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In the details // A trio of F1 GTRs at Lanzante

In the details // A trio of F1 GTRs at Lanzante

Words and photos by Andrew Coles

The McLaren F1 GTR’s outright win at the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans reads like a fairy tale. It’s one of those tales that if it were made up you’d write it off as fantastical, but since it happened in front of our eyes, we have no choice but to be awestruck.

For those unaware, it can be summarised in a few paragraphs:

World famous Formula One designer (Gordon Murray) embarks on building his version of the ultimate road car. The road car bit is important – he actively avoided making it a race car for the road. The F1 had luggage space, three-up seating, good visibility, and is, according to those lucky enough to own one, an excellent long-distance touring car.

So, ultimate road car. Wealthy privateers notice the new BPR Global series is launched, they pester McLaren to turn the F1 into a race car, they won’t. Until they eventually relent – well played, Ray Bellm. An unused road chassis is modified to racing specs, which owing to its advanced design only requires three additional cooling ducts, a large rear wing, a roll cage, leather/carpet delete and the fitting of carbon brake rotors instead of steel. There are probably sundry small changes but essentially it’s a road car, and in wet conditions the F1 GTRs swept the field, with chassis #01R (the Kokusai Kaihatsu Racing/Ueno Clinic entry) taking outright victory. F1 GTRs also finished in positions 2, 3, 4 and 13. Dominant, then.

Owing to the short timeframes of the project, McLaren (then not the monolithic organisation that it is now) contracted privateer race team Lanzante to run chassis #01R. Lanzante are currently celebrating the 25th anniversary of this incredible success with a window display of three F1 GTRs, and since Lanzante’s Petersfield showroom is less than an hour from London, it would have been rude not to go for a look.

Taking centre stage is sadly not the Le Mans winner (that car is retained by McLaren), but chassis #02R, the car that finished fourth that year. It was first campaigned in Gulf livery before being sold to Lanzante for the 1996 British GT season, where it no doubt acquired the iconic black and gunmetal livery. And yes, the rumours are true – Ueno Clinic is a Tokyo plastic surgery outfit famous for their penis enlargements. Now you know.

Chassis #03R was modified from road car chassis #027 for the 1995 BPR Championship, where it was campaigned by David Price Racing. It didn’t finish the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans, but it finished fourth in 1996, when it also took two wins in that year’s BPR.

The final and most visually striking is chassis #13R, the Team Goh (Team Lark McLaren) entry in the 1996 Japanese GT Championship (JGTC). It took three race victories that year, and finished first in the team’s championship. The owner, Andy Bruce, does get it out on the public road from time to time and he’s a solid follow on Instagram.

In fact, all of these cars are road registered and do get road use, which is an indication of just how close to the road cars they are. Last year I saw #03R stopped for a pub lunch after a morning meet at Goodwood, which is every bit as visually confronting as you think it will be.

Seeing this trio behind panelled glass, late at night (it doesn’t get fully dark until 1030pm in the British summertime) just further served to enhance their mythic status as true greats. The F1 is it, and every time I see one I think it’s such a shame that they were manufactured in such low volumes. Something this good deserves to be mass-produced on a grand scale so that as many people as possible can enjoy it. It’s like a moka pot – brilliant design should become of the people, democratised.

Why should the McLaren F1 be any different?