Since Jeff Cook is a considerate racing coach, he still leaves a margin for error when driving a client’s car. True, he was racing the clock this particular afternoon. But, as this was a track day and there were no shiny prizes on the line, Cook left the McLaren 600LT in “Dynamic” mode, which allows for a lot of slip angle. That said, he still wasn’t expecting a full-on spin like the one he experienced on this day.
The Friendliest of Mid-Engine Supercars
Designed to be neutral, the 592-horsepower McLaren pushes slightly under throttle when nearing the limit. It tucks the nose and rotates a bit (7:19) off-throttle, but it’s responsive and predictable. Cook’s willingness to wrestle with the amenable car through the faster corners (8:45) is proof of the comfort he feels with the way it goads him along.
He can catch it when the rear squirms under power, and he can trust it through the really quick stuff. As he notes, “[This car] gives great feedback and does exactly what I want it to do.” That familiarity with the machine came in handy when things went awry just a few laps in.
There is one area he’s typically more cautious in — the heavy braking zones. The 600LT’s minimal downforce and 225-section front tires don’t give him superhuman confidence there. Besides, he finds chasing the last ten feet in braking zones is risky and offers little, so he leaves a bit in reserve. Mechanically sensitive, consistent, and cautious at the right moments, Cook is a true professional.
An Ominous Signal
Having the fastest car on the circuit that day makes traffic an issue. As he fires down the front straight at the onset of his third lap (9:35), he sees a Honda S2000 and BMW Z4M battling at the entry to Turn 1. Unfortunately, as he goes past the start-finish tower, he passes his last opportunity to see a flag before Turn 4.
“Once I came around Turn 2, I saw a puff of smoke and figured one of them locked up,” Cook recounts. Anticipating a jumble at the tight Turn 3 ahead, he lifts earlier before braking, but that isn’t enough to avoid the oil recently sprayed on the circuit.
That puff of smoke moments earlier didn’t emanate from tires but the blown engine of the BMW ahead. Even with the early lift, Cook still hits the oil at 104 mph, and the rear of the McLaren snaps towards the BMW stuck in the mud ahead. Rather than freeze in terror as many would, Cook does what he can to avoid a severe collision.
Many of us who’ve been in harrowing situations know what it’s like to feel time slow down, but to act decisively in these moments requires experience and an unflappable character — two things which Cook has.
Presence of Mind and Lots of Luck
“As it went sideways and I realized I was going off, I tried to angle it so, when I hit the mud, it wouldn’t catch an edge and flip. Once the rear wheels left the track, I floored the throttle to try and keep the rear wheels from digging. It changed direction immediately, and it even helped me push away slightly from the BMW to my left!”
With the presence of mind gleaned from years in karts and formula cars, Cook manages to thread the needle between those two without contact. But, he knows his problems aren’t over — the vehicles behind might not be as lucky. So, he frantically searches for First gear amidst a flurry of revs and leaves the scene. Four more cars came careening through on that spilled oil. To think about what might’ve happened if Cook decided to catch his breath, instead of evacuating, makes one shudder.
With his heart leaping out of his chest, Cook still had his client’s car in mind as he tried to rejoin the track via high ground where it wouldn’t get beached. After trudging back to the pits in a daze and mellowing slightly, he was happy to find his client relieved. “I’m just glad everyone’s ok — and that it was you driving. How the hell did you save that?” exclaimed the impressed owner of the mud-splattered McLaren.
Without any damage except for a few extra gray hairs, it couldn’t have gone much better for Cook and the McLaren. A bit of mud on the doors can always be cleaned off. And, if there was a little “mud” in the seat — who would blame him if there was — pants are cheap.