It’s one thing to drive an older car that gives you the sensation of high speed, but it’s a total other thing to genuinely drive fast.
I’d heard of this phenomena from others who have more seat time than I do on the track, and it’s a concept that I find may be hard to comprehend until you’re in the driver’s seat yourself.
I actually learned this quite literally a few weeks ago when I was given the opportunity to not only take the new McLaren 600LT out for some local driving and photos, but also spend a full day beating on it with the McLaren Club of San Francisco at a private owners’ track day.
Sounds like an epic experience, right? It was, but that’s not to say there weren’t some drawbacks either. Primarily, the realization of why these types of cars are totally unnecessary in the real world. I’ll get to that later though, as I’d rather start this off on a positive note.Fun At The Corkscrew
The entire ordeal started out with an invitation to San Francisco McLaren’s private track day session at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. To be frank, I went into this without a single clue as to how it was going to play out. Was I going to drive a car? Was I going to be riding shotgun with one of their pro drivers? Was I going to be timed, or be part some sort of competition?
Without a clue in mind and some honest butterflies in my stomach, I took the Monday off from work and made way to Laguna Seca bright and early. Upon arrival, I was greeted with around 50 or so supercars being prepped in the paddocks – primarily McLarens, of course. A short drivers meeting within the different experience level groups was held, and before I could blink we set out on the track.
The car of choice: A 2018 McLaren 600LT. I found it to be a proper thoroughbred amongst the others, but I’ll dive more into that in a bit.
My sessions were to be accompanied by one of McLaren’s professional test drivers throughout the day, and I honestly wouldn’t have had it any other way. The amount of knowledge that I gained from his guidance was absolutely incredible. Everything from throttle control, to use of the entire corner, powering out, late and trail braking, and understanding the limits of the car – even learning the correct line through the absolutely blind Corkscrew. It was information overload, but an experience that would be unparalleled elsewhere.
As for the 600LT, what an impressive machine it was. Eight hours of back-to-back sessions between myself and two other drivers resulted in absolutely zero catastrophic failures. At one point the turbos began to get a little warm, and by the end of the day the tires were pretty much heat-cycled out, but other than those two minor drawbacks the car drove just as it had first thing in the morning.
And the technicalities of the car, well, all I can really say is that I am utterly proud of how far mankind has made it in the universe. With nearly 600hp and weighing just over 3,000lbs (1,360kgs), the 600LT is in a rank of its own. The chassis was incredibly stable, even at the crest of Laguna Seca’s straight at well over 150mph (241km/h). The carbon-ceramic brakes never lost their bite, nor did I ever get the sensation of brake fade. And I don’t think I could’ve lost grip if I even tried, even in Track mode.
In other terms, as berserk as the 600LT is, it was at home on the race track.
As the day ended, my body felt like it had gone through some sort of cross-fit session. My fingers were tingling, my back was aching, and I nearly made myself nauseous after so many hours of taking g-force after g-force through the rollercoaster of a track. To say I was impressed was an obvious understatement – until I took the car out later in the week on normal roads.
Here’s where things started to take a turn.At Home On The Track, Not So Much On The Street
The moment I took possession of the car from the folks at San Francisco McLaren, I started to run into impracticality issues. There was a severe lack of space, though the ‘frunk’ managed to fit my camera bag (and that was about it). The ride was utterly stiff for being a ‘stock’ car, and most importantly, this thing couldn’t be any louder on the streets. And by loud, I don’t mean noise, I’m referring to the whole ‘look at me’ loud. You couldn’t be discreet about anything, no matter how hard you tried.
If you haven’t gotten the gist from my other articles, I prefer subtle.
‘Fair enough’ I thought to myself on the way up to my usual driving roads. Sure, the carbon seats and rigid uni-body provided quite a harsh ride, but this was a car that was designed to be driven in a spirited manner. And it was fairly well equipped with sat-nav and air-conditioning, so I continued trying to be optimistic about the car as the day passed.
The route to the shoot location consisted of some of the ‘fun’ roads that we frequent here in California’s Bay Area, and I thought I’d be able to unleash some of the 600LT’s potential again. Sure enough, I was wrong. Not because it couldn’t handle it, but because it was honestly just too fast.
Before you get all crazy on me, allow me to elaborate on this further. I promise it wasn’t user error…
I honestly believe that a proper driving experience consists of three critical pillars; the first being power balance, the second being handling, and the third being driver feel and/or feedback. Most will argue that the 600LT does all three of these, and performs well doing so. But I’d argue that though that may be true on the track, it’s almost too much for a road car.
Let’s put this into perspective: When driving something like an old Porsche 911 or a Datsun 240Z, you get sub-2,800lb (1,270kg) weight, sub-300hp, and a lack of any sort of technology to assist you. That results in a purely analog experience that enhances your senses, keeps you on your toes, and allows you to actually understand the inputs you’re putting in, and the results – or consequences – of those inputs. I think the term ‘slow car fast’ hits this characteristic right on the head.
Although the 600LT does give you feedback, it lacks this overall sensation tremendously. With a quarter of the throttle pedal and minimal steering effort, you can blow the doors off of any old car without even trying, all while being in something that probably won’t kill you since it corrects all of your mistakes on the fly.
Where’s the fun in that?The Verdict
I ended the day in the heartfelt streets of San Francisco at one of my favorite garages. I figured it would be a nice way to digress on the experience.
Is the 600LT a thoroughbred on the track? Absolutely. But is it really a driver’s car? I’m not sure about that one…
For me, the purpose of driving is to go out and be able to mash on all of the pedals, all while not getting up to 100mph within a couple of seconds on the throttle. Maybe I’m old school, but I want to go through a turn with the car struggling to grip, forcing me to correct it with further input and quick reflexes. I want to make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes to further develop my skill. The last thing I’d ever ask for is computer assistance saving me, or the car. Is this foolish nonsense? Maybe…
Regardless of what side of the spectrum you agree with, there’s no denying that supercars are somewhat necessary. There’s hundreds of factors as to why these cars are produced in the first place. The innovation, the technology behind them, the cool factor – all of it makes sense in its own way.
But at the end of the day, even if money were no object, I’d still find myself in the seat of an old analog car.