I think the owner of McLaren Senna, chassis no 001, has found a way to make his car not unattractive.
David Kyte - nice man - took delivery of his Senna last week at McLaren's Woking factory. McLaren is now turning out two Sennas a day, of the 500 in total it'll build of this 'ultimate track car', (before starting on 75 track-only GTR models, which means it's not that ultimate after all). And virtually all, like Kyte's, will have some level of MSO (McLaren Special Operations) content.
Some MSO elements McLaren can install as the cars make their way down the line. Some, like chassis 001's blue and white paintwork, take more than 600 hours of post-production work. To my eyes it disguises, like warship camouflage, some of the more awkward details, while accentuating how fast it looks even standing still. But the effort means, really, that you're looking at a pretty much million pound car.
Directly after taking delivery, Kyte drove his car straight to Paul Ricard circuit in the south of France for one of the 'Pure' events McLaren lays on for owners; which is like a fancy track day, but serious up to and including a one-make 570S GT4 series. Among others, Bruno Senna comes and helps out with the tuition.
PH hitched a ride in an accompanying Senna for the journey. An epic road trip, then, right? Hmm. Well. France is pretty big and sitting in traffic is sitting in traffic no matter what car you're in, so it takes the same amount of time in a £1m hypercar as a £10,000 supermini. But hey, it's our first go in a Senna on the road. So there are things to tell you.
Like it's loud. I know right? Who'd have guessed? The Senna has a largely bare carbonfibre interior, including fixed back seats, which have some controls incorporated into them, cleverly. A little carpet makes quite a big difference, but shorn of so much insulation, the overriding noise on the road is not the engine, but the ride. On country roads with loose bits, gravel pings up like you're sitting in a race car, before getting trapped in the bodywork's nooks and crannies.
It's also a wide car, but these are the two least habitable things about it. The optional glass door panels - being specified by 90% of Senna owners, rather than the 30% that McLaren estimated - make rolling into toll booths around tight car parks way less terrifying than it'd otherwise be. They're not much use once you're up to speed, but you can see kerb edges out of them when manoeuvring. There's a powerful air-con system, too (only McLaren's press dept have specced a Senna without it), so even though there's plenty of glasswork and it's 30 degrees outside, the cabin stays pleasingly civilised. Some occupants thought there was a bit too much sunshine radiating through the roof panel, but my baldy heed didn't mind it.
Tell you what, though, the only bit of the window that opens, ostensibly to collect tickets through, is very small. On a long journey on toll roads, it'd be worth getting a windscreen tag. And that, my friends, is why you come here: sound consumer advice. There's not much of a boot, either, incidentally.
But to drive on the road? It's relatively civilised. Left in automatic, the seven-speed twin clutch box tries to lug things out, using the latent torque of the 4.0-litre, 800hp V8. Let it and you might see 20mpg. The ride is fine, too. Firm, obviously, but because there's the fancy, complicated, linked hydraulic springing as used in the Super Series, it has more compliance than you'd expect for such a track oriented car. And it steers with the kind of goodness that all McLarens do, because they retain a hydraulic rack that has a similar 2.0 turn speed to a Ferrari, but much less hyperactiveness around straight ahead.
Corners? Not many. You can tell there's brilliant stability even while rounding motorway slip roads, although our experience of the Senna remains, for now, those few laps in the hands of MB at Silverstone and DP at Estoril. More enlightening is spending time with the engineers in the development Sennas that accompanied Kyte's production car. Three cars that'll end up on McLaren's development fleet or the Pure fleet.
In a week that brings you another hypercar launch in the form of the Milan Red, so far shown as what looks like a scale model with no interior, it's a sobering reminder of the amount of effort that actually goes into producing a supercar or hypercar. There are tens of prototypes for the Senna, hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent and hundreds of thousands of miles have been pounded validating components and reliability. Today McLaren employs more quality engineers than it did engineers full stop when the MP4-12C was launched. How startups expect to break into this without the kind of backing that McLaren had is a mystery to me.
Ariel's Simon Saunders has it right when he says that, as a niche car company without massive resources, "you've got to do what the big players can't do or aren't interested in doing". With big backing from the off, McLaren is one of the big players. And it feels more established every day.
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