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