McLaren Senna 1500-Mile Road Trip

McLaren Senna 1500-Mile Road Trip

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From Estoril to Monaco, Magazine retraces the great Ayrton Senna’s steps in McLaren’s 789bhp, £750,000 racer for the road. Chris Harris Drives: Car Walkarounds: Drag Races: Want to watch a bit of on the internet? Welcome to the most comprehensive collection of official clips you’ll find on YouTube. Whether you’re searching for a caravan challenge, Ken Block in the Hoonicorn, cars versus fighter jets, Stig power laps or the latest Chris Harris Drives, you can find all the iconic films here. Make sure you’re subscribed to the official YouTube channel:

You have to be very careful if you choose to name your car
after a famous racing driver. You better make sure the car lives up
to the man, respects their memory,
reflects their glory, isn't just cashing in, especially if that racing driver is
Ayrton Senna. Think not only of what he achieved
but what he stood for. Perhaps the purest,
most focused racing driver there has ever been. This is the car that bears his name. It's the 789 horsepower 750,000 pound
McLaren Senna. Now McLaren is really the only car company
that could put his name on one of their cars. Thirty-five of Ayrton's 41 Grand Prix wins
came while driving a McLaren. All three of his F1 world championships. But besides the results, Senna is remembered
for his incredible drives. There was Monaco in 1984.
Darlington in 1993. Estoril in 1985. Estoril is where he won
his first-ever Grand Prix, and, for us, it's the start of
an epic road trip. From here, 2,000 kilometres to a place
Ayrton called home and where his racing was
at its most dominant. We're driving the McLaren Senna to Monaco. We left at dawn, and with a mission to be
in Monaco the following night, got straight down to cranking out
the miles. Having to drive
across significant portions of Portugal, Spain and France does inevitably mean spending
a lot of time on motorways. Now the first thing to mention is
the vibrations you feel. You get them through the steering wheel.
You get them through the seat, and we're also getting them through
the camera. Then there's the seat itself. It's a single piece of carbon
with some leather pads attached, and so after a while, your bum
goes numb, and that's not ideal. Now the view out is fabulous. It's actually got really good vision
out the front, and there's a big gap
between the a-pillars and the mirrors to see through. Even the view out the back is not too bad. And I really like these glass panels. As you're driving on a motorway,
they're sort of… the white lines flash past
like Morse code. Moving on to refinement, and in order of intrusiveness,
we have the engine, which as you can tell,
just emits a fairly flat droney blare. Then there's the tyres. Now they're not bad on this surface,
but you get them on concrete and it's really hard to have
a conversation in here. Then there's the wind. You get this hiss of airs passing around
the car and the suck of it going into the intakes. And then all this noise sort of bounces
around the cockpit in here because there's not a lot of padding
in a carbon cabin, and then we come to the way the Senna
travels along the road surface. Now, it uses this very clever
hydraulic suspension system with these interlinked dampers
that do an amazing job of keeping the body level when you're
on a circuit, but when you're on a road,
it's really quite jiggly and you find yourself sort of being
buffeted slightly in the seat. Have to say, though, the steering feel
is fabulous. It's just a lovely car
to just change lanes in. One last thing: the Senna actually defaults
into sport mode, so if you want it to get it into comfort,
you have to press the active button and twist the dials. Does that make much difference?
No, not really. You're always aware that Senna would be
very much happier if it was on a track. And it is.
The world's fastest road legal track car. That's the pitch for the Senna. Employing active aero at the front
and rear to develop 800 kilos of downforce
and weighing under 1200 kilos. Around Estoril, on road legal tyres,
the Senna is only five seconds slower than a full-house GT3 racing car. At the end of the main straight,
doing 175 miles an hour, you can sail past the 200-metre board and still make the apex for turn one. There's no ABS jelly. You just hit the pedal absolutely as hard
as you can and tyres, downforce and carbon discs
do the rest. Then there's the way it turns in. Here the active aero works in harmony
with the active hydraulic suspension to keep the Senna level and stable,
even when braking and turning at the same. Can you feel the downforce? Absolutely. Through quick corners, you just turn in,
wince and hold on, putting your faith in the aero,
unable to believe the grip available. There is a drawback to downforce. Even when the wing flattens off
at high speed, it still causes considerable drag, so even with 789 horsepower
doing the pushing, acceleration naturally tails off. I expect that might be different
on the road. Now very helpfully for us, there's excellent mountain range that
separates Spain from France: the Pyrenees. And the roads up here are awesome. And this car, I was concerned
about it after the track, I thought it just feels too track focused, but out here, it's stellar, and I know this road surface is good, but the steering, the feedback, the way the power comes in, I'd love to drive it with a 675 LT as well
just to see how they compare. Just like it did on the track,
it's the way it transitions from braking to turning that's so smooth. And the brakes, which are… when you use them on the motorway
and in any other normal use are just too firm. They're too solid. They're not giving you
the retardation, the bite you need, but when you start driving it
and you can just push at the pedal, they're amazing, absolutely amazing. There is a little bit of understeer, but the traction,
the way it unpeels itself out of corners, and downforce
isn't playing too much of a role here. It's much more about the mechanical grip,
and the mechanical grip… I feel sorry for the tyres.
I really, really do, because they've got a lot to cope with. There is a little bit more lag
out of the slow corners, but it's not bad, and once you've got it
beyond 4,000 revs, there's just so much thrust to it, and it doesn't feel so turbocharged then.
It just feels– here we go. Very fast. Very fast indeed. I might have said…
I might have said that on track it didn't feel that fast. In the real world, it feels ridiculous. Have a word. I'm so glad. I'm so glad it's not just
a track toy, that people will be able to use it
and enjoy it in other places. I've got this sneaking suspicion that not many other people are
going to get theirs covered in cow muck. These roads are tremendous, quiet, populated more by wildlife
than humans, and with such variety from long straights
to hairpins, twists through rocks and one section where the road
loops back over itself, the second you cross into France,
the surface deteriorates. This is a French motorway, and it's just as noisy
as a Spanish motorway, so yesterday was all about getting
from Lisbon up to the Pyrenees, and that was a fabulous day. Today it's all about getting on to Monaco, and I already know, I've got my distances,
quite a long way out. I reckon it will be about 2,000 kilometres
in total. We've already done over 1,900, and I'm sure we're at least 300 or 400
still to go. And it's not like the Senna
is very economical. The rear wing on the back deck
basically acts like a parachute, and that means that even on a motorway,
were only doing 20 or 21 to the gallon. We're only getting about 200 miles
from a tank of fuel, so we've had to stop a lot. I think we've stopped to refuel about
eight or nine times. Once from a jerrican. Something else I should have thought about
and that's what I'm wearing, because as everyone drives past, taking pictures of the car, what they're
actually seeing is my pasty white knees. We had a gorgeous sunset. The motorway emptying as the traffic
died away, and then we arrived in Monaco. Casino Square was chaotic, so he went in search of
Monaco's racing heritage. The corners Ayrton made his own. This journey then, it's the kind of trip you'd like to think
Ayrton would have relished. A chance to de-stress after a race,
to just enjoy the act of driving. Is it what owners might do
with their cars? I'd love to hope so,
but somehow I doubt it. The McLaren Senna is not a racing car, but its mission statement is one Ayrton Senna
would surely be familiar with: to be the fastest. This car is as focused and determined
as the man whose name it bears.

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