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1 avril 2011 5 01 /04 /avril /2011 22:30

McLaren’s extreme testing programme subjected the MP4-12C to altitudes of up to 12,000ft and ambient temperatures from scorching to well below freezing.
Arfeplog, Sweden: January 2009
The MP4-12C had its first major climatic test when McLaren engineers took one of the early ‘XP’ experimental prototypes to the Artic Circle in the depths of winter 2009.
“Between testing the warm-up behaviour of the car, signing off its Pirelli winter tyres and tuning its ESP for winter driving, we did a lot of basic verification to make sure door seals, window seals and door handles didn’t crack”, explains development team leader Andy Beal. “Most of our running was done in temperatures minus 10 and minus 20 degrees, the later being the coldest we expect to get optimal performance from the car. But we did limited work as cold as minus 32 degrees. At those temperatures, tyres literally freeze to the spot if you leave the car standing too long.
“We were keen to find out whether snow ingress into the engine cooling ducts would be a problem. Unfortunately, that meant spending hours drifting it around on frozen lakes. But we were big enough to take one for the team on that.”

59092mclar 3Sakhir, Bahrain: August 2009
At the height of summer 2009, McLaren’s development schedule took Beal’s team to the Sakhir circuit, home of the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Their work here was dedicated to hot weather testing. A week on the circuit enabled them to test the performance of the MP4-12C’s air conditioning system running at high speed in temperatures above 50deg C, as well as to optimise the cooling of the MP4-12C’s engine, specifically its turbos.
“When the track temperature is above 60deg C, you can’t do meaningful handling tests at Bahrain; the tyres immediately overheat,” says Beal. “We focused on fast laps to test engine and brake cooling. We also developed a simulated hill climb test which involved towing a weight behind the car in a low gear, with maximum engine load and little airflow into the radiators.
“This was our last ‘big tear-up’ of the car mechanically,” Beal concludes. “We came out of Bahrain with revised charge cooling, fan placement and thermal insulation, as well as with HVAC [ventilation] improvements and better cabin sealing.”
Yucca, Arizona: August 2010
By summer 2010 the MP4-12C was at verification stage and engineers took VP11 to an airbase-turnedproving-ground just off America’s Route 66, near Yucca, Arizona, for hot weather sign-off.
The development team spent two and a half weeks repeating hot weather tests they’d first performed in Bahrain, testing the effectiveness of the MP4-12C’s climate control system at ambient temperatures up to 46deg C. “A lot of our verification test cycles are designed to mimic typical use,” explains Beal. “So we ran slow, stop-start cycles to simulate town driving, repeated full-bore launches to simulate ‘traffic light grands prix’; high-speed autobahn patterns too.”
Being in the western USA also gave the team the chance to test the MP4-12C at altitude – specifically up at 9500ft, driving to Flagstaff, Arizona. “At altitude, the air’s thinner and cooling systems become less effective,” says Beal. “It was important to find out that we weren’t overspeeding the MP4-12C’s turbos; we did some performance driving on dirt roads to establish that.”
Weeks earlier in Spain, near Granada, McLaren’s development trail had taken the MP4-12C up to 12,000 without issue.

USTEST 18Article published in Autocar special edition dedicated to the MP4-12C

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30 mars 2011 3 30 /03 /mars /2011 23:30

Je viens juste de publier la brochure dans la catégorie Communiqués / Press releases sur la droite. Official brochure is available on the right side, under the category Communiqués / Press releases.

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28 mars 2011 1 28 /03 /mars /2011 23:00


Ever wondered how to tell an MP4-12C prototype to the real thing? Matt Saunders finds out while learning more about how the car is engineered.

Right now, there can’t be many more exciting places to work anywhere in the global motor industry than Chertsey Road, Woking. That’s because McLaren Automotive is about to produce. The paint is now dry on the company’s new £40 million McLaren Production Centre, from where, in a matter of weeks, the MP4-12C supercar will begin to roll out to expectant customers. And so, after four years of intensive design and engineering and close to £750m of investment, the world is about to discover exactly how good one of the most anticipated sports cars in history really is.

But what if the genesis of this incredible car stopped now, before even ‘job one’ – the very first customer order – appeared complete at the factory shutters? What would Ron Dennis have to show for all that invested money and effort? The answer, aside from so many hard drives’ worth of digital ‘intellectual property’ and a very large, very quiet factory, is a warehouse full of prototypes.

It’s by the design, specification, assembly, testing and subsequent disassembly of prototypes like these that all new cars find their way to the road. These are the cars that bridge the gap between the designers’ vision and the finished product. There are prototypes conceived to test the effectiveness of primary structural systems, to carry out engine and gearbox proving, for dynamic and aerodynamic development, for crash testing and active safety set-up, for the configuration of onboard electronics, for hot and cold-weather proving, for the verification of final production design and more.

You’d be amazed at how many ‘mule’ versions of the MP4-12C McLaren needed to build before it could even contemplate building the very first customer car. You’d be even more amazed, believe me, at what they cost, and at the provenance of some of the parts that lurk beneath the surface.

Standing in one of the McLaren Technology Centre’s impossibly clean workshops, we’re currently looking at four of those prototypes. The nearest one to us is painted, trimmed, flawlessly finished – indistinguishable from a production-line 12C, really. The farthest, by contrast, is outwardly indistinguishable from an Ultima GTR kit car. And we’re about to find out exactly how McLaren progressed from one to the other.

Masters of disguise

“We’ve built 66 mule cars to date out of the workshops at the MTC,” explains McLaren programme director Mark Vinnels. “We’ve got eight more to go, followed by a further 16 ‘marketing cars’ – and that’s all before job one starts at the factory. The very earliest were little more than a running chassis, while the latest are built using production-ready parts and tooling; those ones don’t cost an awful lot more than production-line cars.”

McLaren called its very earliest prototype MP4-12Cs, built at the beginning of 2008, ‘MVs’, short for ‘mule vehicles’. There were three of them: two for very early powertrain work, the other for the earliest proving of McLaren’s Proactive interlinked hydraulic roll-control suspension.

“Our suspension car was photographed a few times,” explains Mark, pointing to the black Ultima-based chassis at the far end of the room. “We needed a car of roughly the right size and weight to experiment with this active suspension set-up, and the Ultima was perfect.” Must have delivered a frisson of amusement, too, throwing journalists and spy photographers so far off the scent with a mule car as left-field as Ultima.

After the MVs came the CPs, or concept prototypes, represented in our photos by the black and white car. These were the first MP4-12Cs that were vaguely representative of the final car in terms of underbody and outward structure. They hit the road fully two years ago, before the final production design of the car has been made public, wearing heavy disguise.

“We had several early carbon Monocells pressed for the CPs,” says Vinnels, “and we mainly used the cars to explore our structural options. We’d already committed to a carbonfibre tub and knew we wanted to make it as light as possible, but not by compromising stiffness. And so our CPs had tubs varying from 80-something kilos at their heaviest, down to 69 at their lightest.” They were expensive, too, costing McLaren up to half a million pound each.

A closer look at the zebra-striped concept prototype shows some intriguing details. From a distance it’s clearly a 12C, thanks largely to the distinctive air intakes on each side, but the closer you get, the more differences you see. The CP has got swollen front and rear bumper, Perspex windows and door handles that could have been lifted from an ironmonger’s bottom drawer. It’s something of a lashed-up masterpiece, but it evidently served its purpose.

Come 2009, after the CPs, came the first breed of almost undisguised prototypes: the XPs, or experimental prototypes. Vinnels says these were “mules with the right body on”, like the all-black 59-plate mule in our photos; they were ‘real’ cars built with prototype tools on the old SLR line at the MTC. It was in one of these that McLaren hotshoes Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button got their first taste of the MP4-12C.

The XPs were also the first 12C prototypes to hit the development trail in earnest, running engine, chassis and electronics calibration tests all over Europe and doing hot and cold-weather tests. McLaren’s proving programme took in the IDIADA proving ground in Catalunya, as well as Nardo in Italy, the Paul Ricard circuit in France and the Nürburgring in Germany. It included a 10,000km flat-out handling test at Nardo conceived to push the MP4-12C’s chassis to the limit of its capabilities and durability, and was driven in shifts. It also included an intriguing 5000km powertrain test at IDIADA that Vinnels calls the ‘IDIschleife’. “We data-logged all the throttle positions, braking positions and gearchange points from a flat-out lap of the Nordschleife,” he says, “and then repeated them on the high-speed bowl at IDIADA, over longer than we could have at the ‘Ring. It was a great stress test for the

engine and gearbox.”

It was with the XPs that McLaren’s crash testing programme for the MP4-12C also began. “We had to be sure that the basic underbody structure of the car was strong. Structural parts like the Monocell, the car’s primary crash structures and the body-in-white around the bulheads – they’re all long-lead items. It takes a long time to change their design, and doing that can have all sorts of knock-on effects on the design of other components, so if you do need to redesign anything major, you need to know early on.”

“Altogether, we threw 12 cars at the wall,” Vinnels goes on. “We’ve done well over a hundred barrier tests and more than 250 sled tests with all kinds of offset barriers and poles, and at various speeds. And we’re very happy with the car’s crash performance. The basic passenger Monocell is sufficiently strong that we could recover several of the tubs used in one test, fit new crash members and re-use them.”

Uncompromising approach

Standing in front of the final prototype in the workshop, Vinnels explains the raison d’être of a validation prototype, or VP. “These cars are built using production tooling; they allow us to start assessing and fine-tuning material quality and fit and finish on the car, as well as to continue tuning electronics, driving characteristics and NVH.

“We’ve built 22 VPs to date, having started in January 2010,” Vinnels says, speaking back in December, “and by the time we get to number 30 we’ll have arrived at a car we’re pretty much ready to sign off.”

There is one further prototype stage, he explains, during which McLaren will make a number of production prototypes, or PPs. They’ll come off the factory line just like any customer car, allowing the team to validate their quality and performance one last time. If the MPC production cycle isn’t quite right – if designed-in, systemic problems are adversely affecting build quality – these cars will allow McLaren to remedy the situation without disappointing customers.

So is there any part of that development process that McLaren could have skipped or trimmed, you wonder, without adversely affecting the finished car? Four years seems like an unusually long gestation, after all.

Not according to Vinnels, who joined McLaren in 2005 and therefore oversaw the whole thing. “The fact that we were starting from scratch with the 12C, without any proven componentry we could carry over from a previous model at all, added a year to the process,” he says.

“We’ve also been pretty uncompromising in our approach, and that’s added time in. We couldn’t find a ventilation system for the car that was compact enough, and yet good enough to meet our requirements, for example. So, for the sake of 50mm of overall width, we developed our own. We’ve been continually focused on weight, too; the original specification was for 20kg of sound-deadening NVH insulation in the car but, after some experimenting, we’ve ended up with just 7kg.” You get the distinct impression that engineers with Vinnels’ experience (he has stints at British Aerospace, Lotus and GM on his CV) aren’t in the habit of wasting time and money without gain.

“When I step back and look at the car we’ve created, I’m proud of the work – even more proud of the team that did it, though,” he says. “Ultimately, there’s only 300 of us; Ford would have 3000 people working on a project like this. When you guys finally get to drive this car, I’m hoping you’ll agree that we’ve done a good job.”

Article published in Autocar special edition dedicated to the MP4-12C


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27 mars 2011 7 27 /03 /mars /2011 23:30

Formula 1 engineers obsess over light weight, but carbonfibre isn’t the only weight-saving trick under the MP4-12C’s skin, as Steve Cropley discovers.


On one of the new McLaren supercar’s lightest on most important components, a cross-car beam cast in magnesium alloy that supports the dashboard and steering column, there’s a small McLaren emblem, spark-engraved into the metal.

When a car is fully built, its owner will never see it, but chief engineer Neil Patterson points it out on a half-cut chassis. “See that?” he says. “It saves 2.4 grams. That might not sound a lot, but it’s an important symbol. It reminds us every day how important it is to save weight in this car.”

Patterson claims the whole car has been built using what engineers call the Five Per Cent Rule. “You sign a part off,” he says, “and then you find another five per cent weight saving. In a whole car, it really adds up.

Such passion and attention in details is evident in every part of McLaren’s new MP4-12C. You get the flavour of it from any of the 300 people who have worked for four years to bring it to life – but none more so than Anthony Sheriff, McLaren Automotive’s managing director.

No one knows better than Sheriff that there is already an impressive selection of £160,000 mid-engined sports cars on the market. An inveterate sports car buyer and former senior executive with the group that controls Ferrari, Sheriff knows McLaren faces a tough battle to create market space for space for its forthcoming range of up to four mid-engined models, the first of which is the 12C. /…/

“Being as good as the others isn’t the answer,” says Sheriff. “We’ve designed everything to be the best. There are no carry-over components in the MP4-12C. They just wouldn’t be good enough.”

Such determination is admirable, but one question still burns: how do you go about beating Porsche and Ferrari at their own game? Sheriff says it starts with a refusal to accept compromise. “I call the 12C our ‘and’ car,’ he says. “Compared with its rivals it is stronger and lighter. It’s small outside and spacious inside. It has better handling and is more comfortable. One advantage doesn’t affect another. Above all, the 12C has more performance and better fuel efficiency; with nearly 600 horsepower on tap it’s the most powerful car in its class, yet its CO2 output of just 279g/km means every horsepower is produced more efficiently than virtually any car on sale – petrol, diesel or hybrid.”


Structural layout

Width is a key difference between the MP4-12C and its rivals, according to managing director Antony Sheriff. Both the 12C’s body and its front and rear tracks are 25mm narrower than those of the Ferrari 458 Italia, reflecting Sheriff’s belief that controlling overall width makes a supercar more capable on the road.

The 12C is remarkably close in most major other dimensions to the 458, whose engineering brings together knowledge Ferrari has amassed in building mid-engined V8s in the 40-odd years since the Dino. But the McLaren has advantages in power (5.2 per cent) and torque (11.1 per cent). And its 20mm longer wheelbase (for 18mm less overall length) reflects the unusual roominess of its cabin, accessible through what McLaren calls dihedral doors.

McLaren’s official dry weight of 1338k appears to make it 50-100kg lighter overall than the Ferrari, an advantage due mainly to the weight-saving benefits of its central carbonfibre tub. /…/


Chassis, suspension

Carbon also delivers important packaging advantages. McLaren engineers were determined that the 12C should have an uncompromised driving position and class-beating visibility.

“In aluminium chassis-frame cars, the need for a bulky structure behind the wheel arches is likely to push the pedal box inwards,” says chief engineer Neil Patterson, “while a bulky heating/ventilation system, usually from another production car, pushes the seats and steering column outwards. The result is a severely compromised driving position. The 12C’s compact carbon wheel arch structure and its specially built ventilation system allow the pedal box, steering wheel and seat to be perfectly aligned.”

Suspension is by double wishbones and coil springs front and rear, which sounds conventional. But the McLaren is unique in using an electronically controlled, interactive damping system – McLaren calls it Proactive – which provides the strong anti-roll, anti-dive and anti-squat qualities a 200mph supercar needs, while permitting supple bump absorption when appropriate. /…/

The dampers are hydraulically interconnected front to rear, and also from side to side. Through a system of sensors the car detects squat, dive, roll or warp (a kind of diagonal corkscrewing motion) as they happen and instantly configures the car to cope. Pressure (generated by the power steering pump when the car is travelling in a straight line and therefore doesn’t need steering assistance) is retained in Citroën-style high-pressure gas spheres and then fed to the appropriate corner(s) to tame any undesirable movements. Engineers say the car is extremely stable but its ride comfort is “out of this world.”

Engine, transmission

Powertrain chief Richard Farquhar says the idea of giving the new McLaren a comparatively small and light twin-turbocharged V8 is as fundamental to its make-up as the carbonfibre tub. In the earliest days a large, normally aspirated AMG-derived engine was briefly considered, but when Mercedes and McLaren decided to go their own ways – after which today’s MP4-12C concept was framed – it became obvious that a lighter, more compact turbocharged engine made a more modern and efficient solution. A bespoke 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 was designed at McLaren, and a deal struck with Ricardo, the British-based technology company, to develop and build it for production.


“Once we had laid out the car’s major dimensions, we knew no production-based engine would have worked in the space available,” says Farquhar. “The choice of a V8 was easy; it came from our race heritage. A V10 would have been longer. The 3.8-litre capacity gave a big enough bore size for good low-end torque, but was small enough to be compact and efficient.”

Installed in the car, the engine looks tiny, and very low because of its dry-sump lubrication system and flat-crank configuration. It is a four-valve-per-cylinder design with two chain-driven overhead camshafts per bank. The whole thing weighs just 150kg and it uses a compact mounting system that allows it to sit close to the bulkhead (“We save 30mm of wheelbase that way,” says Farquhar).

The ancillaries are driven by shafts running low along the sides of the engine, and the V8’s valley is well utilised, too; the oil/water heat exchanger is in there, plus an oil filter and a vacuum reservoir. The V8 is fuelled by port injection; Farquar says direct injection simply isn’t needed for the engine to achieve its objectives: 600ps (592bhp at 7000rpm) and 600Nm of torque (443lb ft between 3000 and 6500rpm). He agrees, however, that direct injection “provides us with a future opportunity”. In all, there are 34 ECUs on board.  


The exhaust system, usually heavy and bulky in normally aspirated supercars, is remarkably compact. It consists of a small ‘log’ manifold on each side in cast stainless steel, connecting to a small, close-coupled catalyst, with another catalyst a little further along. The two main pipes connect in a ‘mixing box’, just inside the rear body, and feed two high-mounted outlets. An even lighter sports version is available, made from a nickel chromium-based alloy used in Formula 1 systems. Occupants hear the engine via a tuned sound generator in the inlet system that directs and varies sound into the cabin according to the chosen engine/transmission mode. The car can be muted while cruising, but highly vocal when used in anger.

The gearbox is a seven-speed twin-clutch unit with Graziano internals and a McLaren casing. It is specially designed to take advantages of the engine’s position in the chassis and deliver an unusually low centre of gravity for the entire powertrain. The driver actuates gearshifts via a race-style paddle system, which rocks on a central fulcrum and allows one-handed gearchanging up or down, a carry-over from McLaren’s F1 cars.

Another F1 tweak is Brake Steer, which forms part of the 12C’s chassis stability system to tame understeer and control wheelspin. In the 12C this is actually more sophisticated than the original F1 system, which used a second brake pedal and was banned when rivals complained. McLaren says Brake Steer has the same effect as a torque-vectoring diff but saves around 20kg.

There are two other important driver aids. By putting a gentle initial pressure on a gearchange paddle, a driver can activate a ‘pre-cog’ function that pre-loads the clutch, ready for a quicker gearchange. There is also a handy restorative function: if the driver brakes hard and forgets to change down, he can pull and hold the left paddle to summon assistance. When he accelerates away, the car is in the right gear, and at the right revs. Naturally the 12C also has the Automatic, Winter and Launch Control modes one finds in rivals.


McLaren’s aero expert, Simon Lacey, says the MP4-12C’s major styling features matched its aerodynamic goals well from the project’s beginning. Even the car’s ‘waisted’ shape helps present the main engine intakes to undisturbed air. Lacey cites four main development areas: the front cooling ducts, the radiator side intakes, brake cooling, and the core task of increasing downforce and decreasing drag.

Detail work has included tuning airflow into and out of the wheel arches, and making sure all intakes are fed and all outlets exhaust. The car has “a nice flat bottom” and an effective diffuser, says Lacey, and can develop 100kg of downforce at 150mph, spread over the car in proportion to its static weight distribution (43 per cent front, 57 per cent rear).


Detailed aero development has brought important results. An afternoon spent with plasticine, reshaping the exterior mirror supports, brought a wind noise reduction “anyone would notice”. Another afternoon spent changing the shape of the windscreen wiper arm achieved the same thing. McLaren isn’t keen to divulge an overall drag factor for the 12C, but claims good results. “We reckoned the car to be draggier,” says Lacey, “but it’s spot on the original targets.”

The 12C’s headline aero feature is its air brake, a neat flap on the rear deck that deploys rapidly under heavy braking. Shaped like an upside down aeroplane wing, it rises to 57 degrees but is cleverly designed so that airflow acting on its base actually helps it erect itself, saving nearly 50 percent in the weight of the mechanism. The wing also helps to counteract the heavy nosedive that comes with rapid stops, keeping the car stable and allowing the rear wheels to accept more brake effort. “It’s a great system,” says Lacey – “a no-brainer in a car like this.”

Wheels, tyres

Programme director Mark Vinnels has a simple recipe for success: “There’s no substitute for miles behind the wheel.” Mindful of the ride deficiencies ultra-low-profile tyres often bring to cars like this, McLaren specifies 19-inch front wheels for the 12C, “to ensure the sidewall height is large enough for good impact isolation”. The car will wear specially made Pirelli P Zeros that use a softer compound than usual because the Proactive damper system exerts better control than conventionally suspended models. The rear wheels are 20-inchers, wearing mighty 305/35s.

Article published in Autocar special edition dedicated to the MP4-12C

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26 mars 2011 6 26 /03 /mars /2011 21:00


McLaren chief designer Frank Stephenson has a world-class CV, but nothing prepared him for the challenges of a clean-sheet supercar. He gives Hilton Holloway a guided tour.

Frank Stephenson is a famously prolific designer; he’s worked on projects as diverse and iconic as the BMW Mini, Fiat 500 and the Maserati MC12. And he’s about to explain the thinking behind the first in a future family of McLaren supercars, to be designed and built at McLaren’s Woking base.

But unlike his previous projects, this brand has virtually no backstory, which offers both an unusual freedom as well as the difficulty of starting from a clean sheet. Having said that, virtually the first question that occurs to the enthusiast when looking at the MP4-12C is why doesn’t it look more like – or at least make more visual references to – the legendary McLaren F1 from 20 years ago, if not the original 1960s McLaren M6GT?

“It does make reference to the original,” says Stephenson. “It has McLaren’s strength in engineering and materials in spades. But it has to compete in its market segment – in the £160k-£170k-plus price range. It’s not the ultimate supercar. Of course we could do a car like that; we’ve done it before. But if we’re going to build a car company, we need to be in the segment that generates the biggest sales.

“The last thing you want to do is be restricted. If you are styling a Ferrari or Lamborghini, there’s a DNA that you have to follow. Everything you do [as a designer] has to have the feeling of the company. What we’re doing at McLaren is a chance to start with a clean sheet of paper. We’re starting a whole new design language for McLaren. I’m not saying the F1 wasn’t a fantastic car, but we know there are ways of doing things better – aerodynamics and packaging – than we did in the 1990s.

“You have to establish something that really hits you as containing the design cues from the new-age McLaren. But this is only the first product. Everything we do after this has to build up from this car.

When Stephenson worked on the Maserati MC12, many aspects of the shape were determined by the Ferrari Enzo tub and mechanicals beneath. What, then, drove the styling of the MP4-12C?

“This is pretty much the shape that could be developed around the engineering package. The whole car started from the inside out. Many people claim that’s how they approach a new car, but it’s really how we did it.”

So why not just let the engineers put a skin on the package and really go for form driven by engineering function?

“That’s pretty much what we did,” says Stephenson. “We took as much body mass as we could out of the car. That’s the McLaren way to do it. You don’t want sensual surfaces like a Ferrari or origami shapes as on a Lamborghini. When you consciously style a car, it always ends up larger than it needs to be. Ferrari get a nice shaped hip [over the rear wheel], but in a strict engineering sense it doesn’t add anything to the car. It just adds weight and material, and there really is an obsession with cutting weight at McLaren.”

Such is the priority given by McLaren to aerodynamic performance, Stephenson explains, that his design team had to follow the lead of aerodynamic calculations; the aero work was done under the aegis of Simon Lacey, who has worked on several McLaren’s race cars.

“The MP4-12C was done the same way as the Maserati MC12, in and out of the wind tunnel and using computational fluid dynamics. We’d take a shape, put it in the tunnel and then change it. We use a 30 per cent scale model, which offers a minimal difference to using a full-size car. We’d take information straight from the wind tunnel to mill out new clay models.

“The priority is to get the air to stick to the surface of the car. So we can throw special paint onto the car in the tunnel and then can see where streaks [of paint] are detaching from the surface. From there we can tweak the section of bodywork in question.

“I believe that form really is equal to function and that if it looks right, it is right. I don’t want a car the looks tortured, something that’s trying to fight against logic, because it just won’t work [visually].”

With aerodynamics driving much of the design process, Stephenson’s team took great care to finesse the MP4’s aero-honed surfaces for maximum aesthetic appeal. “Once a surface has been optimised, we in the design team can then negotiate on the surface highlights, which also means going backwards and forwards to the wind tunnel,” he says. “We need a full-size clay model at this point. There’s no way that you can judge surface highlights on a screen. We need to see the highlights and feel surfaces. We need to look at it from a million viewpoints. Ultimately, of course, it has to look good.”


Air intakes

The majority of the car’s shape and detailing backs up this detailed account of its development – apart from the huge air intakes on each side. At first glance these look like pure styling. “A great deal of this car is about getting the air back to the air brake and into the side-mounted radiators,” he says. Most other manufacturers will angle the side radiators to get the maximum amount of air into them, but that’s counter to keeping the car as small as possible. We’ve mounted the radiators completely flat, parallel to the side of the car, so then you have the problem of getting the air into them.

“So when people look at this detail and say, ‘Why did you do such a funny panel for the air intake?’ it’s not styling, it’s pure engineering. This piece was designed on computer for maximum efficiency in turning the air inwards. If you moved the central blade outwards by a millimetre it would make a huge difference to the amount of air being channelled inwards. This is F1 technology.”

Stephenson gets down on his knees and feels the edges of the side air intake. He says he would, for example, have liked to thicken the leading edge of the MP4’s air intake, but even such tiny changes were overruled by aerodynamic considerations. And of course, once you’ve got the optimal amount of air into the 592bhp engine and its surrounding bay, you need to get it out again.

“The whole rear end is not exactly like a Swiss cheese, but there’s a lot of openings, such as the tailgate being lifted on the rear. Too many openings are not good for aerodynamics, but when you do get the heat from the engine building, you need heat evacuation areas, particularly at the back because there’s a lot of heat from the exhausts when the car is idling. The engineers gave me the amount of extraction area we needed in centimetres squared, but how that was divided up was down to us. We [the designers] had a pretty free hand.”

Although it is hard to tell when viewing the MP4-12C in isolation, the car is significantly smaller than its direct rivals.

“It was critical to get the cowl area as low as we possibly could,” says Stephenson, “so we designed the HVAC [heating and ventilation system] from scratch so that it is extremely low compared with the competition. The result is that when sitting in the car the highest point of the body from the driver’s point of view will be on the fender, right over the centre of the front wheel. It’s a reference point to give you a permanent sense of the position of the front wheels.”

Stephenson also points out the steeply sloping windscreen and the ‘cab-forward proportion’. “It’s an ideal position for driving a car like this; you feel pushed to the front.

“You might imagine the car will have a very small boot, but it’s probably got the best luggage space in the segment. The size of the space in the nose was a sacrosanct area during development.”

Although the MP4-12C’s chassis is a work of art in carbonfibre and aluminium, it is actually mostly skinned in Sheet Moulded Compound (SMC), a kind of high-end plastic.

“For pedestrian impact reasons, three sections – the bonnet, the fender and the roof – of the skin are made in easily deformed alloy. Elsewhere we’ve used SMC. It’s not cheap, but it is the right material. Using carbonfibre panels for the outside skin would have been lighter, but it probably wouldn’t be the best material for crash performance and it takes a lot of time and effort to paint it.”


Bespoke cockpit

Lift the 12C’s door (there’s no handle, just a touch-sensitive pad) and it reveals a sober, thoughtful cabin. The only unexpected design flourish is three protruding air vents.

“We wanted to make an interior that offered the least distraction possible,” says Stephenson. “So it’s i-Pod-ish in that you don’t see that many buttons and we’ve kept the buttons off the steering wheel. It’s as simple as we could make the interior.

“If you need it, it’s on the touch-sensitive screen. The way of adjusting the main functions – chassis and engine settings – is similar to the manettino dials used by Ferrari. The controls you only use when you’ve stopped – the hazards, reverse selection and handbrake – are in the centre console because you can take your eyes off the road to use them. We made the car as narrow as possible and even the GPS screen is in portrait mode to save space. But it means that the driver is much closer to the middle of the car, which is a great help for the weight distribution and therefore a benefit for the handling.

“Everything in the interior is bespoke and even the column stalks are drilled for lightness. It’s lightweight but solid feeling. The steering wheel rim is shaped off Lewis Hamilton’s gloved hand, but slimmed down by a couple of millimetres. The gear changing paddles are mounted on a single beam, so pulling one paddle inwards makes the other paddle move out.”

It wasn’t McLaren’s intention, Stephenson concludes, to make the 12C look ‘modern’. “We wanted to make this car look effective and purposeful, like a military aircraft. If you get it right, there’s no reason for the car to change through its life cycle. We followed a good, honest design direction. It’s a look that will be in today and gone tomorrow.

Article published in Autocar special edition dedicated to the MP4-12C

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24 mars 2011 4 24 /03 /mars /2011 20:00


Presiding over a successful F1 team was never quite enough for Ron Dennis. In fact, he’s wanted to start a car company for as long as he can remember, he tells Steve Cropley.

Ron Dennis has wanted to be the boss of a car company fir so long that he’s forgotten exactly when the idea first took shape in his mind. Certainly it was during his earliest motor racing days, when he was still a race mechanic for drivers that included Jochen Rindt and Jack Brabham, and well before he began the meteoric rise through racing’s hierarchy that has established him as Britain’s foremost motorsport team-builder.

“if I were writing my own epitaph,” he says, “I’d like to be remembered as a successful entrepreneur across a variety of disciplines, not just a racing man. Winning grands prix is extremely hard, but understanding the basic concept isn’t so difficult. But creating a successful, well rounded automotive group has many more challenges, and that’s what attracts me now.”

Dennis and McLaren have had two previous brushes with car manufacturing, both combining success and failure. The 1993 McLaren F1 (which we declared “the finest driving machine yet built for the public road”) remains an automotive icon but achieved only a third of the planned 300 units, and only reached financial success when adapted for racing and winning Le Mans in 1995.

The 2003 Mercedes-McLaren SLR(or Mercedes-Benz SLRMcLaren, to give the official title) was made by McLaren in Woking, launched at just under £300,000 and produced until 2009. Around 1200 were built, but even this fell below the 500 a year Mercedes wanted, and the car became a symbol of the differences between two proud partners. A mid-engined, Merc-powered proposal called P8 was briefly contemplated, but it was overtaken by the P11 concept, which has turned into the MP4-12C, powered by McLaren’s own components and the first product of the newly independent McLaren Automotive company.

Dennis, used to keeping secrets all his life, lets little slip about the scale and future products of the car business. What has emerged so far, through casual conversations and cracks in the walls, is that “up to four” models are planned, all mid-engined, all two-seaters, all using the ‘Monocell’ carbonfibre central tub (of which Dennis is inordinately proud) and including at least one open-top model. Loose-lipped suppliers have been led to believe first-year 12C sales should be about 1000 cars, but you won’t hear Dennis saying very much of this, although he does allow that McLaren Automotive sees the 12C as “the core segment” in the models it intends to offer.

“Two-plus-twos and four-doors are certainly not in our plan,” he says, “but we’d be stupid to have a mindset that says we’re not going to do them for all time. Porsche’s move into SUVs has been very, very successful. You’ve got to admire them for it. But we’re an embryonic company. The worst thing we could do is to stray off piste. Our task now is to get the quality right, and mature as a company.

“What I can reveal is that our new McLaren Production Centre,” he gestures at a vast but orderly building site almost out a sight across the lake from the McLaren Technology Centre,” is configured for three shifts at an annual rate of 2000 cars a shift. However, we don’t ever expect to go over two shifts – which means our maximum capacity will be 4000 cars a year.”

The interviewer falls immediately on these numbers; surely they mean McLaren will always be more exclusive than Ferrari and much, much more exclusive than Porsche? This may be true, but Dennis fails to claim such a cheap advantage. The game, he knows, is bigger than this.

“It’s not a question of being exclusive,” he says. “That’s simply the number that fits our business plan. And we’d be foolish to say nothing in that plan would change up or down. For now, our major preoccupation has to be with quality.”

Intriguingly, Dennis says he doesn’t view Ferrari as a key competitor, despite the fact that his car is close in many of its dimensions to the new 458 Italia, and managing director Antony Sheriff will readily admit that much of the car’s benchmarking has been against it. “We have a very healthy respect for Ferrari,” says Dennis, “but I don’t see them as our prime competitor. People will compare the performance, styling and driving capabilities, but I can tell you that our prime targets are owners of other brands. How many will come to us from Ferrari? I’d say it will be a low percentage. I’m more sure that many of our owners will have both.”

It will strike you, if you’ve interviewed car industry bosses before, that Dennis – known as w racing man – sounds remarkably like someone steeped in car industry experience. Has he spent time in other people’s factories, boning up for the new tasks? “Of course I have,” he says, “but you’ve got to remember we have some experience gathered during the F1 and SLRphases. And through racing I’ve had contact with Honda, Porsche, Ford, Peugeot and Mercedes-Benz. If your ambition is to have a car company, you don’t walk around these places with blinkers on.”

Even so, building the 12C without the muscle and scale of an automotive giant has involved a steep learning curve, Dennis admits. “One of my biggest ambitions is to build a perfect supplier network,” he says. “Suppliers absolutely control your destiny. If they do sub-standard work, and you don’t catch it, you’re in for a never-ending headache. Building the network we need, with the required level of commitment, trust and quality, has been very, very challenging.”

Given his passion for detail, Dennis has surely spent many miles chasing details from the driving seats of prototypes – hasn’t he?

“My answer to that,” he says, “is two words: Vince Higgins. Vince was a race mechanic way back in the ‘60s. He worked for McLaren when I was at Brabham.

“We were at Watkins Glen, and in those days it was normal for mechanics to drive cars from the tech centre to the grid, quite a long way. Vince was driving a McLaren when someone stepped in front of him. He swerved and took the back wheel off on a post. From that day I decided there was no case for anyone to drive race cars other than the professionals, and that’s how we work here.

“We have professional engineers whose job is to get the MP4-12C absolutely right, and they need the freedom to do their jobs as well as they can. I did drive some prototypes in Spainwith the other shareholders a year ago, and I’ll make sure I’m up to speed before the car goes on sale. But if I kept jumping in and out it would be too unscientific, too distracting. I’ll do it when the time is right.”

Article published in Autocar special edition dedicated to the MP4-12C

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24 mars 2011 4 24 /03 /mars /2011 07:00

Full review from Jeremy now online here. Full texte below:

The Ferrari 458 is fantastic. Yes, the button-festooned steering wheel is stupid and the driver is forced to choose between a speedo and a satnav, which is insane, but when you ignore the idiocy of the interior and you put your foot down, it feels like no other car. It feels better. More alive. Just absolutely, totally brilliant.

This is why, on our television programme, James May wondered out loud how the McLaren MP4-12C could be better. Unless it runs on water and does zero to a million in one second, it just doesn’t seem possible.

McLaren however says that it can prove, scientifically, that in fact its car is better. It says that the maths are on its side. So are the headlines for that matter, because the MP4-12C is a tiny bit less expensive than the Ferrari, but delivers more power. A lot more.

There are other things. The McLaren is a much nicer place to sit and a much nicer car to use. In a Ferrari 458, the indicator buttons are on the wheel, so if you are going round a corner, you push the button on the left to tell other road users that you are about to turn right. And at night, when you want to indicate, change gear and dip your lights at the same time, you need to deploy your tongue.

There's no such madness in the McLaren. The steering wheel is just a steering wheel. And what's more, the circumference is precisely the same as the circumference of the wheel fitted to the cars driven by Messrs Hamilton and Button. Minus a fraction to take into account the thickness of their gloves.

There's more. Where the Ferrari is festooned with miles of shiny carbon fibre, the McLaren is all leather and hand-stitching and simple, clear, nice graphics.

McLaren's people are also at pains to explain that their car rides much more sweetly than the Ferrari. They say that because it doesn't have anti roll bars, the suspension is truly independent. And that the computer which controls it - designed by a man I don't want to have round for dinner - ensures that bumps are ushered into another room so you simply don't notice them.

They have a point. On the last left, through the tyres on the TopGear test track, it's tempting to drop two wheels off the tarmac and into the grass. In most cars, this causes your entire skeleton to shatter as though it's been dipped in liquid nitrogen and then hit with a hammer. But in the McLaren, I thought I'd simply misjudged the move and that all four wheels had remained on the road.

That's not really possible though, because visibility is another area where the McLaren trumps the Fezza. I'm not suggesting for a moment that the 458 is a postbox, but in the McLaren, because the windscreen is so deep and the top of the front wings are precisely over the centre of the front wheels, you are alwaysexactly where you want to be.

Yes, yes, yes, I can hear you saying. But is it fast?

Yes. Biblically so. In Track mode, with all the driver aids turned down to a minimum, it absolutely flies. In a straight line, and round the corners, I would say that it is faster than the 458. And with the optional ceramic brakes, and that big wing on the back, I would guess it stops faster too.

Certainly, and thanks to the turbocharging, it always feels more muscular. If I may be permitted to liken the Ferrari to a kingfisher, then the MP4-12C is a gannet.

The gearbox isn't that brilliant, though. In the 458, you just tap the paddle and you have another gear, whereas in the McLaren the paddles are mounted on the same rocker set-up they use in the F1 cars. So, you pull the lever a bit which lets the double-clutch gearbox know whether you want to go up or down the 'box and then you pull it a bit more to actually make the shift.

This sounds clever, but in practice you have to put more effort into changing gear than you would imagine. And, since I'm fundamentally lazy, most of the time I told the gearbox which way I was thinking of going, but then let go of the paddle before we'd actually got there.

That said, though, the traction control is terrific. Instead of ordering you to behave by dropping an anvil on the throttle cable, it asks you to come in for a cup of tea and then it sits you down and gently reminds you that you might be overdoing things a bit, old chap.

So, by any scientific or mathematical measure, then, yes, the MP4-12C does appear to have its only real rival licked.

However, while science and maths are very important in the pursuit of speed, emotion must also be considered, and here, I'm not so sure the McLaren stacks up quite so well.

Look at it. It's pretty, and it definitely has the air of a supercar, but where is the flair? Where's the suggestion that a human being has been at work? It's a bit too clinical. You get the impression it was styled by software and shaped by a simulator. It probably was.

Then there's the noise. For sure, a Ferrari never stops shouting, but the sound it makes is spine-tingling. The sound an MP4 makes, even at full volume in Track mode... isn't.

There's a similar issue with the driving experience. The 458 feels more agile, more deft, more nimble. It probably isn't, but it feels that way. In short, then, and for reasons it is impossible to explain without climbing into the pit of my stomach for a furtle, the McLaren isn't as exciting as the 458.

No car makes the root of my penis fizz, but if such a thing were to happen, it would be the 458 that caused more effervescence.

Of course, there's no doubt that you really could use the McLaren every day. It rides beautifully, its engine can be put into submarine mode and the interior is a far, far nicer place to be. But why would you want to use a car like this every day?

Let me put it this way. The Ferrari is a pair of stockings. The McLaren is a pair of tights. Scientifically and mathematically and practically, the McLaren is better. And yet somehow, it isn't.

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21 mars 2011 1 21 /03 /mars /2011 22:00

McLaren_PP_Portimao_15_2.jpgI can read some limited German, but trusted Google for this overview of the 4 major German magazines (same article to come in French later on). I hope there won't be too many mistakes!


Auto Zeitung / English

First of all, I have selected a comment related to the transmission:

The automatic gear changes are performed quickly and smoothly.  The driver has at any time the opportunity to change gears manually through the two paddles on the steering wheel.  The resistance to the rocker is noticeably larger than for comparable systems.

Then a few words about the chassis:

The Brake Steer helps, but does not diminish the fun.  The razor-sharp steering and active suspension work perfectly together.

And the conclusion!

No doubt: The McLaren has the necessary tools for class leader.


Auto Motor und Sport

I couldn't put it through Google translator unfortunately, so I wil focus on the final comments of the article, which gives very positive words on the handling, mentioning neutral handling and the surprising but not too disappointing lack of limited slip differential.


Sport Auto / English

I did not find much in the article, just a remark on the design which is focused on efficiency rather than beauty.


Auto Bild / English

A very positive conclusion for this first drive:

Ferrari are loud, bright, poisonous.  Lamborghini are evil, brutal, uncompromising.  Porsche are minimalist, curve-hugging race track addictive.  The McLaren MP4-12 is a racer for all days, with a GT sports car genes. 

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20 mars 2011 7 20 /03 /mars /2011 23:00

Fot those who can get the English Autocar magazine, don't miss this week's edition with a special separate booklet dediacted the the MP4-12C. The last time they did something similar, it featured the McLaren F1, so this is really a special edition! I haven't started yet to read it, but I will try to summarize it when I can find some time

For those in France, be careful, some shops are selling the magazine wihout the bonus dedicated to the MP4-12C... a pity!

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18 mars 2011 5 18 /03 /mars /2011 07:00

ScreenHunter_14.JPGVery interesting video published by Autocar on their website. They joined the sign-off process of the car for a long road trip. Follow the link.

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