Preview: McLaren 12C GT Can-Am

Preview: McLaren 12C GT Can-Am
Writer Marc Lachapelle says driving a few laps on a Quebec track in the McLaren 12C GT Can-Am Edition was the ride of his life.
Wheels
By Wheels
Posted on November 16th, 2013
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By Mark Lachapelle, Special to the Star

ST-EUSTACHE, QUE.—The sleek, impossibly low coupe, with its imposing carbon-fibre front splitter and adjustable rear wing, is a tip of McLaren’s hat to an Orange Wave of a very different nature.

In the mid-60s, brilliant young racer, designer and team owner Bruce McLaren descended on the Can-Am series with a few race cars of his own design. All painted a bright, warm shade of orange.

The open-cockpit M6, with its taut bodywork and thundering V8, would soon become an irresistible force in the series.

In spite of Jim Hall’s revolutionary Chaparrals, elegant Lolas and even some shrieking Ferraris, McLaren and fellow Kiwi ace Dennis Hulme traded Can-Am championship trophies from 1967 to 1970. Yankee driver Peter Revson won the title again for McLaren in 1971.

With 43 wins, Team McLaren was the most successful in the history of the series.

To properly salute this feat in the year it celebrates its 50th birthday, the McLaren Group has produced the most potent version yet of the MP4-12C, the cornerstone of its expanding family of leading-edge sports cars. It is built by McLaren GT, a division that manufactures race cars, independently from the F1 team.

The 12C GT Can-Am Edition is a pure race and track car, created in the original open-rules spirit of the series. It is based on the GT3 version of the 12C that has had notable success in FIA-sanctioned events for the past two seasons, including at the hand of nine-time World Rally champion Sébastien Loeb, who owns and campaigns a pair.

Spared the FIA-mandated inlet restrictors, the GT’s twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre V8 sees its output jump from the GT3’s 493 horsepower to about 630 hp.

The most visible outward changes are a longer front splitter and larger rear wing, which generate 30 per cent more aerodynamic downforce. Both are crafted in carbon fibre, like all bespoke body parts and the MonoCell chassis core, the only component shared with the 12C road car.

Other changes bring the price of the Can-Am Edition to an estimated $630,000, up from the $545,000 McLaren was asking customer teams for the enhanced 2013 version of its 12C GT3 racer.

The GT has a six-speed Shiftec sequential gearbox, with pneumatic actuators and wheel-mounted paddles, that is 80 kilograms lighter than the 12C’s dual-clutch unit.

The double-wishbone suspension is adjustable for ride height, camber and toe, with four-way adjustable shocks. The GT has adjustable anti-roll bars, unlike the 12C with its interconnected hydraulic suspension. The forged 18-inch aluminum wheels are held on by a single nut and shod with Pirelli racing slicks.

Brakes by Akebono combine ventilated steel discs and monoblock calipers with six pistons in front and four at the rear wheels.

The threshold of the Bosch motorsport ABS is one of several parameters the driver can adjust on the GT’s rectangular wheel, derived from the one used in McLaren’s MP4-24 Formula 1 car in 2009 and connected to electro-hydraulic power steering.

Only 30 units of the Can-Am Edition will be built by McLaren GT at its plant in England. Only a few have been delivered, and MIA Motorsports in St-Eustache, Que., has the first to reach North American soil. Two technicians need three weeks to assemble a single car, says MIA chief Michel Labrosse.

His team’s 12C GT had its shakedown run in September on the short and twisty road course adjoining its workshop. It was driven by official keeper Jean-François Dumoulin, under the watchful eye of a McLaren engineer who had flown in from the U.K.

A pro racer and driving instructor, twice a class winner at the 24 Hours of Daytona, 37-year-old Dumoulin easily won a first race in MIA Motorsport’s McLaren a few days later, on the famed Mont-Tremblant track where the inaugural Can-Am race was held in 1966.

Wearing racing suit, gloves and helmet, Dumoulin and I swapped sides in the McLaren after a few laps he drove to show me the ropes, warm things up and hopefully work some heat into the racing slicks. It was only 4C outside when we started, and it’s barely warmer now. The minimum for performance tires, let alone slicks, is 7C.

Dumoulin’s pace and the McLaren’s thrust were impressive. Full braking at the end of the short straightaway slingshot me forward, legs pushing on the floorboard, in spite of tight belts of the six-point harness.

The Can-Am Edition’s controls have little in common with the regular 12C, in a stark cabin replete with Alcantara fabric and carbon fibre. Most awkward is the pedal for the clutch, which is used only to start and stop. Leg fully extended, I let it out slowly and set off, without stalling the engine. Cool, I tell myself.

I expected the oddly-shaped wheel to be strange, yet its foam-like grip immediately feels comfortable and natural. Steering is direct but surprisingly light, perhaps because of the lukewarm tires and the fact the beast can only generate a fraction of its 2,500 pounds of downforce on this tight track.

The Can-Am rides much lower than the 12C. I feel the slightest bump at first but the damping is just right, the car tracks impeccably and I get on with business.

The twin-turbo V8 has a bear of a mid-range punch and calls for quick upshifts. The next gear snaps in, the driveline stuttering at times on the bumpiest parts. Helmet on, you hear a growl, but the McLaren is most civilized for a race car.

After a few laps, it grips well, with sweet balance in corners. I just guide it on the racing line. I brake harder and later every lap, yet never feel the ABS trigger. Pedal effort is truly high. Then it’s time to bring her in, already.

Reading the car’s data on his laptop, MIA tech wiz Carl Hermez tells me I pulled almost 2g in corners, but not quite 1g with the brakes. I could certainly do better.

The Can-Am must be stupendous on a faster track, in less Nordic weather. I am exhilarated nonetheless. It was the ride of my life.

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