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1997 McLaren F1 GTR Longtail

1997 Gulf Team Davidoff McLaren F1 GTR Longtail

Photo Courtesy of Bonhams



Chassis no. 028R



Quail Lodge Sale

17 Aug 2012, 11:00 PDT

Carmel, Quail Lodge & Golf Club

Jim Williams Photos




*6.1-liter BMW V12

*6-speed sequential gearbox

*Carbon-fiber monocoque

*The final, ultimate F1 GTR

*FIA GT points-scoring example

*Stunning, iconic Gulf livery

*First time ever offered publicly

*A Gordon Murray concept

Following in the wheel tracks of such charismatic designs as the Ferrari 250 GTO, the Ford GTs and the Porsche 917s, in recent years the McLaren F1 GTR has become absolutely the most desirable endurance racing collectors' car from the 1990s.
The compact Gordon Murray-designed all-composite construction three-seat road car design, with its totally distinctive centerline driving position and utterly majestic 6.1-liter 4-cam fuel-injected V12 engine by BMW, emerged as the 'ultracar' with everything. Its active aerodynamics and 550-plus horsepower succeeded in achieving the McLaren company's aim of producing "the greatest driver's car there has ever been, or is ever likely to be" – and it is a measure of the initial production car's 240mph capabilities that once subjected to the restrictions of racing regulations – the resultant F1 GTR actually had to be de-tuned to be acceptable!
The 1995 Le Mans 24-Hours race-winning McLaren merely set the foundation for an entire family of more dedicated racing Coupes to follow. The gleaming example we are now privileged to offer here is actually the last example made of the ultimate variant of the entire McLaren F1 series. It is the tenth and last of the 1997-season McLaren F1 GTR 'Longtail' endurance racing Coupes. It is one of the cars campaigned that year by the McLaren F1 GTR racing program's most attractively-liveried and most charismatic teams – the GTC Motorsport Gulf Team Davidoff operation. And with its legendary Gulf racing-blue finish it is a latter-day successor to the revered bloodline of Gulf-Mirage, Gulf-Ford GT40, Gulf-Porsche 917 and 908/3 cars which remain such enduring landmarks of motor racing history.
McLaren F1 GTR 'Longtail' '28R' offered here is a veteran of no fewer than eight premier-league FIA GT World Championship-qualifying races – in which it achieved two points-scoring sixth place finishes.
It would have been easy for McLaren Cars Ltd to bask in the simple afterglow of its technical achievement in producing what they intended to be the finest "driver's car" ever manufactured in the one hundred yearlong history of the motor industry. But no high-performance car manufacturer can expect to build such a world-beater, without one or two prominent and enthusiastic customers becoming keen to prove its capabilities 'in anger' on the race tracks of the world.
Despite design – now Professor – Gordon Murray – having concentrated totally upon producing nothing other than a purebred street car, enthusiastic customers began to persuade McLaren to change their minds through the summer of 1994. McLaren principal Ron Dennis made it quite clear that if some customers wished to go racing then McLaren Cars Ltd would offer the most comprehensive factory back-up and support possible – and would not run a works car against them.
Into 1995 the first race-modified McLaren F1 GTR cars emerged. Three made the model's debut in the February, 1995, Jerez 4-Hours race in Spain, and Ray Bellm/Maurizio Sandro Sala won in the former's GTC racing team entry. The same pairing followed up with another victory in the Paul Ricard 4-Hour race in France, then Thomas Bscher/John Neilsen's West-sponsored McLaren made it three in a row for the new GTRs at Monza, Italy. No fewer than seven McLaren F1 GTRs started the 1995 Le Mans 24-Hour race, and five finished, in first, third, fourth, fifth and 13th places. The winning Ueno Clinic-sponsored car was co-driven by J.J.Lehto/Yannick Dalmas/Masanori Sekiya. For McLaren Cars, Le Mans '95 marked the greatest Le Mans race debut in depth ever achieved, by any manufacturer...ever. Not too shabby for a detuned road car!
Through the first half of 1996, in its second season of racing, the McLaren F1 GTR maintained its glittering record of success, mainly in the face of Ferrari F40 variants. But the emergence of an all-new tailor-made purebred racing Porsche GT1 and – more controversially – its acceptance in late-season BPR Global Endurance Championship racing, caused little less than shock, disbelief and frustrated dismay amongst the McLaren teams.
Amidst considerable grumbling that "Porsche built a racing car and forced us to do it", the McLaren F1 GTR underwent the major revision during the winter of 1996-97 which produced the 'Longtail' model as now offered here. Gordon Murray explained that: "Our pure-bred road-going production-based cars with their long-travel, high camber-change suspension and limited downforce had been leapfrogged by the Porsche GT1. They got away with running Rose-jointed proper-geometry true road-racing suspension on a car which we felt was not genuinely available for sale. We didn't like what had happened, because we didn't feel it was at all within the regulations, but we had to face up to it.
"To comply with the regulations as written we had to build a new road car, sell one a month before the first race, have dealers, brochures and parts back-up for it. I went to Ron for a budget to do just that, and actually started the wind tunnel program before I'd got the go-ahead.
"We needed big overhangs at nose and tail to achieve competitive downforce and downforce/drag proportions, and really had to re-write our total winter program. Now we had to develop not only a new racing car, but first a new road car model to legalize it! We were determined to do it all precisely to the letter of the regulations, in the spirit their original authors had plainly intended."
The frontier-technology all moulded carbon-composite monocoque shell remained absolutely as production while the longer nose and tail were carefully shaped, profiled, under-floored and proven in the moving-ground wind tunnel. Three road-going McLaren F1 GT (Longtail) cars were to be built while the racing 'Longtail' variants were rushed out in parallel.
The first was the development chassis – serial '19R' – destined for Team Lark in Japan, completed on November 18, 1996. The GTC Motorsport team – headed by engineer Michael Cane and backed by Ray Bellm – now combined Gulf Oil Livery with David Classic – brought in by German banker and BPR Champion driver Thomas Bscher – to cover a regular three-car entry. The operation became known as McLaren's"British team" – a private entry operation.
In Germany Team Schnitzer became the chosen 'BMW Motorsport' operation, fielding what came to be regarded as 'works car' with Fina oil brand sponsorship. Nine 'Longtail' F1 GTR cars followed that 1997 prototype car, including this one now offered here – chassis '28R' – initially as a spare supplied to GTC Motorsport in support of their three race cars, chassis '20', '22' and '26R'. This car, '028R', actually began life plated as '27R' but was damaged in a shake-down testing accident and was replated with its ultimate identity after repair.
The FIA GT Championship season of 1997 comprised 11 qualifying rounds, and reached its pulsating climax in the USA, initially at Sebring, Florida, and then one week later at Laguna Seca, California. Two titles were to be awarded, one for the new World Champion GT Team/Constructor, and the other for Driver Pairing.
What developed during that year was the closest and most ferociously hard-fought endurance racing World Championship for several decades. These 1997 'Longtail' McLaren F1 GTRs were absolutely the ultimate development of the Woking marque's sophisticated and civilized original road car. They were confronted most ominously by the brand-new, late-announced tailor-made circuit racing Mercedes-Benz AMG projectiles.
The 'Longtail' McLarens began the new year's World Championship season with a 1-2-3 defeat of Mercedes-Benz upon home German soil at Hockenheim that April. The McLarens won again at Helsinki, Finland, and – just – at Silverstone in England. AMG Mercedes missed Le Mans to prepare for the Nurburgring 4-Hours in June, where they finally outpaced the 'Longtail' McLarens to finish first and second. An epic race at Spa in Belgium then saw a narrow McLaren victory over AMG Mercedes-Benz, but the three GTC Gulf-Davidoff GTRs were all eliminated in a multiple collision on the opening lap...
At the A1-Ring in Austria Mercedes dominated while Karl-Heinz Kalbfell of BMW – manufacturer of the entirely bespoke McLaren F1 GTR's engines – remarked to one journalist "Well, BMW is winning the GT race!" – underlining the Munich company's increasing exasperation with the GT Championship eligibility situation.
Mercedes again finished 1-2 in the following Championship race at Suzuka, Japan, showing a performance advantage which was magnified at Donington Park, in England, where the Stuttgart team won again. The 'Longtails' fought back to win at Mugello in Italy, with just the final American rounds to be run. Mercedes took full points at Sebring, McLaren now had to win at Laguna to take the World title. It was not to be, retirements and collisions ceding the Championship at the last gasp – to Mercedes-Benz. McLaren versus Mercedes-Benz – this is the true measure of these cars' significance, and the level at which they were raced as new.
This startlingly handsome Gulf Team Davidoff car was called into action during the second half of the 1997 FIA GT Championship season, in which it was co-driven most often by the experienced and capable pairing of Briton Geoff Lees and Swede Anders Olofsson.
'Longtail' McLaren F1 GTR '28R' made its racing debut on June 29, 1997 in the FIA GT Championship-qualifying Nurburgring 4-Hour race in Germany. It was co-driven there by Britain's Andrew Gilbert-Scott and Anders Olofsson as race number '1' but was sidelined by accident damage and did not finish. At Spa on July 20 – shared by the same pairing – '28R' was involved in the opening lap team collision and again retired. A wheel problem caused withdrawal from the A1-Ring 4-Hours in Austria where Geoff Lees joined Gilbert-Scott and Olofsson in the driver team, but on August 4 in Japan's grueling Suzuka 1,000 Kilometer race Andrew Gilbert-Scott/Geoff Lees/John Nielsen qualified '28R' offered here seventh fastest overall, and finished sixth. Back home in England on September 14th, Anders Olofsson/Geoff Lees drove the car to finish seventh in the FIA GT Championship Donington Park 4-Hours, and the same pairing followed up with eighth place at Mugello, Italy. In the penultimate round at Sebring they finished tenth, and in the deciding round at Laguna Seca on October 6 they helped salvage McLaren pride by bringing '028R' home into another sixth place overall.
We understand from the vendor that the car remained with GTC after its active FIA career, upon which it made its way back to the McLaren Works in Woking. The car was preserved for several years, and was reportedly sold through McLaren to the Jim Gainer Racing operation in Japan in 2004. According to the vendor, it was imported to Japan in factory-restored condition, reportedly being prepared to Suzuka circuit specification prior to delivery. In 2006, '28R' was acquired by the current owner, who has had the car started and run annually since that time, though to our knowledge it has not been track-tested. We are advised that the engine was run as recently as this past January. Most significantly, McLaren has offered to undertake a full technical inspection of the car free of charge for the new owner following this Sale.
In recent years market perception of the McLaren F1 production cars - and their more glamorous F1 GTR racing sisters such as '28R' offered here – has grown with fantastic rapidity. So many superlatives have been justifiably heaped upon this street car design that went racing, that we can hardly add more. The McLaren F1 GTR is the production-based racing model that won Le Mans, and then in its more sophisticated racing iterations – as offered here in this ultimate 'Longtail' variant – took on the giants of Mercedes-Benz and Porsche on unequal terms...and sometimes beat them.
Add the extra cachet of Gulf racing heritage, these fabulously futuristic good looks and that simply magnificent bespoke BMW V12 engine – absolutely tailored to McLaren requirements – and the very special nature of this remarkably significant artifact can be fully appreciated.
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