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Going Deep With CJ Wilson, Part 1: A Love For McLaren

From his personal passion, to the prospects for the 570S GT4 in the USA

To millions of sports fans in North America and beyond CJ Wilson is a baseball superstar. Alongside the ‘day job’ though CJ has been developing a range of other business interests, including his own, eponymous, race team that is making waves in the Continental Tires Sportscar Challenge.

His motorsport interests don’t stop there though with a new role as a McLaren Motorsport retailer and a venture into e-sports too.

All that have met him say that CJ is singularly focused and intelligent about his ‘other’ sporting passion.

This, Part 1 of a two part series focuses on his passion for McLaren, because when Wilson isn’t on the mound in Anaheim, he’s dialled into the world of McLaren, its cars and racing programmes.

Wilson lives and breathes the Woking brand, drives around in a purple P1 and owns a dealership in Arizona. In fact, his McLaren dealership in Scottsdale Arizona is one of 11 selected McLaren retailers who will be selling the 570S GT4 to customers as of next year. He’s serious about the late Bruce McLaren’s company.

Wilson’s affinity for McLaren came before he became principal of the Scottsdale branch of McLaren after the launch of the P1. He’s been a fan of the brand almost his whole life.

“I actually collect McLaren memorabilia,” admitted Wilson. “I have a Mika Hakkinen driving suit, a Kimi Raikkonen driving suit and some McLaren F1 stuff from Senna’s days in my house. For me it’s such a fantastic brand to be a part of.”

And that’s why he’s not only lapping up the opportunity to help sell McLaren’s road cars to like minded individuals, but to race teams too, when the GT4’s first full global season starts in 2017.

mclaren-570s-gt4

“Being a racer and a big fan of racing, it’s easy to get behind the 570S GT4. McLaren has a heritage of winning in sportscars and endurance racing, as well as Formula One. When you have that extra angle, an extra tool in your tool box. When someone looks at a 570 in a dealership and asks: “What is McLaren all about?” You can say: “see that thing over there? That’s a race car, that’s McLaren, they develop that and then this off of that.”

Being a racer and a big fan of racing, it’s easy to get behind the 570S GT4

“Porsche does a great job of that, they are a motorsport retailer, you can buy a Cup car or a Club Sport, and the ability to do so many series with them makes their cars popular. A lot of guys want to just buy a car and go race, they don’t want to redesign everything. It also means you have fixed costs, as opposed to a race team designing their own car and not knowing the exact budget needed for R&D.”

As you can imagine, it’s a very different experience heading into a McLaren dealership and ordering a 650, and that’s the way Wilson wants it. In America especially, where the brand is on the up but not yet a household name, showcasing the company’s attachment to both racing and road-going cars is key.

“The retail side for McLaren is different because there’s not that many in the pool, it’s not like a Honda store. McLaren is such a new brand with road cars, that you can really use cars like the 570S GT4 to promote them, and it will work. In the USA the car is only eligible for PWC GTS, but if it gets adopted in the IMSA paddock it would be great for the series.”

Interestingly though, it would present a very strange situation to have Wilson selling GT4 McLarens to potential rivals in the CTSC series, where his team runs a Porsche Cayman. He does have a workaround though!

“I’ve had to talk to Porsche about what they’re running and how it would work,” he told DSC. “Because there may come a time when I’m selling cars to teams running against us, we’re discussing a deal with Flying Lizard to be our associate retail and promotional partner in PWC. Flying Lizard already have the familiarity with the brand through their work with K-PAX, so having them as a promotional partner would be a natural extension.”

While GT4 is still very much a blossoming category, Wilson is totally bought in, and feels that it has a very interesting future, with McLaren’s 570S GT4 being a key part of that.

“The 570S GT4 is relatively affordable, as the street and race car are pretty much the same cost. It’s great that for road car costs you can get a race car with a full roll cage, paddle shift, full carbon, fire systems etc. It’s literally the same car, except for the wing! It’s such a cool tool to offer, we’re going to sell a lot of them.”

Personally Wilson is so impressed with the 570S GT4, which won two races in its developmental season in British GT, that he’s considering getting one as a track toy.

59-McLaren-BGT-2016-Snetterton-Practice

“For me personally, I have a P1 and take it on the track, that’s what I love, but every once in a while I’ll take it through a corner and barely stick it, and I think: ‘That could have been 120 grand of damage, it could have been a ripped off floor, something like that.” So maybe it’s better to do track days in a 570S GT4, it’s one piece that’s designed to come a part in that sort of incident.

“So I was watching the Lambo one-make (Super Trofeo) series, they are 600 + horsepower, with gentlemen drivers in them, they’re so fast for the average guy that it’s dangerous. The 570S GT4 is tuned down to 400 horsepower, and it doesn’t have the downforce, so it’s more approachable. You want a race car to pound, not to be cautious because it’s too precious.”

You want a race car to pound, not to be cautious because it’s too precious.

As well as the GT4, he’s also selling the Sprint version, which is a far more raw version of the GT4.

“I’m selling the GT4 and the sprint, if someone comes in and wants to spec out a Sprint car, then they can, just put down a deposit, pick a color and they’re. In typical McLaren fashion you can have special paint schemes, whatever you want to make your car look special to you. Or just take the white, grey or orange.

“McLaren Scottsdale retails 675s, 650s, 570 GTs. I bought the store after the P1 was rolled out, we bought a couple on the side to sell, we also service P1s so whenever they come out with the new lines of cars we’ll be in line for them.

mclaren-p1-650

“The PR has done a really good job of ensuring that when they win, everyone knows about it. As a dealer, we’re so proud of the brand. You have to chase McLaren, if you want one, you have to find the store, and if you want to be a dealer you have to petition why your city is going to be good. Being a dealer is a passion project.

“It’s not like a BMW or Mercedes store because the awareness isn’t there. McLaren had so much Can-Am success in the 60s and 70s, and it’s really taken a long time since then to have a foot in America. They’re only just getting back to being a successful brand in the American market, through the success of the P1.

“For me as a big Formula One fan, McLaren is a big brand, so in the store we put on old highlights of the team winning championships. But it’s been really ironic with the disparity between what happens at the McLaren dealership between when it’s out in public,” he explains. “When someone comes into my dealer, they know automatically that the car has 600 horsepower, and carbon fibre tubs, have crazy paddle shifts, swan doors. And when you’re at a gas station, people come up and say: “is that a Lambo? What is that?”

When someone comes into my dealer, they know automatically that the car has 600 horsepower, and carbon fibre tubs, have crazy paddle shifts, swan doors.

“You have top educate people out in public. When I’m stuck in traffic people will always ask me to roll down the window and ask me what the car is. But potential customers come in and just stare because they have seen them on the internet on tv and they just want to see one.”

Outside of the GT4 car McLaren still offers its 650S GT3, which is fresh off winning the Blancpain Endurance Cup with Garage 59. There were rumours in years past of Wilson bringing a GT3 car to IMSA’s WeatherTech series, but various barriers stood in the way.

Bell-Parente-Garage-59-58-McLaren-BSC-Hungaroring-2016-Main-Race

“There were multiple issues, cost is one thing that stood in the way at the GTD level. When you have a really big gap between where you’re at and where you need to be in terms of budget, the race team just needed to evolve. What steps to to do in between was tricky. We didn’t know whether to commit or do just big races like Daytona or the Spa 24 to get our feet wet at that level.

“Ultimately though, if you’re not coming in and competing for a title it doesn’t really make sense though to spend the whole budget if you can do two NAEC seasons for that price. It also depends on what the partners want.

We definitely want to be in that other paddock but we have to earn it, we have to win in CTSC

“We definitely want to be in that other paddock but we have to earn it, we have to win in CTSC. We’ve had discussions with manufacturers about how the teams jump into it, what sort of success is expected. It’s been really cool to ease our way into the paddock, get to know some of the teams and drivers, become part of the family.

“We don’t want to be newbies that nobody respects,” he concluded. “We want to be the most successful team in CTSC first.”

Featured image courtesy of CJ Wilson Racing