RACING LINES

As much pure art as an illustrated workshop manual, these beautiful line drawings were key to the McLaren F1 GTR’s incredible development – and subsequent racing successes – throughout the 1995 motorsport season.

Hand-drawn, exploded illustrations showcase every component crucial to the McLaren F1 GTR’s racing successes.

 

Most enthusiasts will know the F1 GTR won the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans, and in doing so McLaren became – and remains – the only manufacturer to win the world-famous endurance race at its first attempt. Many will also be aware that this month marks the 20th anniversary of the McLaren F1 GTR winning the 1995 BPR Global GT Endurance Series, but few outside McLaren know of the relentless behind-the-scenes development that underpinned that season – or the beautiful line drawings that formed a crucial part of the ongoing upgrades.

Mark Roberts, now Design Operations Manager at McLaren, was charged with translating the engineers’ findings into the equivalent of a ‘workshop manual’ for the McLaren F1 GTR, and reveals that the pace of change was inexorable. ‘Don’t forget,’ Mark reminds us, ‘these were the guys who, just a few years before, had been building Senna and Prost’s Formula 1™ racing cars.’

Every fortnight, McLaren would distill the previous two weeks’ testing and research into a ‘Performance Update Pack’ for the customer teams running an F1 GTR. The contents incorporated updates following every rule change, when Technical Director Gordon Murray and Chief Designer Barry Lett would go through the new racing regulations with a fine-tooth comb to see where advantages might be found. Alongside these, anything that could improve performance, safety or reliability was documented, with Mark having the document translated into German, French and Italian too.

 

Mark Roberts, Design Operations Manager at McLaren, examines the race-spec interior of 1995 Le Mans-winning F1 GTR.

 

The teams were able to purchase the latest components from the factory, and at the heart of the accompanying documents were Mark’s own line drawings, with these exploded illustrations giving detailed fitting instructions as well as suggested settings. ‘I never liked using photos. I’m a purist and always preferred to do line drawings,’ explains Mark.

Mark would start by sketching them in rough, doing so from the most logical perspective. He’d then refine the drawings using prototype parts – when they were available; sometimes the pace of change was so rapid that he’d draw them following a conversation with the engineers, later forwarding them for approval. The drawings themselves were largely done in parallel with Mark working on half a dozen at a time, updating them as new information became available from the engineers and designers on the testing programme.

The next stage involved drawing the intricate detail on layers of tracing paper with each individual piece of the part occupying its own sheet - Computer Aided Design, or CAD, had been invented, but was still in its infancy. This approach allowed Mark to ‘float’ the exploded diagram, creating a 3D representation that enabled him to check for accuracy before committing himself to the final, authoritative illustration. 

 

 

The results are pure art rather than engineering diagrams, and together they form the two-volume McLaren F1 GTR workshop manual, comprising an illustrated parts list and an engineers’ handbook.

Nothing escaped the attention of McLaren’s engineers, however small and seemingly insignificant. One example was the washer fluid bottle, which was identified as at risk of coming loose after hours of pounding around a race circuit. A new and improved version was engineered and made available to the teams – complete with exploded drawings and full fitting instructions, of course.

We were constantly running our test car – chassis 01R, the eventual winner at Le Mans – so we generally discovered a problem or a potential advantage before the race teams did. That way we were able to tell them about a solution to a problem they never even knew they had!’ laughs Mark.

 

Before the widespread use of CAD, Mark’s illustrations were key to McLaren customer teams being able to upgrade the F1 GTR.

 

The results were impressive: the McLaren F1 GTR dominated the 1995 season, claiming victory in ten out of 12 BPR races on the way to winning the championship. ‘We knew it was going to be something special, but none of us realised just how legendary it would become,’ recalls Mark. ‘Winning Le Mans was amazing, but to then continue the run of victories – including taking the top five places at the Nürburgring – was surreal. You had to keep pinching yourself to make sure it wasn’t a dream!’

McLaren would continue to develop the F1 GTR over the coming seasons – and provide the customer teams with the same level of unprecedented support, complete with Mark’s drawings – and the F1 GTR took the BPR title again in 1996, with the evolved ‘Longtail’ F1 GTR subsequently taking first and second in the GT1 class at Le Mans in 1997.

‘Even now, you sometimes hear the designers or engineers talking and asking: “What did they do on the F1?” Then they’ll walk down to the F1 road car, the LM, and of course the Le Mans-winning GTR we have on display here at the McLaren Technology Centre, to look at the cars and see for themselves how we did it.”

That’s quite a legacy for a detuned road car and a fitting testament to the thousands of hours of development the F1 GTR underwent, all those years ago.

 

With every component individually numbered, this illustration of the F1 GTR’s rear suspension is both art and crucial information for race engineers.

 

 

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