1997 McLaren F1 GTR Longtail

Chassis Num: 21R
Sold for $5,280,000 at 2014 Gooding & Company.
The McLaren F1 was to be a road-going experience unlike any other. Combining the latest technology and a mindset only to be found in Formula One, the McLaren F1 was to be the ultimate in performance. The intention of the design was to bring the track to the street. This was the intention. However, the F1 would achieve its goal in such dominant fashion that it seemed only a matter of time before the road car made its way to the track.

The story would be intriguing. Four men waiting at an airport would conceive of the idea for the McLaren F1. The man that would be given the responsibility of designing the car would be Gordon Murray.

The goal, the intention, was simple. The intention was to create the undisputedly-best road-going sports car ever to be produced. However, the point of the whole project was to bring the track to the road, to provide the spectator an opportunity to experience the kind of performance professionals dealt with each and every time they took to the wheel.

McLaren was already heavily involved in Formula One. The group had no intention of building cars for any other series. However, timing would lead to the McLaren F1 taking its place amongst its racing lineage.

The BPR GT ideally-suited the McLaren and would result in the GT1 derivative earning a truly historic win in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in its very first try. In addition, the GT1 McLaren would win the championship in 1995 and 1996.

Then, at the end of the 1996 season the BPR series would become the FIA GT Championship. The change to the FIA GT Championship introduced some regulatory changes. Horsepower would be reduced to 600 hp and cars had to have a minimum weight of 1000kg. The competition in the series, which included Porsche, Lotus and others meant a new revised McLaren F1 GT1 car needed to be built.

The engine would be limited to the limit and the minimum weight would be reached without too much trouble. The main challenge would be to make up for performance lost. The best option would be to increase the car's downforce, and therefore, increase the car's cornering speeds. This was achieved by creating the GTR.

The GTR would have a wider rear wing, as well as, a redesigned tail that was longer and sported another spoiler. This achieved the goal of increasing cornering speeds. Evolutions of the nose design would enable the car to maintain a high top speed as well.

All-in-all, the package would be impressive. Known as the 'Longtail', the updated GTR would have a 6.0-liter engine with a six-speed XTRAC sequential gearbox. The reduction in weight would come through the use of carbon-fiber. Eight piston carbon-fiber disc brakes would be used on all four corners giving the car incredible stopping power. When all said and done, the GTR would be a fitting track version of the F1.

The 1997 season would see the establishment of a new factory team. Team BMW Motorsport would make use of the McLaren F1 GTR and would combine the incredible car with their DOHC 60 degree V12 engine.

Besides the potent pairing of McLaren and BWM, the factory team would also have a potent driver lineup as well with J.J. Lehto and Steve Soper. Lehto had driven in Formula One and DTM and had been one of the drivers to take the McLaren to its overall victory at Le Mans in 1995. Soper was no slouch in his own right being one of the best in the British Touring Car series and having strong ties with McLaren and BMW.

Chassis 21R would be the first to be produced for use in the 1997 season and would be successful in its very first race. At Hockenheim, in April of 1997, Lehto would leave everybody behind setting the fastest lap of the race and leading a McLaren one-two-three finish. Lehto and Soper would combine to finish 3rd in the British Empire Trophy race at Silverstone a month later. Lehto would then earn yet another victory when he secured the pole and top spot on the podium in the Helsinki 3 Hour race. This performance by Lehto would be truly astounding as he would enjoy no less than three laps of an advantage over the 2nd place finisher. Chassis 21R would take part in its last race of 1997 at the Nurburgring 4 Hours. Lehto and Soper would finish 3rd in that event giving the car a record of two victories and two 3rd place finishes in its first four races.

Chassis 21R would be replaced by 26R and would end up living life as a show car. However, when 26R was badly damaged at Sebring, 21R would be flow from Tokyo, where it was part of the Tokyo Motor Show, and would be prepared for the last race of the season, the Laguna Seca 3 Hours.

Soper and Ravaglia would drive 21R at Laguna Seca. Unfortunately, troubles would prohibit the car from finishing the race. It would be the only race in which 21R would fail to finish in 1997. More unfortunate would be the fact McLaren would finish 2nd in the championship to Bernd Schneider and AMG Mercedes.

Over the course of three seasons of competition, 21R would be the most successful of all the McLaren F1 GTRs.

Following its end in competition, 21R would be acquired by Gabriele Rafanelli and would spend some time in the ACO Le Mans Museum until returning to Rafanelli. Then, in early 2002, the car would be sold to an American who already had an impressive array of GT and prototypes. That same year, the GTR Longtail would undergo a full restoration. The car would be sent back to the McLaren factory for this. A good deal of work would be done including a rebuilding of the suspension and gearbox, as well as, the replacement of certain components like the fuel cell and steering. The final touches to the work would include being repainted in its original FINA livery from 1997.

After spending a period of time in the United States, a German, Christian Glasel, would purchase the car. Glasel would later sell the McLaren to its present owner, one who owns a couple of McLaren cars. And now, nearly two decades after its posted the best record for a GTR, 21R would become available again, enabling its future owner to remember, with the great presence, all of its success on the track.

Chassis 21R, the 1997 McLaren F1 GTR Longtail would be offered for sale at the 2014 Gooding & Company Scottsdale auction. Given its great success on the track and its McLaren lineage it would be of little wonder why pre-auction estimates would range from $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. When the gavel fell, 21R would earn a sale price of $5,280,000.

'1994 McLaren F1 News, Pictures, Specifications and Information', (http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z648/McLaren-F1.aspx). Conceptcarz.com: From Concept to Production. http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z648/McLaren-F1.aspx. Retrieved 20 January 2014.

'1995 McLaren F1 GTR News, Pictures, Specifications and Information', (http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z651/McLaren-F1-GTR.aspx). Conceptcarz.com: From Concept to Production. http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z651/McLaren-F1-GTR.aspx. Retrieved 20 January 2014.

'Complete Archive of McLaren F1 GTR', (http://www.racingsportscars.com/type/archive/McLaren/F1%20GTR.html). Racing Sports Cars. http://www.racingsportscars.com/type/archive/McLaren/F1%20GTR.html. Retrieved 20 January 2014.

'Lot No. 137: 1997 McLaren F1 GTR Longtail', (http://www.goodingco.com/vehicle/1997-mclaren-f1-gtr-longtail/#tab2). Gooding & Company. http://www.goodingco.com/vehicle/1997-mclaren-f1-gtr-longtail/#tab2. Retrieved 20 January 2014.

By Jeremy McMullen
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