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FLAT-OUT AND FEARLESS: RACING ON THE EDGE

 

 

 

Every year, the Goodwood Festival of Speed celebrates a motorsport theme, and this year’s focus is one very close to McLaren’s heart. ‘Flat-Out and Fearless – Racing on the Edge’ celebrates those moments of skill, courage and audacity that have the fans on the edge of their seats; the sensational performances that we all remember many years later; those qualifying laps and overtaking moves, the charges from the back of the grid and the knife-edge drives in the wet.

As the only team in history to have won the Formula 1™ World Championship, the Indy 500, the Can-Am title and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, McLaren has had more than its fair share of flat-out moments. With drivers of such calibre as world champions Emerson Fittipaldi, James Hunt, Ayrton Senna and Mika Hakkinen, we have raced on the edge for more than 50 years.

Here, we celebrate just a few of those extraordinary McLaren drives.

 


 

Formula 1™ Belgian GP – Spa-Francorchamps – 9th June 1968

 

Back in 1968, the Belgian Grand Prix was still held on the original Spa circuit, a nine-mile-long triangular course through the Ardennes forest. The cars raced flat-out on ordinary public roads, lined with houses, trees and telegraph poles, with no safety barriers and few marshals to assist if anything went wrong. It was the fastest and most dangerous circuit in Europe, with the drivers regularly reaching 180mph on the long, sweeping bends.

It was on this terrifying stage that Bruce McLaren won his first race driving a car that bore his own name. After launching his team in 1963, Bruce started building and racing McLaren Formula 1™ cars in 1966. Over the following two seasons Bruce scored a handful of points, but in 1968 the new McLaren M7A was fast, reliable and – painted in bright orange –instantly recognisable. Belgium was the fourth race of the season: after qualifying sixth, Bruce battled his way through the field until he was second behind Jackie Stewart. When Stewart stopped for fuel on the penultimate lap, Bruce pushed on and won the race. It was the first of three victories that season – enough to place the young McLaren team a remarkable second in the 1968 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship.

Paying homage to this bold drive on our stand at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, 'McLaren House', is the McLaren 650S Spider, appearing in McLaren Orange – a colour that has been associated with McLaren since Bruce chose it for his race cars.

 


 

Can-Am Round 1 - Mosport  - 14th June 1970

 

Denny Hulme, a big New Zealander, nicknamed ‘The Bear’, had joined his friend and fellow Kiwi Bruce McLaren in Can-Am racing in 1967, and the following year Denny joined McLaren in Formula 1™ too. Together, Bruce and Denny scored four grand prix wins in 1968 and ’69, and dominated Can-Am so completely that the series became known as ‘The Bruce and Denny Show’.

Then, in May 1970, Denny’s car caught fire while testing for the Indy 500 – he escaped, but with badly burned hands. Three weeks later, Bruce was tragically killed while testing a Can-Am car on the circuit at Goodwood. Denny was devastated, describing it as ‘the worst day of my life’.

The start of the 1970 Can-Am season was just around the corner and Denny was determined to win the title again ‘for Bruce’. At Mosport Park in Ontario, Canada, two weeks after Bruce’s death, Denny’s hands were still raw and bandaged and he could barely hold the steering wheel, yet he led the race until the pain became too much. He persevered and finished third, but went on to win six races that season and take the 1970 Can-Am title in honour of his friend. McLaren survives today thanks to The Bear’s bravery that summer.

Denny’s incredibly brave drive is represented at McLaren House by the 675LT which is shown in a McLaren Special Operations produced livery inspired by Denny’s helmet design.

 


 

Formula 1™ French GP – Paul Ricard – 3rd July 1988

 

The Senna-Prost battle that took place within the McLaren team in the late 1980s and early ’90s has rightly gone down in Formula 1™ history, but like all legends that are retold over the years, the characters have become somewhat two-dimensional. Alain Prost was the calculating French ‘Professor’, so the legend goes, the man who would win through tactics and politics; while Ayrton Senna was the passionate, mercurial Brazilian, the fastest man on Earth…

Of course, the reality was much more complicated than that, and the 1988 French Grand Prix is the perfect example. Held at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Castellet, near Marseille, it was the seventh outing for the record-breaking McLaren-Honda MP4/4, and like every other race that season the McLaren started out in pole position. However, this time it wasn’t Ayrton leading the field, it was Alain, who’d out qualified his team-mate by almost half a second. Alain then led the race until the pit stops, when a sticking front-wheel nut held up his stop, letting Ayrton through. However, Alain chased down the Brazilian and on lap 61 pulled off a daring move, diving down the inside to take the lead as the two McLarens lapped some backmarkers. Alain took the victory at his home race in a straight fight, and while Ayrton would ultimately become the 1988 World Champion, he was reminded that day that Alain Prost was among the very fastest drivers of his generation. 

Signifying Alain’s audacious move is the McLaren P1™, appearing at McLaren House in a McLaren Special Operations produced livery inspired by Alain’s helmet design. 

 


 

24 Hours of Le Mans - Circuit de la Sarthe - 17th and 18th June 1995

 

‘I was the bullet!’ said JJ Lehto, years later, reflecting on his 1995 Le Mans win in the McLaren F1 GTR. The Finn always understood his role in that now-iconic #59 car: French driver Yannick Dalmas was a two-time winner, the fast but safe pair of hands; Masanori Sekiya was the experienced Le Mans driver representing the last-minute Japanese sponsor; and Lehto, the 29-year-old Formula 1 star? He was the bullet.

JJ didn’t disappoint: after the team took it easy for the first few hours, JJ was in the car through the night in torrential rain when he started putting in some astonishing lap times. Revelling in the car’s handling and power, Lehto at times was 30 seconds a lap quicker than anyone else, tail-sliding the McLaren through the Esses. This, in conditions that Derek Bell – fellow McLaren driver and a five-times Le Mans winner – described as ‘the worst night I have ever spent in the rain’. It was an astonishingly brave performance which led to outright victory for the team.

This skilful stint is represented by the 650S Le Mans which can be found at the Supercar Paddock and can be seen running up the hill. Also appearing at the Supercar Paddock as well as on the hill, and signifying the incredible success of McLaren at Le Mans 20 years ago this month, is the McLaren P1™ GTR. This example is appearing in a livery inspired by McLaren F1 GTR chassis #06R which finished 3rd in the race.

 


 

Formula 1™ Belgian GP – Spa Fancorchamps – 27th August 2000

 

It may not have had the twists and turns of the Lauda/Hunt duel, nor the bitterness of the Senna/Prost battles, but the rivalry between McLaren driver Mika Häkkinen and Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher was unwaveringly intense all the same. By 2000 they were very familiar with each other: they’d both made their Formula 1™ debuts in 1991, and by the end of 1999 both were double World Champions. Going into 2000 Michael had the advantage, winning the first three races, but Mika put up a season-long fight.

In that year’s Belgian Grand Prix, Mika started on pole, but he spun in the wet conditions and ended up chasing Michael as the track dried. On lap 40 he tried a move down the Kemmel Straight that Michael aggressively blocked, running Mika onto the grass. One lap later and the McLaren was still on the Ferrari’s tail as they approached backmarker Ricardo Zonta. Michael went left, but Mika chose to dive past Zonta on the right. For a split-second they were three abreast, but by the time they sliced into the Les Combes corner, it was Häkkinen leading Schumacher. As McLaren CEO and Team Principal Ron Dennis said at the time, Mika’s move ‘will go down as one of the greatest in Formula 1™ history’.

Representing this courageous and no less creative move is the McLaren F1 GT 'Longtail' which is shown at McLaren House in a livery inspired by Mika’s MP4-15 race car.

#ForzaMichael  

 

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