The McLaren F1 GTR was a racing variant of the McLaren F1 sports car first produced in 1995 for grand touring style racing, such as the BPR Global GT Series, FIA GT Championship, JGTC, and British GT Championship. It is most famous for its overall victory at the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans where it beat out faster purpose-built prototypes. McLaren F1 GTRs raced internationally until 2005 when the final race chassis was retired.
Gordon Murray, creator of the McLaren F1, originally saw his creation as the ultimate road car, with no intention to take the car racing. Although the car used many racing technologies and designs, it was felt that the car should be a road car first, without any intent built into the creation of the car to modify it into a racing car.
However soon after the launch of the McLaren F1, the BPR Global GT Series was created. Starting in the 1994 season, the series featured racing modifications of sports cars such as the Venturi 600LM, Ferrari F40, and Porsche 911 Turbo. Viewed as a possible replacement for the defunct World Sportscar Championship, major manufacturers were taking interest in the series. At the same time, teams were also looking for faster and more capable cars for the series top class, GT1. Many teams, such as those run by Ray Bellm and Thomas Bscher, seeing the potential in the McLaren F1 road cars, turned to Gordon Murray in an attempt to convince him to offer factory backing on racing versions for the BPR series.
Finally, Murray relented and agreed to modify the F1 into a racing car, agreeing to build several chassis for competition in the 1995 season. An unused F1 chassis which was meant to become #019 was taken by McLaren and extensively modified by the company as a developmental prototype. Because of the similarity to a race car, extensive modification was not needed to actually turn the F1 into a racing car. Bodywork modification saw the addition of various cooling ducts, most noticeably a large one in the center of the nose and two placed in the location of the storage lockers on the side of the car. A large adjustable downforce wing was added to the back. The interior was merely stripped of all luxuries and given a full racing cage. Carbon brakes replaced the stock units. Because of the rules at the time, the BMW S70 V12 engine was required to use an air restrictor to limit horsepower to around 600 hp, actually making the racing car less powerful than the road car, yet faster and more nimble due to a lowered overall weight. Features such as the central seating position, gull-wing doors, and even the stock gearbox were retained.
A total of nine chassis would be built for the 1995 season, with #01R being retained by the factory as a test mule, except for a one-off use by Kokusai Kaihatsu Racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. British team GTC Racing received two F1 GTRs, with a third being used to replace a destroyed car. David Price Racing, BBA Competition, Mach One Racing, and Giroix Racing Team would all receive one chassis each, while the final chassis, #09R, was sold to Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei, for his car collection.
At Le Mans 1995, McLaren obtained victory and the highest practice top speed of the year, reaching 381 km/h on the Mulsanne Straight.
Following the success of the 1995 season, McLaren set forth to upgrade the car to remain competitive, especially against the threat of newer sports cars appearing such as the Ferrari F50 GT (which was withdrawn quickly enough) and Porsche 911 GT1. They were assisted by BMW Motorsport, who at the time decided to use their connection to McLaren to enter sports car racing by running their own race team with F1 GTRs.
Among the modifications were an extension of the front and rear bodywork, including a larger splitter attached to the front of the car. The bodywork was also modified to allow it to be removed more quickly for easier repair. The car's normally stock gearbox was modified to include a lighter magnesium housing and more robust mechanicals. These modifications allowed for the weight of the GTR to be lowered by 38 kg. Due to demand, nine more new GTRs were built, while two older GTRs (#03R and #06R) were also modified to the 1996-spec. Although slower on an entire lap than the 1997 long-tail version due to the significantly lower downforce (the 1997 model relied on high-speed cornering much like prototypes of the 2000s), the F1 GTR of 1996 was the fastest variant in terms of straight line speed - the car hit 330 km/h on the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans in 1996, which is 13 km/h faster than the 1997 long-tail F1 GTR and even 6 km/h faster than the 1996 Porsche GT1.
With the BPR Global GT Series reformed into the FIA GT Championship in 1997, rules regarding the cars used in the premier GT1 class were altered. Homologation specials like the Porsche 911 GT1 had already proven their worth in the final races of 1996, while newcomer Mercedes-Benz was showing the potential of their new CLK-GTR in testing. McLaren was therefore forced to give the F1 extensive modification in order to be able to compete against cars which had been meant as race cars first, and not road cars like the F1.
First and foremost, the F1 required extensive modification to its bodywork in order to gain as much aerodynamic downforce as possible. Although it retained the same carbon fibre monocoque as the road car, the entire exterior of the car was purpose built. A much longer nose and tail, as well as a wider rear wing, were designed in order to maximize the amount of aerodynamic downforce, while the wheel arches were widened in order to allow for the maximum amount of grip from the tires allowed by the rules. Ground clearance was also changed to 70 millimetres (2.76 in) front and rear, rather than the 60 millimetres (2.36 in) front and 80 millimetres (3.15 in) rear clearance of the 1996-spec car.
The engine also saw extensive modification, with a stroke reduction bringing the BMW S70 V12 down to 5,990 cubic centimetres (366 cu in) in an attempt to prolong the life of the engines, while still maintaining the air restrictor-controlled 600 brake horsepower (447 kW). The stock gearbox was replaced with a new X-trac 6-speed sequential transmission.
A total of ten more GTRs were built, with none of the previous cars being upgraded to the 1997-spec. In order to be allowed to construct cars that were so radically different from the F1 road car, McLaren was forced to build production cars using the GTR '97's bodywork. These cars became known as the F1 GT, of which only three were built. The 1997-spec cars are commonly referred to as the "Long Tail" version due to their stretched bodywork, most noticeably in the rear.
At Le Mans 1997, the car reached 317 kilometres per hour (196.97 mph) on the Mulsanne straight. This was still slightly slower than some of the field (Porsche 911 GT1 Evo - 326 kilometres per hour (202.57 mph), Nissan R390 GT1 - 319 kilometres per hour (198.22 mph), TWR Porsche Joest LMP - 320 kilometres per hour (198.84 mph).
Debuting at the 1995 BPR season opener at Jerez, three F1 GTRs took to the track (two for GTC Competition, one for David Price Racing's West Competition). The McLarens showed their speed from the very start, taking the first three qualifying spots. In the race, facing stiff competition from a Porsche 911 GT2 Evo, the McLaren F1 GTR of Ray Bellm and Maurizio Sandro Sala was able to take victory by a mere 16 seconds. For the second race, French squad BBA Competition added their new F1 GTR to the series while Bellm and Sala would again take victory. This would be followed by a victory for West Competition at Monza, then GTC winning again at the fourth round at Jarama. However at Jarama, GTC's second chassis, #04R would be badly damaged in a practice accident. This was replaced by #08R for the next race.
At next race at the Nürburgring, McLaren would successfully take the first five positions for GTC, West Competition, and new F1 GTR owners Giroix Racing Team and Mach One Racing. Following another victory at Donington, the F1 had a slight dry spell when it first lost to a Porsche in Montléry, then to a Ferrari at Anderstorp. However the F1 GTR would return to form by winning the final four races of the season. West Competition would take the teams championship with a total of two victories, while GTC would take third with five victories, and Mach One Racing fourth with three victories.
Going into 1996, McLaren debuted their upgraded cars in an attempt to continue their dominance of the series. Existing teams such as GTC Competition and Giroix Racing Team bought newer 1996-spec cars, while new teams such as BBA Competition, West Competition, and Mach One retained the older 1995-spec cars. BMW Motorsport, with the assistance of Bigazzi Team, purchased three F1 GTRs as well.
McLaren started the 1996 season in the same fashion as they had in 1995, with GTC Competition taking the first win in the hands of Ray Bellm and James Weaver. GTC, West Competition, and Mach One would trade off wins for the next three rounds until McLaren finally suffered a loss to Ferrari at Anderstorp yet again. GTC Competition would take victory again at Suzuka Circuit, but when the series arrived in Brands Hatch, the F1 GTR faced new competition. Porsche debuted their new 911 GT1, and took a strong victory in their first race. Although legally not allowed to score points at first, the 911 GT1 would still take victory again at Spa. Porsche skipped Nogaro, leaving McLaren to take the victory, but Porsche returned for the final round at Zhuhai, again taking the victory.
Even with the Porsche showing its dominance late in the season, McLaren's GTC Competition was still successful in taking the team's championship with West Competition taking third. For 1997, the BPR Global Endurance GT Championship would become the FIA GT Championship.
Showing control of the BPR series early in 1996, McLaren now saw that their car was lacking against the likes of the new Porsche 911 GT1 in the all new FIA GT Championship. At the same time, McLaren was aware of the coming of the new Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR, Lotus Elise GT1, and Panoz Esperante GTR-1, all purpose-built racing cars that bore little relation to road legal cars like the McLaren F1. The new F1 GTR "Long Tail" cars were therefore developed, and with increased assistance from BMW Motorsport, McLaren continued into the 1997 season. Major teams included the BMW Motorsport-backed Schnitzer Motorsport, Team Davidoff, and Parabolica Motorsports. Privateers continued to campaign older 1995-spec and 1996-spec cars.
At the opening round, the new Mercedes showed its pace by taking the pole in qualifying, but the car suffered mechanically during the race. The newer F1 GTRs showed that they had overcome the performance advantage of Porsche by taking a 1-2-3 victory over six trailing 911 GT1s. However for the next round, Mercedes-Benz would be able to put up a fight against the McLarens, with a new CLK-GTR losing to BMW Motorsports F1 GTR by less than a second. At Helsinki, with a smaller field on the temporary street course and more mechanical woes for Mercedes, the BMW Motorsport McLaren again took victory.
Unfortunately Mercedes soon overcame their mechanical problems and took a 1-2 victory at the Nürburgring, ahead of five McLarens. McLaren was able to claw back a victory at Spa before the Mercedes again took over, taking 1-2 victories in the next three rounds. McLaren would take one final victory at Mugello before the Mercedes would take the final two victories of the year. BMW Motorsport, who had scored McLaren's only victories that year, managed second in the teams championships, while Team Davidoff took a distant third. Although McLaren had successfully outdone Porsche, they were simply unable to compete with the power of the new Mercedes-Benz.
BMW officially left the project at the end of 1997 in order to build their own Le Mans Prototype project, the BMW V12 LM. McLaren, realizing that the F1 could no longer compete against an even more evolved Mercedes CLK-LM, decided to pull out factory backing for 1998. Team Davidoff and Parabolica Motorsports, aligned with BBA Competition, attempted to continue with their aged cars in 1998, but could finish no better than fifth in a single race. Team Davidoff were the only ones to score points that season, finishing 6th in the teams championship. After 1998 the GT1 class was abolished due to the dominance by Mercedes-Benz, and McLaren F1s never raced in FIA GT again.
In 1996, Team Goh of Japan purchased two F1 GTRs of 1996-spec, chassis #13R and #14R, for participation in the All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship's (JGTC) GT500 class under the name Team Lark. Debuting at the opening round at Suzuka Circuit, the Lark team took a 1-2 finish, with winners Naoki Hattori and Ralf Schumacher. At the following round at Fuji, David Brabham and John Nielsen would take victory for the Lark McLaren. However, in the next two rounds, the Japanese rivals would overcome the McLarens, only to have Team Lark return to take victory in the final two rounds of the season. At the Sugo round, Lark badly damaged their one chassis, requiring them to borrow chassis #04R from GTC Competition as a replacement for the final JGTC round. With four victories on the season, Team Lark captured the GT500 teams championship ahead of factory squads from Toyota and Nissan.
Team Lark would not return to defend their title in 1997, and no McLarens raced in the series. McLarens would return though in 1999 with Team Take One purchasing McLaren F1 GTR #19R, a 1997-spec car, for competition in GT500. The competition from Toyota, Honda, and Nissan had improved since the McLaren last raced, and therefore Team Take One struggled to be competitive, achieving only a best 9th place at Mine Circuit.
For 2000, Hitotsuyama Racing decided to follow Team Take One's lead and enter their own 1997-spec chassis, #25R, which the team had previously used in the 1999 Le Mans Fuji 1000km. Although both teams suffered mechanical woes throughout the season, Team Take One was able to take a fourth place finish at TI Aida. Both teams continued into 2001, with the Take One McLaren outperforming the Hitotsuyama entry in most rounds. However a shock occurrence happened at the end of the season when the Take One McLaren was able to secure overall victory at Mine Circuit, a mere nine seconds ahead of a factory Nissan Skyline GT-R, and helping boost Team Take One to 8th in the teams championship.
For 2002, both teams would continue to campaign their F1 GTRs, with Hitotsuyama taking a best finish of 3rd at Motegi while Team Take One would suffer and eventually abandon their efforts at the end of the season. Hitotsuyama would continue on through 2003, only managing a best finish of 9th. The car would be retired at the end of 2003, yet Hitotsuyama decided to bring the car back for two brief appearances in 2005, failing to finish in the first race at Fuji then taking an 18th on the series' return to Fuji before being retired for good by Hitotsuyama. This would be the final McLaren F1 GTR in competition in the world.
Starting in 1996, with the expansion of the BRDC GT Championship (later known as British GT), the Lazante Motorsports team saw an opportunity to purchase a former GTC Competition F1 GTR of 1995-spec. Although quick enough to take six pole positions over the season, the team struggled during races, managing only a single victory against a large variety of sportscars. Although drivers Ian Flux and Jake Ulrich managed to easily take the GT1 class drivers championship, the pair failed to beat out GT2 and GT3 class teams for the overall championship. Following the season, Lazante abandoned the McLaren, and only a one-off race by Parabolica Motorsports saw the only competition by a McLaren in 1997.
In 1998, British GT changed it rules to more closely compare to those used by the FIA GT Championship. These rule changes saw the return of a McLaren to British GT, with Steve O'Rourke's EMKA Racing running a 1997-spec chassis, and later joined by Team Carl at Silverstone. EMKA would manage to take two race victories, and drivers Tim Sugden and Steve O'Rourke would take second in the overall drivers championship.
For 1999, although the FIA GT Championship had abandoned the GT1 class, British GT continued to allow the cars to run. EMKA Racing continued with AM Racing joining with another 1997-spec car before they were forced to drop out halfway through the season. EMKA managed a mere single victory, consistently being beaten by Porsche 911 GT1s and Lister Storms. For 2000, British GT finally abandoned their GT1 class, and the McLaren F1 GTRs were no longer eligible.
Although officially not part of any one racing series, the 24 Hours of Le Mans was still considered important enough for McLaren to enter. Competing at Le Mans meant racing against many of their normal GT1 competitors from various series, as well as some unique cars which ran Le Mans only. McLaren first ran Le Mans in 1995, with all seven chassis built at the time being entered. Although only six cars were being used in the BPR Global GT Series, chassis #01R which had been used as a McLaren testbed was also entered for the Kokusai Kaihatsu Racing team.
Prior to the race, it was assumed that a competitors in the WSC class of Le Mans Prototype would easily take the win, since they were custom built racing cars with no relation to street cars like GT1 cars. However during the race, various WSC cars succumbed to technical difficulties and dropped well down in the standings, while the GT1 class cars continued on without difficulty. In the closing hours of the race, five McLaren F1 GTRs were still racing while only three WSC cars remained. A close battle in the final hours saw the Kokusai Kaihatsu McLaren competing against the Courage Compétition prototype, with the McLaren finally taking the overall win in one of the shortest distances covered since the 1950s. Other McLarens finished 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 13th overall, with only two F1 GTRs failing to finish. In honor of McLaren's achievement, the company created the five special F1 LMs for customers to mark the five finishers. The winning car, which was driven by Yannick Dalmas, Masanori Sekiya, and JJ Lehto, was retained by McLaren and never raced again.
Returning in 1996, competition from the Le Mans Prototypes was stiffer as Porsche had a factory team in the class. GT1 class itself was also more competitive, again with Porsche having a factory team with their new 911 GT1s. McLaren had seven entries again, but were unable to repeat on their success, although they were only beat by the two new 911 GT1s and the overall winning Porsche LMP. Six of the seven McLarens finished, taking the 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th, and 11th places.
With the upgraded 1997-spec cars, McLaren returned with six entries the following year. Now facing not only Porsche, but also Lister, Panoz, and Nissan, the McLarens again performed well. Only two entries managed to finish, taking 2nd and 3rd behind the repeat winner, the Porsche LMP. In 1998, only two McLaren F1 GTRs were entered, both by privateer teams, with only one car managing a fourth place.
The following year, the GT1 class was abandoned and the McLarens no longer eligible. However, in an ACO sanctioned event in Japan in 1999, a McLaren F1 GTR was entered by Hitotsuyama Racing in the new LMGTP class for closed-cockpit prototypes. If the McLaren had won its class, it would have earned an automatic entry to Le Mans as a prototype in 2000. Unfortuntally the car failed to finish.
At the close of the 1996 seasons, Bigazzi Team SRL, Giroix Racing Team, and David Price Racing took their F1 GTRs to Brazil to compete in races at Curitiba and Brasília. Bigazzi took both victories just ahead of the other two McLarens. Bigazzi would return to Brazil again in 1997 to take victory at the Mil Milhas.
Team Davidoff raced in a number of events outside of the mainstream in 1997, appearing at the 6 Hours of Vallelunga and taking a 21 lap victory over the nearest competitor. Later, the car appeared at the Le Mans Autumn Cup, finishing second in combined heat races. BBA Competition would fly to China for the FIA GT exhibition event at Zhuhai, taking second.
In 1998, for the short lived GTR Euroseries for privateers, Davidoff raced their F1 GTR in the opening round at Jarama, taking a dominating victory. The following week, the car was brought to the opening round of the 1998 Italian GT season, the 1000km of Monza. Davidoff's McLaren was able to defeat open cockpit prototypes to take overall victory by eleven laps. The car appeared one last time at the final race of the GTR Euroseries season, a four hour race at Spa. Unfortunately the car was forced to retire with a blown head gasket.
A total of 28 F1 GTR chassis were built. Nine were built in 1995-spec, nine in 1996-spec, and ten more in 1997-spec. Some cars were upgraded from one spec to another, but this count only includes cars built from scratch to that specification.