At the Hampton Court Concours d'Elégance held from 31 August to 2 September, McLaren presented a stunning restoration of one of the McLaren F1 GTRs fielded at the 24 Hours of Le Mans during the second half of the 1990s.
This is the #25 chassis called the 25R, driven at Le Mans in 1997 by Ray Bellm, Andrew Gilbert-Scott and Masanori Sekiya. Sekiya, along with Yannick Dalmas and J.J. Lehto in 1995, became the first Japanese driver to win the 24 Hours. The surprise victory clinched by the F1 GTR for its debut appearance at Le Mans compelled McLaren to develop a new version of the car: the 25R chassis was given several modifications, including optimized aerodynamics particularly at the rear of the car.
This #39 McLaren was decorated in the legendary sky blue and orange livery of Gulf Oil (the 50th anniversary of whose first win at the 24 Hours was celebrated just this year). Having qualified on the starting grid in 22nd position, the car was forced to retire after catching on fire.
The restoration of the chassis was conducted by McLaren Special Operations (MSO), which now offers a certification program and a certificate of authenticity detailing the entire history - road and sporting - of each of the 106 McLaren F1s produced between 1993 and 1998. Twenty-eight of them have been seen in competition, namely at the 24 Hours between 1995 and 1998. In addition to the Dalmas-Lehto-Sekiya win in 1995, the McLaren F1 GTR claimed three Le Mans podiums (third in 1995, second and third in 1997) and five other top 5s (fourth and fifth in 1995 and 1996, fourth in 1998).
The McLaren F1 winner at the 24 Hours in 1995 also hit the track at the end of August in the U.S. for the Monterey Motorsports Reunion at the Laguna Seca circuit in California. The car was driven by Mika Häkkinen, two-time Formula 1 world champion with McLaren in 1998 and 1999. It debuted over the weekend of the 1992 Grand Prix of Monaco in the wake of McLaren's eight F1 world titles between 1988 and 1991 with Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. Powered by a 6-liter V12 BMW engine specially designed for the car, this McLaren F1 also boasts the unique design feature of three front seats, with the driver's position in the forward center.
PHOTO: This view, with the back cover removed, of the F1 GTR restored by McLaren Special Operations (MSO) affords a look at its BMW engine which also won the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans in the V12 LMR prototype shared by Yannick Dalmas, Pierluigi Martini and Joachim Winkelhock.