THE 'LONGTAIL'

We look back at the history of the McLaren F1 GTR ‘Longtail’, the iconic racer that inspired the new 675LT

 

The McLaren F1 was a road car that was never designed to go racing.  And although McLaren’s most enthusiastic customers convinced Ron Dennis that a track version was required, the F1 GTR race cars that lined up on the grid at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1995 were essentially still no more than converted road cars.  Indeed, the air restrictor regulations of the period meant the F1 GTR actually had less power than the production F1 it was based on.  Yet against faster purpose-built sports prototypes, F1 GTRs finished the 1995 race in 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 13th positions, an unprecedented result that made McLaren the only manufacturer to win the world-famous endurance race on its first attempt.  It is a record we still proudly hold to this day.

That was not the end of the F1 GTR though, as it would ultimately evolve into one of the purest race cars in modern motorsport history: the ‘Longtail’.

 

 

Rivals responded to the dominance of the F1 GTR, which won the BPR Global GT Series in 1995 and 1996, through the creation of a new generation of racing cars – ones that kept to the letter of the technical regulations, but not really the spirit in which they’d been framed.  These were purpose-built racers that were then modified just enough to create the road-going versions necessary to certify them for GT competition in the inaugural FIA GT Championship in 1997.

To compete, Formula 1 knowledge and experience gained from the pinnacle of the sport were use to create the purest version of a true world-beater, the McLaren F1 GTR ‘Longtail’.

For the 1997 season, the decision was made by McLaren to create an F1 GT road car to homologate a race version sharing the same basic form.  The racer would be the ultimate evolution of the F1 GTR, with the focus on performance-optimised aerodynamics, increased downforce and significant weight reduction.  And so while the F1 GT retained the same wheelbase as the original F1, the new bodywork meant it was a massive 641mm – or 25 inches – longer overall.  Three McLaren F1 GT road cars were built, with the original ‘XP GT’ prototype still retained by McLaren, and two more purchased by customers, making it the rarest of all the F1s to wear number plates.

 

OPTIMISED THROUGH EXTENSIVE WEIGHT-SAVING MEASURES, AT 915KG THE F1 GTR ‘LONGTAIL’ WAS 135KG LIGHTER THAN THE ALREADY FLYWEIGHT F1 GTR THAT WON THE 24 HOURS OF LE MANS IN 1995

 

The F1 GT was a superb car in its own right, but its reason for being was to allow McLaren to develop the benchmark F1 GTR to its pinnacle, creating the ultimate example of one of motorsport’s most successful race cars.  The new F1 GTR made its debut during the 1997 season, and the distinctive stretched silhouette meant it became known as the ‘Longtail’.

Nine F1 GTR ‘Longtail’ racers were built, along with the development car, and besides the elongated bodywork that reduced drag and increased downforce, there were further developments beneath the skin with sequential transmissions and fully adjustable suspension.  Optimised through extensive weight-saving measures, at 915kg the F1 GTR ‘Longtail’ was also 135kg lighter than the already flyweight F1 GTR that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1995.

The ‘Longtail’ F1 GTRs were still far more closely related to the original McLaren F1 road car than any of their FIA GT Championship rivals were to any other production models, sharing the same carbon fibre monocoque and using the glorious naturally aspirated V12 engine.  But the ‘Longtail’ was nonetheless the purest competition version of the McLaren F1 ever built.

The F1 GTR ‘Longtail’ took victory in five of the 11 rounds of that year’s FIA GT Championship, and finished first and second in the GT1 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with the nearest opposition almost 30 laps behind.  Not bad for what was still, at its heart, very much a road car.

 

 

Now, McLaren will revive the legendary ‘Longtail’ name with the launch of the most performance-focused model in the McLaren Super Series.  Set to be unveiled at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show, the McLaren 675LT will embody the ‘Longtail’ ethos with a focus on optimised aerodynamics, increased downforce and reduced weight. It will be the purest, most involving series-production McLaren supercar to date.

Chris Goodwin, McLaren Chief Test Driver, raced the F1 GTR ‘Longtail’ during the 1997 season for the Parabolica Motorsport team (above), and has led the development on the new McLaren 675LT. 

"Just as in 1997, we already have a proven, developed and competitive package in the McLaren 650S.  Back then I raced and extensively tested the 'Longtail' F1 GTR and it really was a refinement and improvement over the previous season's race car in almost every area that affected the driver and his performance.  I won the first race I started in that car – it was and still is the most important McLaren for me personally as it really allowed me to push hard in the driver's seat.  It was this car and that season that led to my long-term career here as Chief Test Driver.

With the new LT, very similar gains have been made in similar areas to those we worked on nearly 20 years ago for that '97 season.  More downforce and further track-developed suspension have transformed the car, along with improved gearshifts both up, and crucially, down the gears.

The LT is not only a quicker car on track, but just as with the original 'Longtail' F1 GTR, it allows the driver to push harder on track than was possible before.

As we proved back then, it's a winning formula."

- Chris Goodwin, Chief Test Driver, McLaren Automotive

 

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