm off trackside. THIS is where the race is to be found, cars that looked boringly planted on the flat GP track bucking and weaving their way through slower traffic, landing the jump with a skrrrrfff of undertray and powering off into the woods in a blink of an eye. It's useless trying to keep tabs of the race, so I ring Dave in the media centre and learn the blue Gemballa car has made up 20 places and is now in the high teens.

This doesn't look good
As far as I'm counting there seems to be only one Dorr car coming round though. And then none. And then no Gemballa car. And then a text from Dave: "Car #69 withdrawn following an incident which occurred as a result of oil on track. Driver, Chris Goodwin, unharmed."

And that's that. In the space of an hour and after all three McLarens are knocked out in accidents 'my' car is the last MP4-12C standing at the 'ring. The race goes on, of course. And it's a brutal reminder of how unforgiving this event and circuit can be.

Incident does befall our car in the small hours too. Thankfully little more than a little exuberantly sprayed Bitburger over the Volcano Red paintwork though. It'll polish out...


Stay tuned for the inside story from Chris Goodwin on the MP4-12C and GT3 car and the driver's eye view of the race

OK, so we didn't actually take it camping
OK, so we didn't actually take it camping
Quality and detail is beyond reproach
Quality and detail is beyond reproach
Looming large in a wing mirror near you
Looming large in a wing mirror near you
The grid assembles for the feature race
The grid assembles for the feature race
PH gatecrashes parade lap with Kankkunen
PH gatecrashes parade lap with Kankkunen
This is where the real action takes place
This is where the real action takes place
If you go down to the woods today...
If you go down to the woods today...
Feel the winds of change blowing through that
Feel the winds of change blowing through that
Just like watching it on the TV
Just like watching it on the TV
Both Dorr Motorsport cars also crashed out
Both Dorr Motorsport cars also crashed out
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
Author: Dan Trent