It’s hard to believe that, at a long track like Monza, any atmospheric engine could keep up with the turbocharged sixes in the back of the 993 GT2 racers. However, the McLaren F1 GTR’s V12 is not just any atmospheric engine. The BMW S70/2 utilized an air restrictor that limited output to 600 horsepower, meaning it produced less than the road-going version, but its reduced weight meant it was quicker than ever. Unlike most road cars modified to race, the McLaren F1 needed few changes to make it race-worthy, paying testament to the sophisticated, motorsport-derived technology that powered the production car.
In fact, only the addition of cooling ducts, a massive GT wing, carbon brakes and a stripped, caged interior was necessary to get the car race-ready — an unbelievably short list of modifications. So well-designed was the car, that the stock transmission was retained initially, as it was strong enough to harness 600 horsepower for endurance races. For the 1996 season, the gearbox was modified with stronger internals and a lighter, magnesium casting. As always, weight is paramount with any McLaren product.
And for good reason, too. Observing the onboard, two things become obvious: the weight and the stability of the car. Direction changes are immediate and the steering, partially because it’s centrally-mounted, looks as responsive as that of a open wheel racer’s. In addition, there are few cars as planted as the McLaren F1 GTR.
Even with 600 horsepower and massive torque from low revs, the rear end remains planted, even in the slower corners. Obviously, the downforce generated by those big wings aids stability at speed, but when the wings lose their effectiveness below 80 mph, the refinement of the chassis and the suspension are what keep a car composed. Though brutally fast, the predictable, confidence-inspiring nature of this gem is what made it such a successful endurance racer.