Prior Convictions: The Need for Speed

McLaren has a problem. Granted, it's not a bad problem to have, but it's making a 243mph (at least) hyper GT car, and as yet has nowhere to test it.

And that is an issue, isn't it? It's different from making a hypercar - like the Aston Martin Valkyrie, say - which has all of the on-track performance of an F1 car. Sure, your buyers might not be able to extract the full potential from it, but that's only down to their talent. With the right training, or a 'hand' on board, somebody would be able to get the best from it.

But the upcoming BP23 three-seat hypercar will probably go to 250mph and, at the moment, McLaren hasn't figured out where it can demonstrate it.

The problem is this: the McLaren F1 set its 242mph performance benchmark at Ehra-Lessien, Volkswagen's test track, in 1998, because it has a straight that's several miles long. But back then Volkswagen didn't make a car that was interested in setting a top speed record itself and now, in the shape of the Chiron, it does. So Ehra-Lessien is not for hire.

Then there are the world's big high speed bowls like, say at Nardo - but given that knocked 10mph off of the F1's top speed in the 90s, you can see why the corner scrub of a constant radius bowl is too much for a modern hypercar to bear.

Which leaves a few options, but none are optimal. There are long runways - the kind of things the space shuttle was ready to use in an emergency. But the surface of these isn't always terrific. They're usually concrete and not always perfectly surfaced because a) the shuttle doesn't use them any more and b) military jets only use part of the strip. And besides, while they're long enough to get to a high speed, few, if any, are long enough to sit there for very long.

Then there are road events, or closed road sections, like Koenigsegg used last year. But you can close a road for as long as you like, it's still a public highway, whose surface, iffy run-off and wildlife you're still left at the mercy of. There are, obviously, companies that don't mind the increased risk of a nasty accident happening on a high-speed run, but I don't think McLaren is one of them.

Which leaves non-Tarmac: salt, maybe, at Bonneville, which is not McLaren's first choice because the coefficient of grip is much lower; which throws up both traction and, presumably, stability issues when you're in a car and on tyres that were meant to go quickly on paved surfaces.

Besides, proving your own top speed is one thing: after that, how do you let your owners do the same? There's the argument, which I totally buy, that it's fine if an owner doesn't use all of a car's performance, because they know it's technically possible to do so: one day they could drive a Land Rover over rock moguls, or lap a Caterham 620R as fast as a track will allow.

But how difficult does it have to be to access a car's limits, before they really do become pointless?



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Comments (42) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Esceptico 13 Mar 2018

    When I lived in Switzerland there was a good stretch of Autobahn just across the border in Germany, north of Schaffhausen. Reasonably long unrestricted sections with three lanes. Tested my GT3’s top speed there on a Sunday morning (light traffic). Managed an indicated 300 kmh. Car felt absolutely fine at that speed. Not so sure about doing 400 kmh there though.

  • Hairymonster 13 Mar 2018

    Must admit, when i first saw the headline I thought "This is such an irrelevant thing to aim for" - why not concentrate on making an affordable hybrid which prioritises driver involvement and a level of practicality. I know this isn't McLaren's natural market, but I'd be far more interested in something like this rather than yet another ultimate supercar trinket which will spend most of its life languishing in the Sultan of Brunei's personal multi-storey car park.

  • AER 13 Mar 2018

    Clearly not, because the McLaren top speed claim has now generated another press article banging on about McLaren cars...

  • dunnoreally 13 Mar 2018

    It's like watches, I guess. Is anyone really going to take their Rolex Whatever 18 miles below sea level? almost certainly not, but the fact they could in theory gives them a nice warm fuzzy feeling, and that's what actually justifies the extra expense.

  • Venturist 13 Mar 2018

    DELETED: Comment made by a member who's account has been deleted.
    It’s more like PEOPLE need to think differently but that’s hardly going to happen. People want to have the best, it will always be desirable as a status symbol, even if they never use it in that way.

    You could argue that a particularly gifted marketer could spearhead a public mindset change and manage to make a different attribute into the status symbol - very tough though because speed and performance are sexy and that’s pretty much biologically hardwired.

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