Perhaps more so now than ever before, track days are big business in the UK. It makes a lot of sense. Modern cars are simply too capable, speed cameras too numerous and the traffic too heavy for most of us to feel indulged by road driving anymore. Not to mention the fact that we've been cooped up indoors for months and could do blowing the cobwebs away at the end of a pit straight somewhere remote and windswept.
Consequently most days (and evenings) will see a track day up occurring somewhere in the UK. There will most likely be a McLaren or two in attendance as well, given how expertly the Woking supercars combine road manners with circuit finesse. Those especially fortunate might encounter a Longtail McLaren in the adjacent garage. Both 675 and 600 remain two of the best track-biased supercars of the past decade, combining civility and exhilaration near perfectly. They're track day royalty.
However, if the past few years have taught us anything, it's that very nearly perfect just isn't good enough. There will always be those who want the bar raised a bit more, sometimes by just the most marginal amount - even if it's just about bragging rights. The McLaren 620R is for those people.
A 600LT turned up to 11 would sell it short; a race car for the road wouldn't do it justice, either. Because although there are elements of the interior and driving experience familiar from any Sports Series, there would never be any mistaking the 620R for any of its humbler siblings. A jalapeno and a ghost pepper are still classed as chillies, but there's no mistaking them. As for the GT4 race car, the 620R is significantly more powerful, in the region of 150hp depending on Balance of Performance. Which is a lot in something that weighs 1300kg. The theory is, then, that the 620R should deliver both a more intense circuit experience than any previous Sports Series, while also retaining enough of what makes it such a sorted road car. Which sounds pretty mighty.
Certainly, the R is instantly recognisable from the rest of the Sports Series range. Obviously a roof scoop and a livery will do that, though notable in addition are the adjustable rear wing, reworked front end to complement it and a stance that comes from ride height and camber most road cars could never get away with. The 620R could be camo-wrapped from the factory - maybe MSO will do that if you ask nicely - and it would remain patently clear it isn't just another 570 derivative.
What there is of an interior is familiar, with centre console raised like the race car, Senna-inspired seats and the portrait infotainment display. Harnesses immediately give off a more serious vibe, though, as do additional pull straps if you've forgotten to shut the door before strapping in (they prove handy). The test cars had the stereo and air-con optioned back in - thank goodness - though, once more, there's little doubt about the 620's intent even with some amenities returned.
It takes little more than Snetterton's exit road to realise what a drastically different prospect the 620R is to any other Sports Series. Honestly, even at 20mph it makes them feel lax and lethargic. The 620 fizzes with enthusiasm and is seemingly in possession of zero slack. The steering has gained weight and immediacy, the 3.8-litre V8 is as loud as it is in a P1 and, even on the road legal Trofeo Rs and at 10 per cent of its top speed, it feels agile and alive.
Perhaps the most drastic change for this new car is the substitution of the adaptive suspension that's usually found in a Sports Series for manually adjustable motorsport dampers. Tweakable through 32 clicks of compression and rebound and saving six kilos on the traditional McLaren set up, they transform the character of the car. We're accustomed to the Sports Series cars being relatively serene at cruising speed, but the 620R never lets up; it's agitated and alert even when trundling down the A11. On McLaren's suggested road set up it's a long way from intolerable, such is the quality of the damping, although there's no escaping the bustle of the ride, particularly with a seat less padded than a nice pair of bib shorts. Still, if you're after the race car experience, it's here in abundance.
And, of course, the pay-off is a McLaren experience even more visceral and intoxicating than we've come to expect. As the boost builds through low revs, turbos whistling like the wind through a haunted house, you tense waiting for the rush that comes somewhere past 3,500rpm. When it arrives the onslaught feels stronger than ever. Naturally some of that comes from a little more power, but primarily the sensation stems from feeling a greater sense of connection with what's going on. You're not so much a passive occupant as an integral part of the 620R's operation, so great is the sense of immersion.
Cornering on the road is much the same; you'd identify it as a Sports Series McLaren if pushed, because of the feel of the steering and the weight of the pedals, though with a distinct motorsport edge - the sense of purpose and focus that only race cars seem to convey. In fact, the race car feel is so intoxicating it makes objective assessment of the 620R a little unusual. Because where the turbo lag might be infuriating in an everyday car, there's something exciting about the anticipation in something ostensibly for the track. Same with the infotainment: elsewhere the installation would be pretty woeful, but here you're simply happy for the additional company while buzzing along like a grounded hurricane. The remit has changed to such an extent that you forgive the previously unforgivable.
For the track driving element of the 620R launch, the dampers and the rear wing are configured for circuit driving, with new Pirelli slicks fitted as well. McLaren is understandably proud of the new tyre - because typically slicks aren't offered in such a large size, meaning these can be swapped for the road tyres with no other changes - though it does present a problem. Because a 620R is not a track-ready Megane, and another set of wheels can't just be put where the rear seats used to be. Another person is going to be required to bring the slicks along and help you fit them. And while a 620R customer will be a very different person to the Megane owner, and most likely attend different track days, they'll surely sometimes just want to go solo and avoid the hassle of the extra wheels. Which would be the Trofeo R only.
For this drive, though, it was only on the slicks, with 10 laps of Snetterton's 300 circuit to discover just what the 620R brings above the 600LT for the average driver. And then a couple in the passenger seat to see what it can do in the hands of a professional...
Predictably enough, the slicks transform the Sports Series. The 620R's braking distances, apex speed and traction are all enhanced, even taking into account a very high bar previously set. Crucially, they feel progressive when the grip threshold is breached too, the standard car's forgiving and benign balance retained rather than replaced with a spikier, scarier limit.
Combined with improved brake pedal feel through new aluminium calipers, greater high-speed stability and the impeccable body control of the new dampers, the 620R engenders huge confidence. Which, regardless of budget, is what everyone wants in a great track car. Because it doesn't matter if the capability is off the chart, it's of no use if the driver is too intimidated to explore it. The 620R is, without doubt, a supremely talented track vehicle, though a novice could soon feel at home in it as well because McLaren has not dialled back its approachability.
That said, having seen what the car can do in the hands of a professional, any 620R customer must be encouraged - if not implored - to get some tuition and really see what the car is capable of. Because the combination of race car dynamism - with braking distances that could seemingly be measured in inches, and otherworldly composure - with supercar performance is a truly intoxicating one. You'd be doing yourself and the car a disservice not to discover the absolute maximum.
Which is, perhaps, the 620R's greatest strength and most conspicuous drawback. Because possessing this sort of ability in something with numberplates - albeit on a second set of tyres - is truly incredible. It's an experience that will linger far longer in the memory than the silly roof scoop or the unforgiving seats or the perplexed looks from passers-by. But a 600LT is already a pretty exceptional track car, and it delivers the road pleasantries that are absented by design in the 620R. Moreover, as exhilarating as the latter would surely be on a private day at Paul Ricard, it can't claim to be half as exhilarating as competing in an actual GT4 car - be that in the Pure McLaren series, or a national championship - even with reduced power. Because motorsport, and the thrill of competition, is the best thing you can do in a car bar none. And for those contemplating a quarter of a million on a 620R, the closest thing available to a race car for the road, actual racing must have crossed their mind as well.
Which isn't to denigrate McLaren's achievement here, nor to deny the considerable excitement that's quite clearly on offer. Because a 620R is immense; it fills every road journey with juvenile joy and rewards on track like little else. But it just seems to be catering for a niche - where a 600LT is found lacking and yet racing is a step too far - that is infinitesimal, even by supercar standards. Probably that's reflected in a production run that was 350 and is now 225, though of course the world has changed somewhat since December. What can be said for certain is that those 225 will be in for a supercar experience like no other, where the motorsport influence isn't so much tangible as completely inescapable. Bragging rights guaranteed, then - unless you're talking to a GT4 driver.
SPECIFICATION | MCLAREN 620R
Engine: 3,799cc, twin-turbo V8
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto (SSG), rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 620@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 457@3,500rpm
Top speed: 202mph
Weight: 1,386kg (DIN kerbweight, fluids and 90 per cent fuel)
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