There’s being thrown in at the deep end, and there’s doing your first track day in a McLaren. The 570S hits 62mph in 3.2sec, a VMax of 204mph and costs a not-unsubstantial £145k. And I’ll be driving it flat-out at Silverstone. You could, too.
This isn’t my first time on-track per se. I’ve driven a few laps here and there on car launches, usually with a white-knuckled press officer in the passenger seat. Today, though, will be different: I’ll be alongside a professional racing driver, pushing me to my limits. As for the McLaren’s limits… well, we’ll come to that.
More McLaren features on Motoring Research:
- 2017 McLaren 720S review: the new supercar benchmark
- McLaren 675LT Spider review: driving Top Gear’s fastest car
- McLaren makes its supercars 8% more British
A history of motorsport
McLaren was born on the track. The company made its first racing car in 1966, but it wasn’t until the epochal F1 of 1992 that it built something with number plates. Following a big-budget comeback in 2011, McLaren has fast become a credible rival for Ferrari and Lamborghini, with road-going machines from the 540C to the P1 hypercar. But it remains keen to reinforce those motorsport roots. That’s where Pure McLaren comes in.
Pure McLaren is series of events at circuits around the world; Germany is next, followed by Portugal and Belgium. Owners can bring their own cars, or pay to drive a track-ready 570S or 650S (McLaren’s just-launched 720S will be added in due course). There’s also a coaching programme for those who want to go racing.
Racers ready to roll
After a quick safety briefing, I grab a helmet and head for the pitlane. Each garage houses a fully-fledged McLaren racer – 570S GT4, 650S Sprint or P1 GTR – all being prepped for track use. The place is a hive of carefully managed activity, as mechanics pore over telemetry data to a soundtrack of turbocharged V8s.
Even in retina-scorching Ventura Orange, my 570S looks pretty reserved alongside the bespoilered GT4 version. Yet it’s still a dramatic design: low, wedgy and unmistakably mid-engined. I drop down into the deep bucket seat, pull down the dihedral door and plug in my helmet intercom. Time to hit the track.
Learning from a GT3 driver
My instructor is James, a man whose day-job is racing an Aston Martin Vantage GT3. He’s quiet, well-spoken and modest, but clearly has an enviable CV. “I do a lot of historic racing,” he adds, “1960s F1 cars, Ford GT40s and the like.”
I feel duly humbled. Compared to an old F1 car, hustling a modern McLaren around Silverstone must be child’s play. “In some ways,” says James, “but driving any car quickly takes experience and skill.” His words echo in my head as I prod the starter button and the V8 erupts rudely into life. Let’s hope I can make up with the latter what I lack in the former…
On-track at Silverstone
I trundle slowly down the pitlane, then floor it as we exit onto Farm Curve. The engine and chassis are both in Track mode and I’m shifting gears manually using the paddles behind the steering wheel. I carve right into Village Corner, dab the brakes then dive left and blast up through third, fourth and fifth gears along Wellington straight. Then it’s hard on the brakes again, aiming for the late apex at Brooklands as James relays calm, concise instructions via the intercom.
The Mclaren’s 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 sounds functional rather than musical. But by God, it’s quick. Response is instant and full-throttle gearchanges feel razor-sharp. The speed just keeps building, too; I see nearly 150mph on the Hanger Straight before hauling on the anchors again for Stowe. Only here, a long fourth-gear corner, do I find myself wishing for a little more oomph.
Stick to the script
“Brake. Wait for it. Now turn. Steady on the gas. Hug the inside. Now straighten the wheel. And go for it. Fourth gear. Fifth gear. Brake, brake, brake.” Having James’s commentary in my ears seems oddly reminiscent of my misspent youth playing Colin McRae Rally. As a P1 blitzes past, I try to focus solely on his instructions. And the more closely I follow them, the smoother -– and faster – I get.
Smoothness is, of course, the key to driving fast, but that doesn’t mean the 570S can’t be provoked. A couple of times, I overcook my entry-speed into a corner and feel the track-oriented Pirelli P-Zero Corsa rear tyres sliding gently wide. Then as my confidence increases, I push harder, even managing a dab of opposite lock through Becketts.
Slip versus grip
Surprisingly, James seems to approve. “That’s what I like about the 570S: it’s playful”, he says. “The 675LT has a lot more aero, including the active airbrake, and that ultimately makes it much faster. But it doesn’t move around like the 570S. This car is great fun on-track.”
That’s high praise indeed from a man more used to GT3 cars – even if McLaren is signing his pay cheque today. And, for what it’s worth, I concur. I do three sessions in the 570S and each one passes in an adrenalised blur. Silverstone is largely flat and featureless, making it a difficult circuit to learn, but with James’s help I keep the racing line, braking later and getting steadily faster. By the time I pull into the pitlane for the third time, mouth dry and face flushed, I’m convinced I’ve got the hang of it.
Driver demo time
Then James and I swap seats; it’s time for my ‘driver demonstration’ laps. He clears his throat, pulls the wheel in close and conversation stops. Out of the pitlane, he buries the throttle then – oooof! – brakes so hard I nearly headbutt the windscreen. We’re carrying far more speed through the corners now, the car shimmying on the limit of grip. I brace myself for the left at Brooklands, but the brutality of James’s braking still hurls me forward. Racing drivers don’t know the meaning of mechanical sympathy.
I clamber clumsily out of the car: half-euphoric, half-exhausted. A pit crew swarms around, checking levels and deflating hot Pirellis. My first track day is over, but already I’m determined to book another. If you’d like to attend a Pure McLaren event, there are six more this year to choose from. They aren’t cheap – at around £1,000 – but it’s an experience you won’t forget.
Thanks to Salon Privé and Pirelli for their help with this feature