Dunsfold is known as the Top Gear test track, but it doubles as McLaren’s ‘home circuit’.  Chris Goodwin, our Chief Test Driver,
explains why this aerodrome is ideal for developing the latest high-performance McLaren road cars.

Silverstone, Spa, Sebring, Suzuka – some circuit names are so evocative, just the words are enough to conjure up images of great drivers, great corners and great battles.  True enough, Dunsfold may not be one of them.  This World War II airfield, located about 20 miles south of McLaren’s home in Woking, England, is usually quiet and a little windswept.  However, in recent years Dunsfold has found unexpected fame in the globally successful BBC TV series, Top Gear.  As ‘the Top Gear test track’, the wide runways now enjoy something of a cult status, and Dunsfold even appears in the Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport video games for the PlayStation and XBox consoles. 

What is less known, however, is that Dunsfold is also McLaren’s local test track. While the testing team puts our cars through their paces as far afield as the Nürburgring, Death Valley in California and the Arctic Circle, Dunsfold is also regularly used.  ‘It’s a really good circuit for developing a road car,’ explains Chief Test Driver Chris Goodwin.  ‘Much better than any race track, in fact, because it’s a little bit bumpy, the corner variety tests everything you need to test on a car, and with the surface changes too, this is actually the perfect test track.’


Dunsfold Aerodrome was built in 1942 as a base for the Royal Canadian Air Force, and subsequently played a significant role in the Berlin Airlift between 1948 and 1949.  The lease then passed to the Hawker Aircraft Company Ltd (now part of BAE Systems), and the precursor to the Harrier ‘Jump Jet’ made its first tethered flight there in 1960.  

Over the next four decades all derivatives of the Harrier were engineered at Dunsfold – and many of the engineers and technicians involved in that programme went on to work for McLaren – though the British Government’s Official Secrets Act kept this rich history hidden from the public until the early 1990s.

More recently, Dunsfold has been home to the Top Gear show since 2002, and it was used as a location for the 2006 James Bond movie, Casino Royale. McLaren has been using Dunsfold for over 10 years.  Whether it’s the race-derived Brake Steer, our unique ProActive Chassis Control, or the suspension layout of the McLaren 12C, the circuit has played an important role for Chris Goodwin and the Development Team: ‘The first corner at Dunsfold is a tricky one because it’s over the brow of a hill and there’s a slightly curved braking area from very high speed.  It really tests the braking and corner-entry stability on a car, and I can honestly say that one corner defined the rear suspension geometry of the McLaren 12C.’ 


The tight Turn Two also influences McLaren road cars, even the mighty McLaren P1™.  ‘It’s a tightening corner, so that’s where you really feel the performance of Brake Steer, which all our cars feature. Brake Steer helps on turn-in and it helps eliminate wheel spin on the way out.  Once we measured what it gave us on a corner like Turn Two at Dunsfold, our cars had to have it!’

Dunsfold was also where a McLaren 12C development prototype, fitted with ProActive Chassis Control, proved the benefits of hydraulic roll control suspension.  It gives every McLaren incredible grip during braking and turning, and such world-class traction under acceleration that Chris calls it ‘our unfair advantage’.


There are some truly epic corners too, like the incredibly fast ‘Follow Through’, which Chris reveals can be taken without a lift in the McLaren P1.  ‘Around the world there are challenging corners at race tracks like Suzuka and Silverstone, but that corner is up there, because it’s awesome.  You really have to commit to it, throw the car over the kerb, and it’s all about high-speed stability.’ 


So while it may not have an evocative name, there’s no doubting Dunsfold’s significance to McLaren’s engineers and test drivers.  ‘If we built a new test circuit from scratch,’ says Chris, ‘I’d build it with a very similar layout to Dunsfold.


See the McLaren P1™ in action at Dunsfold, with US TV presenter Jay Leno at the wheel:



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