Paul Mackenzie is a self-confessed guinea pig. He’s the chap McLaren used to make sure ordinary mortals (rather than just racing gods) wouldn’t have a problem driving the new P1 GTR. Paul also happens to be the boss.
P1 GTR buyers (40 of them in the world, nearly all found) tend to be older gentlemen with fuller figures. During the car’s development someone, ahem, close to that description was needed to check certain fundamentals: access, room, seat comfort, ergonomics, and, as Paul tells us, the ability for anyone to jump in and drive off without terrifying themselves. Paul was that man.
He’s actually the executive director of what is an increasingly important part of the Woking operation: McLaren Special Ops. The £2m track special GTR, like the P1 on which it is based, is his baby.
And that car, evocative in its yellow and green paint job, is behind us on the McLaren stand at the Geneva Motor Show when GRR fronts up armed with an armful of questions with which to grille the guinea pig…
Twenty years ago the F1 GTR won Le Mans. Could you build a Le Mans winning version of the P1 GTR?
(Hysterical laughter. More laughter). No comment. No, that now sounds like we are doing it. We are not doing it.
Wouldn’t McLaren like to win Le Mans again?
We would love to of course. But we are not in a position to do it with the current rules and regs. The F1 GTR was the right car at the right time 20 years ago but the situation is very different today. In 2016/17 GT3 and GTE classes are getting closer together and we are keeping an eye on that. But a P1 Le Mans car is not in the product plan today.
Any racing at all for the GTR?
The problem is it doesn’t fit into any homologation category with its power and the amount of downforce it has.
Could the GTR beat the 650S GT3 car around a track?
That’s very interesting. We have done comparisons. What (chief test driver) Chris Goodwin found was that the P1 GTR was significantly quicker on lap time but the lap was very different. The GT3 with less weight and more downforce was quicker in the corners but then ran out of poke (on the straights), whereas becuase the GTR has so much power everywhere it was quite a bit quicker overall.
Does your guinea pig duty include test driving?
I drove the GTR in Qatar recently. I am not a racing driver, and I had never driven a car on slicks before. The third time I drove it I was sliding the back end out in the slower corners, which I really enjoyed. Like every McLaren it’s very good at not biting you.
Even so I never got anywhere near its limits. To begin with I was 30secs slower than Chris Goodwin and I got that down to 20 secs, which goes to show how your circuit driving can develop in this car.
Can a GTR owner take the car home or will you insist on looking after it as Ferrari does with its XX programme?
If you want to take the car away you can. We would like people to join the whole driver development programme and do the six events with us, that way all an owner has to do is turn up and drive. We maintain the car and all expenses are included in the price. But we are also saying you can take it away if you want. We don’t want to limit our customers.
There seems to have been a lot of special editions and updated models recently; is there a danger you are creating orphan models?
We are very conscious that we don’t want to be a company that does special edition after special edition. We are doing one a year.
If I was a 650S owner I would want an upgrade to LT spec, in the way that the 12C could be upgraded to 650S spec. Can I get that?
No, not at all. We have talked about this, but so much on the LT is different – 50 per cent of the engine, a third of all components – it’s just not possible.
Porsche, Bentley, Aston Martin, Maserati, Rolls-Royce, Lotus – they all either have or want an SUV. Would McLaren ever consider it?
Clearly as an organisation we have discussed it. But as a young and growing company we have to focus on our core, which is two-seat sports cars. So it’s not in today’s product strategy. But we can’t be that singled-minded that we would drive ourselves out of business (if we didn’t do an SUV).
With so many new top-end supercars and track cars isn’t the market in danger of reaching saturation point?
With the (Aston Martin) Vulcan coming to market more and more companies are doing it. But a lot of people like to put their cars on track these days. I don’t know where saturation point is. I do know we said we will make 40 GTRs and that is what we will make, and they will all soon be sold. Remember McLaren Automotive’s aspiration is 4000-4500 cars a year, not 10,000. When the Sports Series is launched that will bring a whole new part of the market to McLaren.