When it came to surviving legends, the Sonoma Speed Festival meant business.
Cars like the Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrow, numerous Ferrari 250 GTOs, and even the John Player Special F1 car made their appearances and took the breaths of thousands of spectators away as they lapped Sonoma Raceway throughout the weekend. But amongst these heavy-hitters were two poster cars from the ’90s – a McLaren F1 GTR Long Tail, and a Ferrari F40 LM.
When McLaren first developed the F1, Gordon Murray had no intent of turning it into a race car. Although the F1 was primarily derived from top-tier racing technology, the goal had always been to create the ultimate road car – which they obviously succeeded in. To this day, enthusiasts of the F1 vouch that the car has yet to be topped, despite the astronomical spike in automotive innovations since the model’s birth.
But when the BPR Global GT Series first debuted in 1994 (later renamed the FIA GT Championship), numerous teams believed that the F1 could play as a fierce competitor in the top GT1 class, going against rivals like the Ferrari F40 LM, Porsche 911 GT1, and Venturi 600LM. While Murray was against this initially, a few of the teams collectively managed to persuade McLaren to finally produce the race cars, which resulted in 10 GTR Long Tails.
Chassis 27R is the one specific to this post, and was initially sold to the British Parabolica racing team. It was first raced in the British GT Championship and later entered into Le Mans by Team Lark. Furthermore, it was raced in most of the remaining FIA GT races alongside selected British GT rounds.
The F1 GTR LT displays an unprecedented track record amongst its peers, winning numerous races from various teams under nine different chassis. It was also the first car ever to win Le Mans in its first attempt.
Bear in mind, this was a road car converted to a race car, and competing against full-blown and purpose-built prototype racers.
When the car was retired, its new privateer owner decided to paint the car orange, which it continued to sport for the next 10 years under his ownership. Luckily though, when the McLaren underwent restoration again, it was returned to its original Parabolic Motorsports blue and yellow racing livery. It made its first debut to the public after years in restoration at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2011, and is now showcased at select events around the world.
The Most Successful F40 Ever
The Shell-livery-wearing F40 is perhaps the most iconic and successful F40 to exist. You can probably find an entire encyclopedia on this specific car – chassis 80742 – if you really wanted to dig deep into its historical significance, and that’s notably due to its incredible racing pedigree throughout the 1990s.
This is one of the very early F40s, which in essence meant it was considered one of the more ‘lightweight’ F40 road cars. After passing hands through an owner or two, it was eventually converted to CSAI-GT spec by Giuliano Michelloto, in readiness for the upcoming Italian GT Championship in 1993. Michelloto had earned his trust with Ferrari after successfully modifying and tuning iconic championship winners, like the Lancia Stratos and the Ferrari 308. He ultimately built seven CSAI-GT F40s for privateer racing teams, 80742 being one of them.
Throughout the rest of the ’90s, this F40 GT underwent constant revision and upgrades. It was raced in numerous different specifications to meet requirements in an assortment of different classes, primarily in various GT series championships, whilst frequently taking home wins or podium finishes at the bare minimum.
Finally, in late 1994, the Japanese Super GT championship received entries from three-time championship-winning team, Team Taisan. Team Taisan was known for racing numerous legendary cars, including two F40s in ‘LM’ spec, one of which was chassis 80472. Ultimately, Team Taisan won first place in the the series, but the trophy was thanks to their other F40, as 80742 finished in eighth.
Ironically enough, both of these cars competed in the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans race, and both resulted in iconic finishes for their manufacturers, though for different reasons.
For McLaren, the P1 finish in the LMGT1 class meant that Murray and his team developed the ultimate race car, despite having the handicap of the GTR being based on a road-going car. Ferrari on the other hand, for the first time in many years actually managed to finish the full 24-hour race. And even if they only finished in P8, the completion of the race was promising for the upcoming monster that followed the F40 – the F50.
I must admit, seeing these two up close and personal for the first time was quite extraordinary. These were cars that I’d grown up watching on the television, driving in video games and, most recently, reminiscing over on the web. I’m happy to say that they lived up to my expectations.