OCT 22nd 2015

McLaren's Chief Test Driver talks 570S... and sledges (?)

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It’s something new for us’ begins Goodwood Revival star and McLaren Chief Test Driver Chris Goodwin as we sit down during the 570S launch in Portimao. ‘Our cars have previously been solely performance-driven, but this has been a very different project. It’s all been about the fun and engagement of this car in the real world. Judging by people’s reaction to it, it’s ticked those boxes.’

McLaren 570S promo

Fittingly, we’ve parked ourselves in the ‘Monocell II’ carbon fibre tub as used by McLaren‘s first Sports Series car which has been placed inside one of the pit garages. The scene around us is a very busy one, with cars coming and going out of the pits at one end of the garage and journalists returning from trips out on the stunning local roads at the other. As you’d imagine, Mr Goodwin is perfectly relaxed as he recalls the development of Woking’s latest offering.

We kick off though by asking what impact using anti roll bars (not required on the P1 and 650S) had on the development of the 570S. ‘Putting an anti-roll-bar on the car was almost like going back in time’ he admits, before adding: ‘Actually, maybe that’s not the best way to put it! It’s something that’s tried and tested and I understand how to work with that sort of technology, so in many ways it simplified things. It also made the car cheaper to produce, which meant that we could spend the money elsewhere and still add a huge amount of technology and performance. So we have lowered fractionally the ride quality of the car by using an anti roll bar as opposed to our hydraulic roll control system, but unless you’ve experienced our other cars this one has an amazing ride compared to our competitors.’ 

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Tuning anti roll bars in conjunction with McLaren’s adaptive damping system appears to have been a fun job for Chris and his team, having worked with the adaptive damping system on the 12C, 650S, P1, 675LT and P1 GTR. ‘It was easy, really, having produced all those cars’ he explains. ‘The difference with this car was the direction we wanted to go in with regard to the characteristics and balance: More direct, more engaging for more of the time. The lower the speed, the more direct and engaging the car is.’ 

Having driven the 570S for a few road hours and some hot (…ish) laps, we suggest that ‘playful’ best sums up its nature. Chris agrees. ‘Playful is a really good adjective to use! Mark Vinnells (McLaren Executive Director) has pushed us all the time to resist the temptation to pin the car down by adding more grip. It’s all about how playful it is. The roll bar balance, the calibration, the tyre grip balance, the characteristic of the tyres as they break away, the amount of aero… Of course we could have added more downforce; we know how to do that. We could have had more tyre grip; we know how to do that, too. We could have done so many things that might have revealed a faster lap time on the track, but for this car that is irrelevant. For this car it’s all about how it feels in the real world at real speeds; how much fun you’re going to have and how much you can play with the car, rather than just an objective number.’

McLaren 570S Coupe Launch 2015 Portimao

As if to highlight the fun nature of the latest McLaren launch, a photographer picks up the front of the tub we’re sat in and swings it around to face the light entering the pit garage. As he does (with us both still sat in it), Chris looks over with a wicked grin on his face and says ‘Hey, this would make a great sledge, wouldn’t it?!’ We suggest that McLaren must have some spare tubs lying around somewhere with cracks in which they could attach some skis to. This brings about an interesting revelation.

‘They don’t crack’ he chuckles. ‘Do you know, this (Monocell II) is the evolution of our original tub. It’s inherently the same basic design as the first one we started with on 12C. They’re indestructible. Obviously we had to destroy some in crash testing, but in the real world Andrew Kirkaldy smashed our 12C race car at Spa. Smashed it to bits back in 2011. We threw the car away, but the tub survived so we used it for testing in 2011, 2012 and then in 2013 Sebastien Loeb was racing it and won a race with that very chassis in the FIA championship! We continued to use it as a test car, then we rebuilt it as a 650S prototype and earlier this year at Silverstone it won a round of the British GT Championship. The same tub! You can’t kill it!’ See below to get an idea of the punishment the tub took at Spa … 

At this point a 570S can be heard tearing around the section of track behind the pit garages. ‘Listen to that!’ Chris enthuses. ‘They’ve done a great job with that gearshift. You can hear it crack-crack as the car is braking down into that second gear corner, blipping through the box with a nice crack and a burble on the way down and then accelerate off out of the corner. It’s all been done with a view to what people really enjoy: a taught, light, nimble sports car. By doing that you do tend to put a limit on ultimate performance, but we have other cars for that.’

So what will he do now that there are no new McLarens to develop? That reassuringly wicked grin returns as he says: ‘Oh there’s always something new to test. There is never ever a moment where we’re not looking to the future. We’re planning well ahead. The lead times on these projects are quite long and we’re always exploring new technology. Some of the technology you’re seeing on our cars right now, nobody else has: Adaptive damping, active aero, brake steer, kinetic suspension – they’re all new technologies not fully adopted by anybody else just yet really. Put it this way, there aren’t any empty pages in my diary for the next few months. We’re always trying to lead. I couldn’t imagine working for another car company because there’s nobody else who’s doing what we’re doing.’ 

Listening to how Chris talks about the 570S, some of those early 12C reviews which suggested that somehow McLaren lacks the passion to produce a great, involving road car seem a very long time ago now. In fact, it might just be the case that right now they have the tightest range of very high performance cars money can buy… and there’s no sign of them letting-up.

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