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A World Auction Record for a McLaren F1 GTR Longtail at $5,280,000
The F1 GTR
“The first time I saw the ’97 ‘Longtail’ prototype accelerating past the pits on test at Barcelona – slightly nose up – with that wonderful, rising, piercing V12 shriek, I finally thought ‘That’s it – we’ve cracked it. We’ve turned the F1 into a real racer.”
– Gordon Murray, Driving Ambition
Gordon Murray, in creating the McLaren F1, aimed to build the best road-going sports car in the world, with absolutely no intention to take the car racing. That all changed in 1994, with the introduction of the BPR Global GT Series, an international endurance racing championship for production-based sports cars.
With increasing pressure from BPR organizers and well-funded private teams, Murray finally agreed to develop the F1 into a racing car and provide several chassis for the 1995 season. It would prove to be a fateful decision, as the race prepared McLaren F1s dominated BPR’s GT1 category, winning the championship in 1995 and 1996 and, most significantly, winning the historic 24 Hours of Le Mans in their first attempt.
Despite McLaren’s utter superiority, the resounding success of the BPR Global GT Series attracted interest from manufacturers such as Porsche, Panoz, and Lotus. Even Ferrari considered entering a new GT1 car based on the F50, but after assessing the stiff competition, the project was curtailed.
Following the 1996 season, the BPR Global GT Series reformed into the FIA GT Championship, and the regulations were altered to allow a new breed of GT1 car. For 1997, McLaren would have to compete directly with homologation specials like the Porsche 911 GT1, which, unlike the McLaren F1 GTR, was designed especially for endurance racing.
As a result, McLaren went to work developing an updated F1 GTR, one that would comply with the new regulations and successfully compete for the FIA GT Championship.
The first step of this process involved extensive modifications to the F1’s bodywork. Using the same carbon-fiber monocoque as the road-going F1, the McLaren team designed a new nose and extended tail section – along with a wider rear wing – to maximize downforce, and thus increase the car’s high-speed cornering abilities.
Mechanically, the new F1 GTR was equipped with a revised S70/3 engine, displacing 5,995 cc to comply with the new FIA regulations, and a new six-speed XTRAC sequential gearbox, while a variety of exotic carbon-fiber components contributed to significant weight savings over the 1996 GTR. Additionally, all of the F1’s suspension components were enhanced for improved stiffness and weight reduction, carbon-fiber disc brakes were fitted with eight-piston calipers front and rear, the electrical system was improved, and a new multispoke pattern for the 18" magnesium wheels was adopted.
As a result of its painstaking update, the new F1 GTR Longtails represented the ultimate development of McLaren’s original road car, with overall performance and competitive ability in a completely different league from those of the first GTRs.
For the 1997 season, McLaren built 10 GTR Longtail chassis, numbered 19R through 28R.
Unlike the 1995 and 1996 BPR seasons, where all McLaren teams were truly privateer entries, the FIA GT Championship established Team BMW Motorsport as a factory works effort. Run by Charlie Lamm’s Schnitzer team and backed with generous sponsorship from FINA, the BMW Motorsport McLarens benefitted from the full support of the F1’s engine supplier and a special agreement with Michelin tires.
Not only did the BMW Motorsport team have the most potent stable of McLarens, they had the marque’s best driver pairing, with Finnish F1 and DTM veteran JJ Lehto and top British Touring Car talent Steve Soper. Not only were Lehto and Soper immensely capable behind the wheel, each driver had previous connections with McLaren or BMW: Lehto was instrumental in McLaren’s outright win at the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans, and Soper was a star with BMW Motorsport in the BTCC.
Just as the BMW Motorsport Team was preparing for its all-out assault on the FIA GT Championship, Mercedes-Benz announced a new contender – the AMG-prepared CLK GTR. Based on a Lola Composites carbon chassis and powered by a six-liter M120 V-12, the CLK GTR was a true, purpose-built sports racing car, whereas the F1 GTR Longtail had been developed for racing from an advanced, albeit production-based, chassis.
With an impressive roster of star drivers, the best international venues, and new factory-backed GT1 cars from McLaren, Porsche, and Mercedes- Benz all vying for the FIA GT Championship title, 1997 proved to be one of the most exciting seasons in the history of sports car racing.
The McLaren F1 GTR Longtail presented here, chassis no. 21R, is the first car delivered to the BMW Motorsport Team to campaign for the 1997 FIA GT Championship.
Significantly, 21R took part in the first race of the season held at Hockenheim on April 13, 1997. Despite Bernd Schneider starting on pole position in the AMG Mercedes CLK GTR, JJ Lehto set a blistering pace in 21R and recorded the fastest lap of the race. In the end, McLaren secured a 1-2-3 finish, with 21R leading the two GTC Gulf entries, 20R and 22R.
At the second race of the season, the British Empire Trophy at Silverstone on May 11th, Lehto and Soper extended their lead in the Drivers’ Championship, driving 21R to a 3rd-place finish behind the winning BMW Motorsport McLaren (23R) of Peter Kox and Roberto Ravaglia, and the 2nd place AMG Mercedes of Bernd Schneider and Alexander Wurz.
The next round of the championship took place on May 25th, at the Helsinki 3 Hours. The challenging street circuit, dubbed Helsinki Thunder, twisted through the heart of the Finnish capital and made for thrilling, close- quarters racing.
After qualifying in pole position, JJ Lehto built a sizable lead during the first hour of the race and took 21R to its second win in front of his home crowd. So dominant was the BMW Motorsports McLaren, that it finished a full three laps ahead of the 2nd-place Roock Porsche GT1.
Following its win in Helsinki, 21R next appeared at the Nürburgring 4 Hours, where McLaren GTRs had proven victorious in the BPR Series in 1995 and 1996. It was at this race that the tide shifted in favor of the AMG Mercedes Team, as they captured a 1-2 finish,with Lehto and Soper placing 3rd in 21R.
After 21R finished on the podium in its first four races, a new chassis, 26R, was made available to the team’s top pairing. At this point, 21R was put on the show circuit.
When 26R was damaged at Sebring, the BMW Motorsport Team flew 21R back from the Tokyo Motor Show and prepared it for the final race of the season, the Laguna Seca 3-Hours.
In the only race where Team BMW Motorsport split its number-one driving team, 23R was given to Lehto and Kox, while 21R was entrusted to Soper and Ravaglia. Sadly, mechanical troubles plagued the McLarens, and both failed to finish the race.
In the end, Bernd Schneider won the Drivers’ Championship with 72 points and the AMG Mercedes Team took home the Manufacturers’ Championship with 110 points.
Thanks to their valiant effort throughout the season, the BMW Motorsport McLaren F1 GTRs inished 2nd in the Manufacturers’ Championship with 85 points, while Steve Soper and JJ Lehto tied for 2nd in the Drivers’ Championship with 59 points each.
Having competed in five rounds of the FIA GT Championship, 21R established the most successful record of any ‘97 McLaren GTR chassis, capturing two wins and 28 championship points. After three successful seasons of international racing, the legendary McLaren F1 GTR program came to a close.
After the 1997 season, 21R and 26R returned to BMW in Munich. According to Gabriele Rafanelli, who ran the 1996 FINA-sponsored Bigazzi McLaren Team, he received 21R directly from BMW in exchange for one of his 1996 F1 GTR short tails. Chassis 21R was subsequently loaned to the ACO Le Mans Museum for a short term before being returned to Rafanelli’s workshop in Tuscany. The car remained in his workshop, where it was properly maintained, until December 2001.
With the assistance of Steve Soper, who had by then acquired a BMW dealership in Lincoln, UK, 21R was sold to a pioneering American enthusiast who assembled one of the great collections of contemporary GT and sports prototypes, comprised primarily of works cars acquired directly from their respective manufacturers.
In 2002, the then owner sent 21R, which had been static for four years, to the McLaren factory for a complete restoration. At this time, McLaren overhauled the suspension, rebuilt the gearbox, and replaced several age-sensitive components, such as the fuel cells and steering rack. Following its mechanical restoration, the F1 GTR Longtail was carefully refinished in its original 1997 FINA livery, tested on track, and prepared for delivery to the US.
In December 2006, 21R, effectively unused, was sold to the German collector Christian Gläsel. Under Mr. Gläsel’s ownership, the BMW Motorsport McLaren participated in several private track events at major European circuits and was consistently maintained by marque specialist Dean Lanzante of Lanzante Ltd.
The consignor, a gentleman who owns several significant McLaren road and racing cars, acquired 21R directly from Mr. Gläsel. In a recent discussion, he confirmed that the GTR Longtail is “on the button” and complete with important documentation, including records, invoices, and various testing sheets from the 2002 restoration performed by the McLaren factory.
Presented here is, undeniably, the most advanced iteration of the McLaren F1 project and a GT1 racing car with an unrivaled pedigree.
Designed by Gordon Murray and built by McLaren, one of the great marques in the history of postwar motor sports, 21R was exclusively run by the BMW Motorsport-Schnitzer works team and driven by the number-one pairing of JJ Lehto and Steve Soper. Despite its genuine road-car origins, this works-prepared McLaren easily defeated the exotic Porsche 911 GT1s and was, at most circuits, a match for the purpose-built works cars of AMG Mercedes.
During the 1997 FIA GT Championship season, 21R was the McLaren to beat when on track, finishing on the podium all but once. According to McLaren’s records, it carries the important distinction of being the only McLaren GTR Longtail with two FIA GT wins to its credit.
Not only is 21R an exceptional F1 GTR Longtail, it is the only significant example likely to be available in the foreseeable future: 26R is a fixture in the BMW Museum in Munich, 23R is part of the Lawrence Stroll collection, and 20R, the most successful GTC Gulf car, remains in the McLaren factory collection.
This important car represents the final stage of one of the greatest racing programs in history and, as such, embodies the spirit of competition. Its outstanding preparation, impressive racing history, attractive FINA livery, and unquestioned provenance are qualities that place this McLaren in an extremely rarified category of competition cars.
As the ultimate development of the most iconic supercar, 21R represents an important piece of the McLaren F1 story and is a most magnificent example of automotive engineering. The most successful works McLaren of the 1997 season, this GTR Longtail possesses immense appeal, an undeniable presence, and tremendous historical significance.
Offered for public sale for the first time ever, the appearance of 21R at auction is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire a McLaren racing car of the very highest order.