In part 2 of our McLaren F1 GTR Retrospective, we are going to look at the 1996 season. McLaren Cars made a number of improvements for the 1996 season with revised aerodynamics, cooling and fuel system. Many components were re-engineered. As I explained at the beginning of the month, a new test car, Chassis ‘10R’ was completed and used to announce the 1996 season, although ironically the car still carried some 1995 aerodynamics.
We needed a livery which jumped out of the page and also shouted McLaren and ’96 F1 GTR. The car would become McLaren’s development car and is now owned by Nick Mason of Pink Floyd.
The '96 GTR went on a big diet. Anything that was not required was deleted. Even down to the rear lights. The GTR lights shown here were much ligher and snapped into place.
By this time, I was back working on the Formula One side, so didn’t have as much of an active role on the F1 GTR, so my tales of 1996 aren’t as detailed as Part 1 of the Retrospective.
Over at GTC, Ray Bellm and joint owner Michael Caine had been exploring every way to make the car competitive. They had convinced Gulf to drop the Metallic Blue for a solid colour as it was lighter! At the same time we played around with the colours, changing the Silver bottom to the vibrant Orange and using a thicker white keyline. I prefer it to my 1995 design, but feel it would have looked even better in Metallic Blue.
The eagle eyed will also note the Blue was a little lighter. In many shots, the original Gulf livery appeared too dark, so this is a good example where a company allowed their corporate colours to be tweaked for visibility. We also played around with the colour split, running a horizontal orange strip along the bottom of the car during testing, not following the lines, but common sense prevailed and we went back to using the body form…which always gives a more professional look.
Ray Bellm was joined by James Weaver, one of the best Sportscar drivers of modern era. The Lindsay Owen-Jones and Pierre-Henri Raphanel 'number two' car would remain the same.
At the same time, I was also re-designing the West livery for DPR. West had reduced their involvement, so one of Thomas Bscher’s companies became involved. The livery ended up as a bit of a hybrid of the 1995 West car and the sister Harrods car.
The driver line up would remain the same, but DPR decided to develop the cars themselves rather than purchase the very expensive McLaren 96 updates. DPR would remain on Goodyear while GTC would be on Michelin
Elsewhere, McLaren had entered two cars in the Japanese GT Championship. These Lark sponsored cars dominated the series, much to the dismay of the Japanese manufacturers, the only time a non-Japanese car has won the championship. The organizers kept adding weight penalties to the car, but it didn’t matter. This was one of the hardest, but ultimately enjoyable liveries to be involved in.
I worked with a designer, Tony Harris on this design we must have gone through about 50 re-designs before we were all satisfied. Lark are a tobacco brand in Japan, part of the Phillip Morris family, that own Marlboro. Their pack design is also red and white, but it was clear from the outset that a red and white McLaren wouldn’t work. It would be associated with Marlboro or West, so we were given free rein to design a livery, but it had to be vibrant.
I can’t remember where the idea of Rocket Pink came from, I think it was Japan, but before we knew it we were designing a car with Rocket Pink and the Dark Graphite Grey from the Le Mans winning car. We both wanted a different approach to the other cars, so we used the body lines and shutlines in a different ways. The end result was quite striking and looked great on a rainy Japanese day. I learned so much from Tony. He was responsible for some JPS and Canon Williams designs I believe.
Away from liveries, there was trouble at mill!
Porsche were developing their Porsche GT1 car, which unlike the McLaren F1, wasn’t really based on a production car. In addition, the car would be allowed to enter the BPR series later in the season supported by a full works team, although it would not be eligible for points. To complicate things further, the ‘B’ in BPR was Jurgen Barth, who just happened to be employed by Porsche! The Porsche would also be allowed at Le Mans in the same class as the McLaren, and Ferrari F40.
In my opinion, this was the start of the demise of the BPR. As with so many series, costs went out of control along with development. Privateers and gentleman racers could no longer compete and the series suffered when the big works teams would later pack up and leave a few years later. It becomes a cycle that repeats itself.
Compare this image to one from John Brooks' F1 GTR 1997 Retrospective. Very different machinery.
Away from the Politics and back to the racing.
Ray Bellm and James Weaver took the opening win of the season at Paul Ricard, in their Gulf car from two impressive Ferrari F40’s. Porsche had also improved the customer entered 993 GT2’s, filling the next six places.
Neither of the other three McLaren’s finished….it was clear, 1996 wouldn’t be such a walk over.
David Price Racing would redress the balance at the next round at Monza with a great win for Bscher and Nielsen from the new plain white Franck Muller McLaren F1 GTR of Fabien Giroix, Jean-Denis Deletraz and Dider Cottaz. The only two F1’s to finish in the top 10.
I would later be involved in designing orange and black liveries for the Franck Muller car. The design changed a couple of times throughout the year.
The third round of the 1996 BPR Season saw a great Gulf 1-2 with the #2 car leading home the Owen-Jones car in a close finish. Thirds would be Jean-Marc Gounon in the Ferrari F40 ahead of the Franck Muller McLaren.
The sharing of wins would continue at the next round. This time Andy Wallace and Olivier Grouillard won at Silverstone from a very impressive race with Jan Lammers and Perry McCarthy in a Lotus Esprit V8.
The lead Gulf car would be 3rd ahead of the all-new BMW Supported Bigazzi entry for Steve Soper and Nelson Piquet (Sr). The second Bigazzi car, driven by Jacques Laffite and Marc Duez would finish 11th. Bigazzi were using the Silverstone event as a test for Le Mans.
The teams put the BPR series to the side in June for the 24 Heures du Mans. A number of cars had guaranteed entries from pre-qualifying earlier in the year. The Le Mans Prototypes were back in front, but in the GT class, the F1 GTR’s had dominated the class.
GTC fielded their regular cars and drivers, with the addition of Lehto and David Brabham. David Price Racing also had their two regular cars. The regular Harrods drivers of Wallace and Grouillard were joined by Le Mans legend, Derek Bell, while the second car was back in West livery (but not visible sponsorship, because of French tobacco laws) of Bscher and Nielsen was joined by Peter Kox. Note the Ueno Clinic sponsorship.
Most of the cars were fitted with larger more powerful lamps for the 24 Hours.
Following their Silverstone ‘test’, Bigazzi had two entries with a quality driver entry.
Johnny Cecotto, Nelson Piquet and Danny Sullivan in the car which Tommy Milner featured on Speedhunters the other day with Steve Soper, Jacques Laffite and Marc Duez in the second car. Quite the line up!
Elsewhere, the Franck Muller entry had squeezed in via an automatic entry for winning last year, complete with new livery. Back in the 90’s, Le Mansentries could be passed around easily. However, the car would retire during the race.
The race was disappointing for McLaren. With a dry race, The Prototype Porsches were in a class of their own, literally and would finish 1st overall.
The new Porsche 911 GT1 would take GT honours, finishing 2nd overall with a sister car in 3rd.
Fourth overall was the first McLaren, the DPR of Bscher, Nielsen and Kox after an uneventful run. This had recieved additional sponsorship from McLaren partners, TAG Heuer and Kenwood along with Art Sports to fill the spaces normally stickered with West branding.
Lindsey Owen Jones, Pierre-Henri Raphanel and David Brabham were 5th, delayed by some reliability issues. The McLaren’s were being pushed that little too far.
Any other company would have thought 4-5-6-8-9 and 11th would have been a great result. As Ron Dennis has often stated ‘2nd is the first of the losers’.
McLaren returned to the BPR championship at the Nurburgring, after their painful Le Mans. The customer teams redressed the balance slightly with a McLaren 1-2-3. Thomas Bscher, joined by Peter Kox taking the win, ahead of the two Gulf cars. Once again Ferrari were close behind.
McLaren’s first defeat in the 96 season, would take place in Anderstorp. Anders Olofsson and Luciano della Noce lead the four McLarens home. The Owen-Jones/Raphanel Gulf car finished second, with the sister Gulf car, Harrods and West Competition entries filling the top 5.
Ferrari were relegated back to 2nd place at the next round, the 1000km of Suzuka. Ueno Clinic were supporting the GTC cars again, but this time, the iconic Gulf colours remained. This time, JJ Letho, joined the team. The luck of Ueno Clinic continued and the team took a convincing victory 2 minutes ahead of the 2nd place Ferrari of Olofsson and della Noce.
As before BMW assisted a number of teams with the Japanese trip (Note the large Powered by BMW on the Davidoff DPR McLaren below)
McLaren filled the next four places, with Harrods car 3rd, the wrapped DPR Davidoff (with West branding underneath)car 4th, Franck Muller 5th and the second Gulf car in 6th. A successful trip.
The Porsche GT1 was finally allowed to compete at the Brands Hatch round of the BPR Series in September. Hans-Joachim Stuck and Thierry Boutsen beat the leading Harrods McLaren by over a minute. It wasn’t just McLaren who were not impressed.
McLaren did fill the next three positions, but it was a sign of things to come. Spa was a repeat performance, this time, the Bellm/Weaver car finishing 2nd and the Nielsen/Bscher car in third.
The 4 hours of Nogaro was a sad race for me. Paul Lazante, had been competing in the BPR in 1995 and 96 with a Porsche 993 GT2. As you may remember from earlier in this epic, Paul had ‘run’ the Ueno Clinic car at Le Mans for McLaren and I had worked with Paul on a few projects. A violent accident with Soames Langhton left the British racer in a coma for a long time and his life is still affected today. Soames friend, Ray Bellm, would take the win from his Gulf team-mate, Lindsay Owen-Jones, which was to be Lindsay’s last race. Porsche didn’t enter the GT1 on this occasion.
Following the success in 1995, the BPR Series returned to Zhuhai in China for the final round the series. This time, the series ran on a new purpose built circuit, which from memory wasn’t very popular. It wasn’t a good race for McLaren teams with Porsche winning again, with Emmanuel Collard and Ralf Kelleners. To rub salt into the wounds, Ferrari finished second with the two GTC cars in third and fourth.
As with 1995, Gulf Oils didn’t have an interest in the Chinese market, so a deal was brokered with then McLaren Grand Prix Sponsor, Marlboro, to sponsor both cars. Lehto re-joined Bellm while current ALMS star, David Brabham joined Pierre Henri Raphanel in the second car.
This is a great example of how the side lines of the McLaren mess up the sponsorship livery. We went back and forth on running Marlboro vertically or angled. In the end, it ran horizontally and while it was a little harder to read, it clashed with the Marlboro chevrons when it was angled with the bodylines.
The result was good enough to give Ray Bellm and James Weaver the 1996 BPR Championship from Olofsson.
Although McLaren had the title, it was obvious, the non-production based (do you get that I am bitter? LOL) Porsche 911 GT1 would dominate the following year. DPR announced they would run a new Panoz racecar while Mercedes would enter with their CLK GTR. McLaren had much work to do for the 1997 Season.
Despite the arrival of the Porsche, the project had been a hugh success for McLaren. Winning two BPR Championships and Le Mans on their debut.
To continue the story in 1997 and the birth of the McLaren F1 GTR long tail, you will have to read John Brooks fantastic retrospective from earlier this month.
I would like to thank John Brooks and Erik aka 'Peloton25' for helping out with the article and additional thanks to John and Sutton Images for the majority of images. All other images are McLaren press images or as indicated.
I hope you have enjoyed the retrospective. This will be my last ‘big’ post on Speedhunters as I have to concentrate on some other Need for Speed projects.
F1 Forum on AutomotiveForums.com (an amazing resource!)