Tim Dunlop brings us another themed stroll around the grounds of last month’s Salon Privé at Blenheim Palace!
Following on from the slight disappointment at the Concours of Elegance when the much-anticipated display of the five Mclaren F1’s from the 1995 running of Le Mans did not materialise, I headed to the Salon Prive event at Blenheim Palace taking what had been advertised with a pinch of salt.
In their pre-event promotion, they had two Concours classes listed for the McLaren F1. Class N: Celebrating the McLaren F1 (Road) and Class O – Celebrating the McLaren F1 (Race). There were two cars listed in each class, so I had hoped to see 4 cars up close which was something to look forward to if CoVid had not prevented the cars and their owners from travelling.
Taking centre stage on the lawn as you entered the Concours display was a row of McLaren F1’s. It was quite the sight and not only had the anticipated four cars all turned up and were looking stunning in the early morning sun, but they had been joined by two more F1 race cars. So six cars, and not content with that as I glanced over my left shoulder to the display by prestige car dealer Tom Hartley Jr and there, tucked away at the back was a seventh F1.
The two Concours entrants in Class O as a celebration of the F1 race car were chassis 13R and chassis 28R
Chassis – 13R
This car really stood out thanks to its bright pink and grey ‘Lark’ livery, a 1996 GTR and quite unusual in that it was only raced in Japan. Team Lark under the stewardship of Kazumichi Goh ordered the car from McLaren choosing to race it in the All Japan GT championship as a factory effort thanks to the backing of Ron Dennis.
The name of one of the drivers on the side immediately drew my attention. Schumacher is a name that resonates with any motorsport fan, usually proceeded by the name Michael. However, this car was not driven by F1 multiple world champion Michael, but his younger brother Ralf. The young Schumacher would be joined in the 1996 season by Naoki Hattori. Hattori was a hugely experienced driver having raced in many different disciplines, whilst competing in the All Japan GT series in 1996 he also entered and was crowned champion in the Japanese Touring Car Championship in a Honda Accord.
Chassis 13R won three of the six rounds, but this was not enough for the brightly coloured Andy Blackmore-liveried car to take the championship, losing out to the sister car, car number 61, also a McLaren F1 (chassis 14R) driven by David Brabham and David Nielsen. Car 61 took only one win in the 1996 season, but its single retirement and three podiums gave them a points advantage over Car 60 that failed to finish twice and scored a 15th place in the other round.
The car remained in Japan unraced until 2005 at which point it was sold to a German enthusiast who had the car converted for road use in 2006. The car changed hands again a few years later and now resides in the UK.
Chassis – 28R
If I said which team raced in Blue and Orange? to any automotive enthusiast, the company that would jump into the forefront of most peoples minds would be ‘Gulf’ and across the years there have been quite a few Mclaren F1’s that have raced in this iconic colour scheme.
The car in front of me was chassis 28R, one of the ten longtail F1 GTR’s and was finished in the lighter blue Gulf scheme as opposed to the darker blue that had adorned the short tail cars in previous years. 28R was ordered as a spare car by the GTC Competition team to support its FIA GT campaign in 1997.
It would form part of a three-car effort as the team mounted a major assault on this coveted championship. A fire for sister car (chassis 25R) at Le Mans in 1997 which would leave this chassis not just out of the great race but unrepairable for the remainder of the season. This meant chassis 28R was called into service for the remaining 8 rounds in the hands of drivers Gilbert-Scott (4 races), Olofsson (7 races), Lees (6 races) and Nielsen (1 race).
Its best finishes would be two sixth places, one at Laguna Seca and the other at Suzuka. Out of the eight races it competed in the first three would see the car fail to finish including an incident at the Spa round on the opening lap which eliminated not just this car but the two teams cars as well.
The car remained with the GTC team after the 1997 season before being sold to an enthusiast in Japan, then to a new owner in the USA is 2006 before being auctioned by Bonhams in 2012 and converted to be road registered in 2017.
The two Concours entered cars were joined by two other F1 GTR’s, chassis 27R and Chassis 03R.
Yellow Car – 27R
27R was the penultimate F1 GTR built and was the first of the longtail cars to win a race. Under the team name Parabolica Motorsport (and painted in the Yellow livery it was presented in at Salon Prive) the car took victory in the 1997 British GT round held at Silverstone driven by Gary Ayles and Chris Goodwin. Following this round, the car headed to France for Le Mans Test Day this time under the Team Lark Mclaren name. At La Sarthe the Yellow Parabolica livery was gone and 27R had been freshly painted in the familiar pink/grey Lark livery (as seen on 13R parked next to it at this event).
After test day the car returned to the UK for the FIA GT Championship round, again at Silverstone (where it took a 6 th place). Given the short gap between Le Mans test day and the 24hr race the team opted to leave the car in the pink/grey livery but removed the Lark branding and added Parabolica in its place. The Silverstone round done, the car headed back to Le Mans with Gary Ayles (who had already raced this car in the British and FIA GT championships) alongside two Japanese drivers Akihiko Nakaya and Keiichi Tsuchiya.
The car would not have a memorable race in France and did not finish after an accident on lap 81.
After Le Mans, the car returned to the FIA GT championship and the yellow Parabolica livery was back. The latter part of the season covering 8 races would see the car take two more sixth places, a 13th at Donington and Mugello, and three DNF’s. With the previous results and the car missing the penultimate round at Sebring, Parabolica Motorsport would finish the season in 7th place position in the overall team championship before parking the car up and not racing it in 1998.
The following year the car having being bought by James Munroe (who in the years to come would be jailed for fraud, the proceeds of which had bought this car) would appear on the entry list for the 1999 British GT championship. The car was entered under the team name of AM Racing with the Yellow Parabolica livery replaced by a largely un-decaled Papaya Orange paint scheme leaving the car looking like a long-tail version of the highly sought after F1 LM road car.
Munroe would drive the car along with Chris Goodwin who had driven the car with Gary Ayles in the cars only previous British GT race. The team had a respectable season with a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th place finish in the 5 rounds. This meant Goodwin would finish 9th and Munroe 10th in the driver’s standings in a season that had been dominated by Julian Bailey and Jamie Campbell-Walter in the memorable Newcastle United Lister Storm.
The car would remain in the orange colour scheme for the next decade and was seen on many occasions with UK number plates. It is believed at this stage the car had not legally been road registered though. At the Goodwood Members meeting in 2015, the car joined a celebration of the F1 and was now back in the Parabolica livery.
The car changed hands again in 2017 thanks to prestige car dealer Tom Hartley Jr with the advert stating it was undergoing conversion to be road registered (this time legally). The car was back up for sale with them just over a year later and was now in the Lark livery it had raced in at Le Mans 97.
So it seems in the years since the car was first raced in 1997 it has worn Parabolica (British GT), Lark (Le Mans Test Day), Lark with Parabolica branding (FIA GT), Lark (Le Mans), Parabolica (FIA GT), Papaya (British GT), Parabolica, Lark and now back to Parabolica liveries, that’s quite a few changes of colour.
West Car – 03R
The final GTR in this six-car display was chassis 03R, a car that has probably one of the largest and impressive racing histories of any McLaren F1.
As you can tell by its low chassis number this car was one of the first F1 GTR’s. The cars first owner, German banker Dr Thomas Bscher was one of the original backers of the GTR program and key to convincing McLaren to build a racing version of the F1. The car finished in the traditional white and red colours of their main sponsor West cigarettes was raced by Bscher and co driver John Nielsen for two seasons under the banner of David Price Racing/West Competition.
The 1995 season would see the car entered in the BPR Kärcher Global Endurance GT Series and would see Bscher and Nielsen crowned champions. Despite only taking the win at 2 of the 12 rounds, their consistency across the other ten races meant they scored more points than fellow McLaren teams GTC Racing (Bellm/Sala with 5 wins) and Mach One racing (Wallace/Grouillard with 3 wins). The two trophies from the rounds they won in 95 (Monza and Donington) and the teams/drivers championship trophy were proudly displayed in front of the car at Blenheim Palace in a large display case that housed five trophies.
03R would in 1995 also race at Le Mans as one of seven F1’s that would compete at La Sarthe in that year. Bscher and Nielsen would be joined by sportscar legend and previous overall Le Mans winner Jochen Mass for the 24Hr.
The car would qualify in 12th but would not finish the race after an accident on lap 131 saw the car retire.
1996 saw the car upgraded to the latest spec and another year running in the BPR series with two more wins, this time at Monza and Nurburgring (the trophies from these races were also on display with the car).
Results in this year’s championship were not as consistent as the previous year with West Competition losing out in the team’s championship to fellow Mclaren team Gulf Racing/GTC Motorsport and their drivers Ray Bellm and James Weaver.
Another entry at La Sarthe for the Le Mans 24Hr in 96 would see the cars regular drivers joined by Le Mans rookie Peter Kox. This time the race was much better for the team with the #30 car finishing in 4th place (the highest finish of the six McLaren F1’s in that year’s race). It is in the 1996 Le Mans livery that the car was displayed at Salon Prive although at the French race the car wouldn’t have been wearing the UK number plates it now has following its restoration and road conversion in 2012.
Next to the four racing McLaren’s were two F1 Road Cars.
The Red car (chassis #28) is worthy of a mention on a motorsport site thanks in the main to the name of its original owner.
Finished in Grand Prix Red with cream leather, the car was reportedly given to Michael Andretti as part of a compensation package paid out after McLaren decided to terminate Andretti’s contract to drive for them in Formula 1.
Andretti who was dropped and replaced by Mika Hakkinen in 1993 had the remainder of a two-year deal which McLaren needed to compensate him for. Disappointingly for Andretti, the F1 could not legally be imported to or registered in the USA so for the 12 months he owned it the car remained at the factory in the UK. Rather than fund insurance and storage costs, Andretti sold the car to a collector in Japan where it remained for 6 years before it found a new home in the USA thanks to a change in US law. The car stayed on the West Coast until 2014 at which time it found its way to back over the Atlantic to the UK.
The Silver road car on the end (chassis #37) has, by comparison, had a pretty uneventful life. It’s not had any crashes, has not been owned by a ‘celebrity’ and has not seen out in public very often.
It started life with its first owner in Germany and has then enjoyed time with owners in California and now South Africa where the car had travelled over from to join the display at Blenheim.
Across to the left of the Concours display was a trade stand for supercar dealer Tom Hartley Jr, amongst the cars they had on their stand for sale was another Mclaren F1 GTR Longtail. The Black paint on this car looking deep and lustrous in the autumn sun and the multicoloured graphics on the bodywork highlighting just why this car is affectionately called ‘squiggles’. Completed ahead of the 1997 season, chassis 19R was the very first longtail F1 GTR built. It was the factory prototype/development car and was used for various promotional and launch events, it would also go on to be the first longtail to be road registered.
The car raced once in the 1997 season at the Suzuka round of the FIA GT championship, for this event the car was entered by Team Lark and wore their traditional pink/grey livery. It finished in 9th place driven by the Japanese trio of Tsuchiya / Sekiya / Nakaya and took the chequered flag three laps behind the winning Mercedes CLK GTR.
There were no races for chassis 19R in 1998 but for the following season, the car would join the Japanese Grand Touring Championship, entered by privateer team Take One. The driver pairing of Yamada and Okada competed in all 9 rounds, scoring their best finish (a 2nd place) at the 1000km of Suzuka where the duo were joined by Kazuo Mogi. For 2000 the car would return to the series with the same driver pairing although by the latter part of the season Yamada would step down to be replaced by Tsugio Matsuda.
The driver line up would continue to change over the following two years as 19R continued to be part of the Japan GT championship, Okada remaining the only constant. Macau native André Couto taking the second seat in 2001 and Haruki Kurosawa the following year. The pairing of Couto and Okada would actually take the McLaren F1 GTR’s final competition win at the 250km of Mine race in 2001 as 19R became one of the last F1’s to be competing across the world. This victory would be the only win this chassis would take in the 34 races that it started.
Now back in its launch livery with the ‘squiggles’ highlighting the extended bodywork of the longtail GTR the car is up for sale and ready for its new owner to enjoy it.
The last car to be mentioned in this article is not an F1 and not actually a race car. It is however firmly a McLaren. Building on the success of the first of the McLaren Ultimate Series cars the F1 and its successor the P1, the McLaren Senna was launched in late 1997and carries the name of the legendary Brazilian racing driver. This 4-litre V8 twin-turbo car was enhanced further with the introduction of track-only Senna GTR at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show which was to be limited to just 75 units.
The special ops department of McLaren recently got their hands on the Senna GTR as part of a celebration of the F1’s overall win at the Le Mans 24Hr in 1995. The result was the official unveiling of the McLaren Senna GTR LM held online (due to the ongoing pandemic) on September 17, 2020. Only five units were too be made, with each chassis painted in a unique scheme to reflect the five McLaren F1 GTRs at the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Each of the owners who have purchased one of the GTR LM’s will get a VIP pass to next year’s Le Mans 24 hour, where they’ll be able to drive their cars around the circuit the morning before the race alongside the original F1 GTRs that competed in ’95.
The car at Blenheim Palace was chassis 825/6 and is finished in the famous ‘Harrods’ livery. The chassis number of this car matches the number of the original chassis (06R) which was driven to 3 rd place overall Andy Wallace and father and son duo Derek and Justin Bell.
The Senna GTR LM is quite something in the flesh, the paintwork which is hand-painted reportedly took around 800 hours to complete.
The only bit that is not painted-on is the replica scrutineering sticker affixed to the roof of each car.
Inside the car features a special plaque featuring its F1 GTR twin’s chassis number, the names of the three drivers who drove it at Le Mans in ’95 and the position in which it finished.
Pics courtesy and copyright Tim Dunlop @Dunloppix