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Paris show: McLaren P1 to be road-going LeMans racer

He ain’t heavy: McLaren’s P1 promises to be lightweight with a ballistic powertrain, backed by sophisticated aerodynamics providing up to 600kg of downforce for ultimate grip and stability.

Veyron-beating power-to-weight, top aerodynamics for epic McLaren P1


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28 Sep 2012

MCLAREN Automotive claims its flagship P1 hypercar – unveiled as a “design study” at this week’s Paris motor show – will have a power-to-weight ratio of 441kW per tonne.

For comparison, the P1 trounces the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport’s 413kW/tonne and McLaren’s own 12C produces around 340kW/tonne – although all pale in comparison with the Swedish biofuel-powered Koenigsegg Agera R, with its astonishing 580kW/tonne.

But the powertrain that will help the P1 achieve such potent performance is set to remain a mystery until an announcement scheduled for early next year, shortly before order books open ahead of first deliveries in late 2013 – coinciding with McLaren’s 50th anniversary.

The production P1, which will be officially outed next year, is also claimed to produce 600kg of downforce “well below maximum speed”, which McLaren says is far higher than any current road car and close to race cars like company’s own 12C GT3.

It all promises to deliver on McLaren’s goal of making the P1 “the best driver’s car in the world on road and track”, that will be more about setting record lap times than breaking records for terminal velocity.

An active rear wing and flaps mounted ahead of the front wheels automatically adjust to optimise the P1’s aerodynamics, reducing drag for straight-line speed or increasing downforce depending on situation, to enhance for grip, stability and driver confidence.

For example, the wing – which doubles as an air brake – can extend rearwards up to 300mm on a race track or 120mm on the road and its pitch can be adjusted by up to 29 degrees, while the front wheel flaps have a 60-degree operating range.

McLaren Automotive head of vehicle technology and former McLaren Racing head of aerodynamics, Simon Lacey, claimed the P1 has similar levels of performance to a Le Mans sports race car, equating to “a level of racetrack performance never before seen in a series production road car”.

“The astonishing downforce actually makes driving easier as well as faster”, he said. “As you go faster, you actually feel more in control.” Considering the amount of downforce produced, the P12’s claimed drag coefficient of 0.34 is low, while the slippery shape is helped by having a smaller frontal area than the 12C – and indeed any series production supercar.

A development of the 12C’s carbon-fibre MonoCell tub chassis, the P1’s MonoCage goes further by incorporating the car’s roof and supporting safety structure, including the integration of an engine air intake duct with the roof, into a single seamless lightweight module.

This helped McLaren minimise the number of body panels for the P1, which also has single clamshell-like mouldings for the front and rear, directly attached to the MonoCage.

The only other panels are the bonnet, doors and two small access flaps in the rear – eliminating panel gaps, creating a cleaner appearance and reducing weight – but McLaren is not ready to reveal how far the P1 tips the scales.

Moulded into the huge, strong – yet thin and lightweight – carbon panels are air scoops, cooling ducts and aerodynamic features.

McLaren Automotive chief design engineer Dan Parry-Williams said the function-led form of the P1 means “everything is there for a reason ... every duct, every surface, does a job, either in aero or in cooling”.

He explained that the process of reducing the component count by integrating two or more functions into a single form “is more weight efficient, but it does require more complex structures, with fewer parts but more design time”.

A windscreen that is deeper than it is wide contributes to a glasshouse reminiscent of a fighter jet’s canopy and improves visibility for the driver while ensuring a bright, airy cabin atmosphere, helped by the glass roof panels and large rear window.

McLaren Automotive programme director Paul Mackenzie hinted that the P1 will maintain, or even expand on the 12C’s everyday usability, saying the company “wanted a car that would feel like a proper racing car (on track) and then could be driven home in great comfort and refinement”.

LED headlights shaped to mimic the McLaren logo are deliberately small to free up more frontal area for cooling purposes, while the thin strips of LED that create the tail-lights enable more heat to exit the engine bay through large vents.

McLaren Automotive design director Frank Stephenson, who wanted a “genuinely beautiful and dramatically honest” supercar design for the P1, described the car’s features as “beautiful, organic forms framing and enhancing the technical features”.

“I wanted it to look like a Le Mans racer with that low body, long rear deck and open mesh rear styling to put the mechanicals on view and to help cooling,” said Mr Stephenson.

“Plus there is the most aggressive rear diffuser ever seen on a road car. Like everything on the McLaren P1, it’s there for a good reason.” The P1’s cab-forward design with relatively flat rear deck and roof-mounted air scoop reference McLaren’s inaugural road car, the F1 that held the title of world’s fastest road car from its 1992 launch until the Bugatti Veyron appeared in 2005.

Even the P1 name links back to the F1, which was codenamed Project 1 during development, and the P1’s gold leaf exhaust heat shields are also common with the F1, which had a gold-lined engine compartment as it is the best thermal reflector.

British journal Autocar says sources indicate the P1 will employ a 716kW powertrain aided by a Formula 1-style kinetic energy recovery system (KERS), will cost £800,000 ($A1.25 million) and have a production run limited to 500 units.

Reports also suggests the P1 will have a modified version of the 12C’s V8 rather than a V12 engine and have a similar footprint to the 12C.

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