1997 McLaren F1 GTR Long Tail
"There is nothing on this earth that can prepare you for the eruption of acceleration - or the violent outburst of noise - that occurs when you finally slap the accelerator open for the very first time. The acceleration never stops. Even at a steady 120mph the GTR rockets forward when you floor the throttle." – Steve Sutcliffe writing for Autocar magazine
Sometimes termed the ‘thinking man’s supercar’, for seven years the McLaren F1 was the fastest road car you could buy, achieving an exhilarating, hold-on-tight 242.95mph maximum in 1998.
The F1 was also the most expensive car in world by some margin when new, and it is often considered to be the heir to the Ferrari 250 GTO. Several lucky collectors own both.
Never intended for racing, an F1 nonetheless won the 1995 Le Mans 24 Hours outright, with F1s occupying four of the top five positions. These were cars built expressly for racing and called simply ‘F1 GTR’.
The F1 GTR
McLaren boss Ron Dennis and designer Gordon Murray decided to build the F1 while waiting for a delayed plane after the 1988 Italian Grand Prix. It was engineered to be the ultimate drivers’ car, built around a carbonfibre chassis-tub, with butterfly doors. It had a unique central driving position, with two other set-back seats and a mid-mounted V12 engine specially created by BMW Motorsport.
The F1 road car incorporated ground effect by electric fans, exotic materials such as gold exhaust shields, and was engineered to be totally user-friendly. It had air-conditioning, a bespoke Kenwood stereo, power windows and ample luggage space. But the 627bhp F1 was racing car fast: 0-180 mph could be dispatched in just 20.3 seconds.
When the decision was made to build an actual racing car for 1995, the F1 was already so advanced that designer Gordon Murray had little to do other than add a wing to the tail, fit carbonfibre brakes, incorporate various cooling ducts and meticulously prepare the cars for long-distance racing. The results speak for themselves and the out-of-the-box win at Le Mans for an F1 – albeit now an ‘F1 GTR’– on its debut was sensational.
The following year, with engine partner BMW’s assistance, the F1 GTR was subtly improved to keep it competitive against Porsche’s forthcoming 911-based GT1 and AMG-Mercedes’ CLK GTR. The 1996 F1 GTRs were lighter, and small changes were made to the bodywork, principally the addition of a deep front splitter.
In 1997, though, the rules were relaxed to allow further development, as long as at least one road version was produced. McLaren used the opportunity to build a series of F1 GTR ‘Long Tails’, cars with extended bodywork front and rear that was considerably more aerodynamic and made them faster and easier to drive. They were also some 10 per cent lighter. The two principle teams, BMW Motorsport Fina and GTC Competition Gulf Team Davidoff, won five of the 11 FIA GT rounds that year, and finished second and third at Le Mans.
To homologate the F1 GTR Long Tail, McLaren built an ‘F1 GT’ road car with the racer’s elongated, high-downforce bodywork, but no large rear wing.
Of the 107 McLaren F1s produced, seven were prototypes, 64 were road cars, five were F1 LMs (road cars commemorating the model’s 1995 Le Mans victory) and three were F1 GTs. The other 28 were F1 GTR racing cars.
This Motor Car
F1 GTR Long Tail chassis '025R' was completed on 9th February 1997. After a shake-down by John Nielsen on 13th March 1997 it was delivered to British team GTC Competition the following day, one of a three-car entry for a full season. It was raced that year mainly by joint team owner Ray Bellm, usually paired with top professionals Andrew Gilbert-Scott (GB), Pierre-Henri Raphanel (F), Jean-Marc Gounon (F) or Anders Olofsson (S).
That year, Masanori Sekiya of Japan, one of the victors at Le Mans in 1995, shared the car at the French 24-hour classic.
GTC’s F1 GTRs were finished in the classic Gulf colours of light blue and orange, and it’s worth noting that the previous year’s dark metallic blue was not carried over as the particles in the paint made it too heavy… Swiss luxury tobacco goods manufacturer Davidoff was joint title sponsor.
This car was raced in the following rounds of the Championship:
• 4 Hours Hockenheim: Did not finish (DNF), Bellm/Gilbert-Scott
• 4 Hours Silverstone: Fourth overall, Gilbert-Scott/ Raphanel/Bellm
• 3 Hours Helsinki: Fourth overall, Gilbert-Scott/ Raphanel/Gounon
• 4 Hours Nürburgring: DNF, Gilbert-Scott/Olofsson
• Le Mans 24 Hours: DNF, Bellm/Gilbert-Scott/Sekiya
Following a water leak that led to an overheating engine and ensuing fire damage at Le Mans, over 1997-1998 ‘025R’ was returned to the factory for a comprehensive rebuild. The engine was rebuilt by BMW Motorsport to ‘as-new’, the transmission overhauled with new bevels and the car prepared for “a race event of 4 hours’ practice, 4 hours racing”. Once reassembled, the car was painted in white primer ready for a new purchaser.
This, in 1999, was the Japanese Hitotsuyama Racing Team, who raced the car extensively in the Japan Grand Touring Championship (JGTC) until 2005, where in later years it carried distinctive yellow and orange ‘Yellow Corn’ motorcycle clothing livery. The car competed at most of the JGTC rounds, often battling head-to-head with rival Team Take One’s own F1 GTR.
It is quite possible that the Hitotsuyama team’s final race at Fuji in 2005 was the last appearance by a McLaren F1 GTR in international competition.
Following its tenure in Japan, ‘025R’ was subsequently sold to an international collector on whose behalf we offer it today. The car has been inspected this year to ‘Full McLaren Standards’ by McLaren Heritage – the report is available.
Presented in white with its original black interior, the condition of the car is consistent with that of a fully functioning, well-raced track weapon. Unsurprisingly, the local Japanese racing team had made subtle upgrades (mainly suspension tweaks) along the way both to maintain its competitive edge and to tailor it to local rules and circuit conditions. The car is complete and was fired up during the brief engine test.
The experts at McLaren sum it up when they describe ‘025R’ as: “the longest serving ‘Long Tail’ F1 racecar and [that] has obviously lived a varied life.”
With values of F1s as healthy as ever, and the resources of McLaren Heritage at his or her disposal, ‘025R’s new owner has the option of a full restoration back to original race specification including its iconic 1997 Gulf Davidoff livery, or conversion to road specification. The likely investment in either option has been costed by McLaren this year and is available from us on request. A hard decision, but an enjoyable one...