What is it? The McLaren 12C GT Sprint. Though it doesn’t have its own high-profile one-make series, the Sprint is McLaren’s answer to the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup and Ferrari 458 Challenge. Sitting 40mm lower, wearing centre-lock rims shod (today) with Pirelli race wets, and boasting choice aerodynamic upgrades including a GT3-inspired front bumper, bonnet, air vents and front wing louvres, the Sprint makes a regular McLaren 12C look a little soft around the edges. There’s a hint of GT3, but no more than that, which, of course, is the point, as the Sprint sits between the road car and the full-on factory racer, both in price and performance. It costs £234,000. Technical highlights? The Sprint cannot be used on the road, which perhaps comes as a surprise given it doesn’t appear to be that extreme, but it can be raced. But from what I can gather McLaren sees it more as a car for the (very) serious trackday customer who wants more than their 12C road car can deliver. To ensure they feel in familiar surroundings – and to keep costs under control – the 12C Sprint retains much of the hardware and many of the electronic systems found in the road car. That means aside from beefed-up oil and cooling systems, the 3.8-litre 616bhp bi-turbo V8 remains unchanged, as does the seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox. Even the ProActive Chassis Control (PCC) system stays, although the switchable suspension settings have been ramped up, so that Normal in the Sprint is the equivalent of Race in the regular road car. The brakes are new, with race-spec cast-iron discs. Brake Steer is retained, as is a recalibrated stability control that is adjusted via the PCC switches, just like on the road car. Our test car also features the full optional aero kit comprising a carbonfibre front splitter and a sizeable fixed rear wing. This negates the need for the stability-enhancing active McLaren Airbrake, which is shared with the road car and appears on the Sprint in basic specification. The interior is stripped of non-essential trim and sound-deadening, but retains air conditioning for driver comfort. Race seats and harnesses look and feel the business, while a digital instrument display taken from the GT3 racer sits in place of the road car’s instruments. There’s also a full roll-cage (also from the GT3) and a carbon-spoked non-airbag steering wheel. The Sprint even has built-in air jacks to speed tyre changes. The weight of this system, plus the roll-cage and other safety equipment, results in a kerb weight virtually unchanged from the road car’s 1434kg. What’s it like to drive? Our testing venue is Brands Hatch. Sadly the weather is less than welcoming, the murky, cold and wet conditions making the Indy circuit rather more treacherous than I or McLaren would like. While it means I’ll be denied the experience of feeling what a 12C’s like on slicks (apparently the slick-shod Sprint will lap the Dunsfold test track 5sec quicker than the road car), it does mean I’ll have ample opportunity to feel the Sprint at the limits of grip and see how forgiving – or not – the car is when you exceed them and need the electronic systems to catch you. The 12C has a distinctive, hard-edged exhaust note, and even with the muffling effects of a crash helmet the Sprint sounds like it means business. Dab the brake, pull back on the right-hand paddle (or push on the left, if you’re a seasoned 12C hand) and we’re away with no more fuss or drama than in the road car. I start in Normal for the first five or ten laps, then after a quick stop to check all’s well switch to Sport and then Race mode. It’s a smart and revealing strategy. The first few laps are pretty edgy while the Pirelli wets get some heat and I try to dial myself in to the Sprint’s responses. As predicted, it’s faithful to the road car, except the race tyres pluck much more grip from the horribly slippery tarmac. As confidence builds, you can feel the Sprint begin to slither, but milliseconds before your butt cheeks make a pre-emptive clench, the electronics gather things up. It’s an initially spooky sensation, but such is the speed with which you learn to trust in McLaren’s suite of driver aids that you can forget about managing the throttle from apex to exit, instead focusing all your attention on spotting your braking point and gauging your turn-in speed so that it precisely matches the grip available. The same is true in the more aggressive PCC modes. You instantly feel the additional support from the stiffer suspension, and you also notice the electronics allow some slip angle before intervening. The subtlety remains, though, and with practice you can balance the Sprint at an optimal angle of slip, but while maintaining good forward momentum. Where you have to tiptoe towards the limits of the road car you can mount a measured, sustained attack in the Sprint. Better still, the harder you push and the deeper you dig, the more ability you release in the car, which in turn allows you to get more from yourself. It’s a hugely impressive and thoroughly addictive process. How does it compare? As next steps go, the Sprint is a pretty big one for McLaren customers who have until now satisfied themselves with the odd trackday in their road car, but the uplift in performance and increased intensity make for a driving experience that’s on an altogether different level. At just under £200,000 (plus local taxes), the financial commitment is pretty significant too, but there’s no question it’s an extremely well-judged machine in which an experienced driver of fast road cars could take their on-track skills to the next level, and then try their hand at competitive motor racing. Whether you use it as a super-serious trackday toy, or a stepping stone to racing a full-blown 12C GT3, if you have the means to buy it, the GT Sprint makes a compelling case for your £200k. Anything else I need to know? McLaren’s range is bigger than ever, with the regular 12C road car joined not only by the P1 hypercar, but the new McLaren 650S, which will make its public debut at the 2014 Geneva motor show. With a multitude of mechanical changes and an extra 25bhp over the 12C, plus the promise of improved ‘driftability’, it could be the car to take the fight to the Ferrari 458 Speciale.
|Engine||V8, 3799cc, twin-turbo|
|Max power||616bhp @ 7500rpm|
|Max torque||442lb ft @ 3000-7500rpm|
|Top speed||204mph (estimated)|