Inside the McLaren P1: part one

3 May, 2013 | by Sam Philip

Fancy a 673kW McLaren P1in your life? Better get a wriggle on. McLaren has confirmed that some 250 cars from the P1′s production run of 375 are already spoken for, with 500 ‘hot prospects’ lined up from the remaining 125 or so.

But if you’ve got pointy elbows and a spare *R12m lying around, should you want a P1? TopGear has spent a day poking around the wildest British hypercar in history, and here’s the first half of what we discovered. Check back soon for even more incredible tech detail…

HANDLING

McLaren is pitching the P1 as a ‘transformer’, a dynamic road car that can transform into a track monster at the press of a button. It promises the P1 will not only be without compromise either on road or track – a ‘Jeckyll and Hyde’ car, as they put it – but also as rewarding for us normal drivers as pro racers. “It will be neutral to the novice and exhilarating to the expert,” promises programme director Paul MacKenzie.

The active suspension is a major factor in achieving that schizophrenic character – giving the P1 350 per cent more roll stiffness in ‘race’ mode against ‘road’ mode – as is its bafflingly complex aero package, which sidesteps the traditional trade-off between low drag and high downforce with a host of active tech.

AERO

The aero is so central to the P1 philosophy, MacKenzie says, that it formed the very basis of the car’s design. “The performance criteria for the P1 was so extreme that the aerodynamicists and the technicians had to sit with the designers,” he tells us.

So in addition to that giant, self-adjusting rear wing, there’s active aero at the front, along with adjustable ride height: engage ‘race mode’ with the car static, and the P1 drops 50mm.

To give you some idea of the insane downforce generated by the P1, early development mules had the rear wing from a McLaren F1 GTR Le Mans car strapped to the back to replicate the projected aero demands on the tyres. At 160mph in race mode, all those wings, vents and diffusers generate a whopping 600kg of downforce. But in road mode, it makes less drag than a 12C.

ENGINE

Though based on the architecture of the twin-turbo V8 from the 12C, the P1′s engine is unrecognisable. McLaren describes it as 90 per cent new, with a wholly revised crank train, fuelling, heads and block.

And, of course, it’s mated to that F1-derived KERS module. It’s no watered-down version of the boost system on Jenson’s racer: quite the opposite. Current F1 KERS systems generate 81bhp of boost for a maximim of seven seconds. The P1′s system generates 161bhp and is available constantly. That’s hot hatch performance from electric power alone.

BRAKES

McLaren is particularly proud of the response of the P1′s carbon ceramic brakes, technology that’s traditionally delivered massive stopping power but a decided deadness in normal driving conditions. “They have great feel at low- to medium-speed,” MacKenzie promised us, “but are mega at VMAX too.”

ELECTRIC

In hybrid mode, the EV motor’s ‘brain’ monitors conditions 200 times a second to ensure the P1 strikes the perfect balance of deployment and recharging. But it can also run on electric power alone for up to six miles.

The P1 can cruise at 100mph in pure electric mode, and will recharge itself quickly enough to allow those lucky owners out for a Sunday drive in the country to pootle through villages in silent EV mode before reengaging the twin-turbo V8 back on the open road. Neat trick.

PRODUCTION

McLaren is building a new production line at its Woking facility to manufacture the P1, a move that’ll create 80 new jobs. Once the line is up and running, McLaren says it’ll build one P1 every day in an ‘F1 style’ process, with the first cars arriving at the end of August.

When its entry-level, 911 Turbo-rivalling ‘P13′ sports car lands in 2015, McLaren will making 4500 cars annually out of Woking. And those cars will head all over the world: McLaren will open its 50th global dealership this year, but expects that number to double by 2015.

So the future’s looking bright (and orange) for the boys from Woking. But for now, what do you reckon, TopGear? Has the P1 done enough to nudge ahead of the Ferrari LaFerrari LaFerrari in your fantasy garage?

*Estimate price

     

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