If you’re a big endurance racing geek like I am, then you’ve probably been enjoying the Le Mans Memories series of videos that McLaren has released over the last few weeks to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1995-1997 McLaren F1 GTR’s victory at the 1994 24 Hours of Le Mans. So far we’ve heard from several of the key figures behind the GTR project, including F1 designer Gordon Murray and team manager Paul Lanzante, but this conversation with them and current McLaren overlord Ron Dennis might be the most fascinating yet.
The McLaren F1 GTR was born as a customer race car following the road-going F1’s excellent reception. Several owners expressed interest in taking their F1s racing, which wasn’t something McLaren was particularly excited about. So to avoid watching customers tear apart road cars to build race cars, McLaren decided to build the F1 GTR race cars from the ground up and sell it to race teams. McLaren initially assured customer teams that they wouldn’t have to compete against a factory team, but that didn’t quite turn out to be the case.
Rather than a factory car, the black No. 58 F1 GTR was run as a “development car” by a privateer team led by Paul Lanzante. As the race progressed all five GTR teams found themselves in a good position to win the race. But, in an unusual case of team orders, the No. 58 car was told to not overtake the privateer GTRs, honoring the pre-race agreement. However, toward the end of the race a Porsche-powered Courage was beginning to make its way toward the front of the field. What followed was a series of phone calls and negotiations between Dennis and the teams that changed the complexion of the race. It’s the type of behind-the-scenes stuff you rarely hear about in racing.