None other has shaped the modern notion of a supercar more than the McLaren F1. It was expensive, unapologetic, broke multiple production vehicle records. It also proved that it can handle itself on a track from the factory. It is also very exotic and desirable, with only 106 F1s produced over 5 years. Nowadays, they demand an auction price of around $10 million. Mind you, it’s fair enough considering the McLaren F1 was so far ahead of its competition. Arguably, only the Bugatti Veyron would compare 10 years later.
With that said, Gordon Murray, the brain behind the F1, felt that his creation should be a road car foremost. That belief stood until a year later when the BPR Global GT Series was established. It took the world by storm, with major manufacturers intrigued. People sought something more capable to compete in the leading GT1 class. The McLaren F1 with its racing technology is an appealing proposition.
After finally convincing Gordon to provide factory backing, they started transforming the F1. Being an impressive foundation to begin with, they only needed modest modifications. Reducing weight, adding cooling, and downforce to name a few. McLaren restricted the 6.1-litre BMW S70 V12 to 600 horsepower to comply with GT1 regulations. They even retained the standard transmission. That said, it wasn’t until after a proper 24 hour track test before all McLaren ironed out the F1’s track weaknesses.
This stripped out, race-prepped McLaren F1 is henceforth dubbed as the McLaren F1 GTR. The first-gen F1 GTRs built are colloquially known as the 'Short Tail'. It earned its moniker mainly due to the following successor that replaced the early F1 GTRs.
For the 1995 season, McLaren would manufacture 9 chassis. Chassis #01R is kept by McLaren as a test mule. Notably, it’s also the chassis raced by McLaren Specialists Lanzante Motorsport. It took the overall win at the 1995 24 Hour of Le Mans. Initially, 3 McLaren F1 GTRs were produced for debut at the BPR Circuito de Jerez opener. Two under GTC Competition and one by David Price Racing. It was an impressive outing. All 3 F1 GTRs took the first 3 qualifying positions and GTC Competition took the pole. This was despite facing monumental competition from the Porsche 911 GT2 Evo. For the 1995 and 1996 BPR GTC, the McLaren F1 GTR would bring West Competition and GTC Competition the teams championship respectively.
Of course, no grand tourer series would prove as daunting and challenging as the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s a grueling test of a racing car’s endurance under incessant high-performance driving. McLaren had to run their F1 GTRs against other GT cars and purpose-built Le Mans Prototype (LMP). While everyone thought that a LMP car would take the lead, technical issues plagued them. The GT1 cars, including the F1 GTRs, ran without a hitch in contrast. During the final hours, the world saw the Kokusai Kaihatsu UK Racing (now Lanzante Racing) F1 GTR pitted head to head against Courage Competition LMP (now owned by Oreca).
We all know that the #01R F1 GTR took the win, but also took 3rd, 4th, 5th and 13th place overall. 2 F1 GTRs failed to finish. This proved so memorable that McLaren built 5 road-legal F1 GTRs - the F1 LM, to commemorate the 5 finishing cars. It’s worth noting that chassis #09R was sold to the Sultan of Brunei, and remains unraced to this date. Chassis #04R crashed, but would then be repaired to replace chassis #14R to race at Japan GTC.
McLaren knew they couldn’t replicate the success for 1996 without upgrades. Thus, they extended the front and rear bodywork and added a larger splitter. They also lightened and uprated the standard transmission. 9 further new 1996-spec F1 GTRs would be produced. Chassis #03R and #06R would then receive the 1996 refresh. The modifications were minor, but the 1996 F1 GTR were the fastest of the variants. It mustered a peak speed of 330 km/h on the Mulsanne Straight at the 1996 Le Mans.
The 1996 F1 GTRs were most notable for their involvement in the 1996 Japan GT Championship (JGTC) GT500 class. Team Goh would purchase chassis #13R and #14R to race under the Team Lark McLaren sobriquet. During its debut round at Suzuka, Team Lark took a 1-2 finish. The 1996 F1 GTRs proved very dominant. During the 1996 JGTC they secured the teams championship title. This is despite chassis #14R’s crash at Sugo.
During the 1997 race season, the BPR Global GT Series was reformed into the FIA GT Championship. With that came new regulations. Stiff competition from the Porsche 911 GT1 and the promising Mercedes-Benz CLK-GTR forced McLaren to extensively modify the F1 GTR. While elongated exterior-wise, it retained the same road-car carbon monocoque. McLaren included a larger rear wing, wider wheel arches and improved ground clearance. They also destroked the BMW S70 V12 to 6.0-litre and utilised an X-Trac 6-speed sequential transmission. This is known as the ‘Long Tail’. It was so vastly different from the normal F1 that 3 road-going F1 GTR Long Tail for homologation purposes - the F1 GT. 10 F1 GTR Long Tails were built.
For the FIA GTC debut round, the 1997-spec F1 GTRs would take the 1-2-3 victory over a plethora of 911 GT1s. Admittedly, the early-retirement of the CLK-GTRs helped. Mercedes’s new CLK-GTRs would go on to dominate the GT1 category after it figured out the mechanical intricacies. BMW Motorsport who raced the Long Tails would take second in the teams championship. At the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the F1 GTRs scored 2nd and 3rd, behind the Porsche LMP. While the F1 GTR Long Tail’s performances were worthy of plaudits, it was plain to see that it wouldn’t be viable to compete against the new Mercedes. BMW and McLaren pulled the plug on the GTRs by 1998.
In total, 28 F1 GTRs were produced, with some sold to private owners. Some received the road-car conversion and are still driven around in this configuration today. The F1 GTRs only enjoyed a brief period of glory at racing, but their aptitude were laudable. Those were road cars employed as track machines, racing against other track cars built as track weapons from the ground up. In fact, the F1 GTR proved to be robust enough to be raced by Hitotsuyama Racing at JGTC until the year 2005. Chassis #25R would also be the last F1 GTR to compete in an official series.