McLaren automotive is the second oldest Formula 1 racing team in existence behind Ferrari. With that being said it would make sense that the company knows a thing or two about building powerful machines and winning races. The team operates under the name Vodafone McLaren Mercedes and has 169 individual race wins under its belt. The company has been known as an innovator since its inception and carbon-fiber products have been their claim to fame.
This year the F1 team will be competing in the company’s 200th carbon fiber monocoque chassis. Other road-going vehicles have been designed with a heavy use of carbon-fiber composite material. In 1993 the F1 debuted as the first car to utilize a carbon chassis. The legendary F1 also competed in F1 races, winning its first ever 24 hours of Le Mans race. McLaren has had a long running partnership with Mercedes that led to the German company receiving carbon-fiber expertise from McLaren for its SLR model. In a seven year long production run, the Mercedes-McLaren SLR has over 2,000 individual examples on the road making it the most successful car in history with a carbon chassis.
With the successful completion of the design phase for the 12C, McLaren is poised to re-introduce itself to the automotive marketplace. The McLaren Group and McLaren Automotive have over 1,500 employees, many of who work in the Woking, England headquarters.
Perhaps the most exciting moment up until the release of the 12C was in May of 2004 when Queen Elizabeth II opened the McLaren Technology Center (MTC). The new headquarters of McLaren Automotive and all its subsidiaries sits on a half-million square meter site and reportedly cost 300 million pounds, making it the largest privately funded construction project in Europe at the time. Having a complete facility for the company to be able to design, develop and produce their vehicles under one roof is critical throughout every phase at McLaren.
This year will be another milestone at the site when the McLaren Production Center (MPC) is completed. With the introduction of the 12C it was clear that the production side of the company needed to grow, but still be linked to headquarters. The new 40 million pound site is capable of producing roughly 1,000 12C’s per year.
Engineers and other employees will be able to reach the new MPC by an underground tunnel. The building features several zones from general assembly, paint facility, test areas, and it can all be viewed from a balcony at the end. When the original headquarters was built it featured several products that made it more environmentally conscious than any other manufacturer in the world. This 32,000 square-meter building is no different and attempts to leave as little an impact as possible on the surrounding wildlife. Its rectangular shape and extensive use of aluminum will match that of the Technology Center. The MTC uses the large lake that also completes its circular shape for cooling. The roof of the new MPC will help to make this system a full loop by collecting rainwater in order to replenish evaporation loss from the lake. These low-energy use systems help McLaren run a very green operation and further compliment the company’s vision of creating powerful, but efficient vehicles.
Development and Testing
The level of dedication to this project shines through when discussing its origins as “Project 11” that started in 2005. Inside of a secure room as the technology Center is perhaps the most advanced simulation software in the world. McLaren can use this virtual environment to test cars ability at any track and any conditions. These systems can allow year round testing when facilities such as the Nordschleife are closed due to inclement weather.
In conjunction with the simulation programs – real world testing is completed and fed back into the system as raw data. 2007 saw the first mules used in testing which helped the McLaren team initially test aerodynamics, powertrain and drivetrain parameters. More complete Production Prototypes are used later in the process to fine-tune the car and complete high-mileage tests. McLaren tests every car thoroughly by taking at least on of the 50 mule vehicles built to every market in which the car will be sold.
The raw data that these test vehicles produce is collected by a special system created by McLaren for its F1 racing team. The high-speed data logger had to have its capabilities enhanced in order to handle the information coming from 20-ECU systems on the 12C. The data is collected from 100 different pressure transducers, lasers, acceleromoters, displacement sensors, thermocouples, strain gauges and GPS systems. This information can be placed back into the simulation software in near real-time making the development cycle faster and more efficient.
With the continued success in F1, it makes sense that McLaren would transplant its knowledge from the track to the road. This was seen when the car debuted at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England and the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for North America. At the time, performance figures given by McLaren were simply numbers and had no real world testing outside of their engineers to back them up.
With production now beginning, the performance capabilities of this car have been confirmed. The M838T engine was designed specifically for the 12C and has several unique features. It is a 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 weighing only 439 lbs. The engine produces 592hp @7,000rpm and 443 lb-ft. of torque between 3,000 and 7,000rpm. With the use of the company’s carbon-fiber structure and other lightweight components, such as an optional exhaust made from Inconel, the car achieves a stellar power-to-weight ratio of 455bhp/tonne. It’s a simple racing that low weight and high power are key ingredients to speed. The 12C will reach 60mph in 3.3 seconds and an even faster 3.1 seconds with the optional high-performance tire option. As this car will undoubtedly be compared to the McLaren F1 of the past, the new team made sure the top speed of the 12C would be formidable topping out at 205mph.
A dual-clutch transmission is the only setup available and features 7-speeds and multiple settings. Choosing between Normal, Track, and Sport modes will modify how the transmission selects gears. A unique Pre-Cog feature loads the clutch before a shift is made lowering shift times to virtually zero. The transmission is also capable of some electronic wizardry. Shift paddle son the steering wheel have the ability to be “clicked” for fast shift or held fully depressed for a new feature. IF you depress the paddle through a corner, the transmission will select the correct gear to exit the corner in by matching the revs more accurately than most drivers would be able to. For those driving this car in a more urban setting may find the Automatic and winter modes for the transmission helpful as well.
The idea of a no compromise sports car was carried through to the design of the suspension. McLaren calls it ProActive Chassis Control with Adaptive Damping. It is essentially a double-wishbone setup with coil springs at all four corners. An innovative feature is the adjustable roll control that makes mechanical anti-roll bars obsolete. The suspension can be tuned by the driver with the touch of a button much like the transmission. The modes are the same and they manage the damping and stability control settings depending on road and track conditions.
All of these systems help the 12C go fast in a straight line or around a track, but McLaren has not neglected to the other side of the equation, braking. In the late 1990’s McLaren introduced a Brake Steer function on its Formula 1 MP4-12. The system was later banned by racing, but was further developed by McLaren for its road cars. During cornering the system applies the brakes to the inside rear-wheel in order to help the car turn faster. This can help a driver that has entered a corner incorrectly or a professional looking for the fastest line. To stop the tendency for understeer, the system is able to assess steering angle and calculate the necessary braking needed to correct the cars direction and increase the yaw rate.
McLaren has also incorporated an airbrake to the 12C providing downforce and faster braking times. When the car is traveling fast and the driver brakes hard a hydraulic system lifts the brake to 32-degrees. Forces from the wind rushing over the panel force it to a higher 69-degrees helping the system to be both effective and lightweight.
The 12C will begin to go on sale in Europe first, sometime in late spring. The North American sales will begin in the summer and wrap up for the Asia-Pacific markets at the end of the year. McLaren has 31 dealers appointed to sell the car in 19 different countries and the price will start at $229,000.
McLaren has been careful in the way it positioned the 12C within the market. It gave it supercar capabilities and technology, but has kept the price towards other manufacturers entry-level models. Calling a Ferrari 458 Italia somewhat of an entry-level model may sound like blasphemy, but with the 599, 612 and Enzo supercars positioned above it that is basically what it has become. McLaren clearly has the beautiful new Ferrari in its sights and the performance figures match up quite nicely. The Ferrari uses a V8 and 7-speed transmission much like the 12C and the 0-60mph times are within a tenth of a second. Seeing these two models square off on a track would be the ultimate test between F1 powerhouse companies who have thrown all of there technology and considerable know-how into road going machines.
When you’re a British Formula One racing driver, you get the privilege of hopping in just about any car and taking it for a few laps. Lewis Hamilton is the perfect example of how being a 2008 Formula One World Champion has its perks when he got the chance to perfect his sliding technique in a McLaren MP 4-12C. Check out the video by theMotorweb to see him in action!
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