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A sketchy drive in McLaren F1 XP5 – evo Archive

Seeing red in the F1… and keeping Ron Dennis in the dark

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I don’t think there can be any doubt about the greatest group test that evo has ever assembled. It was issue 186 – the summer of 2013 – and the magnificent seven that gathered in a car park in north Wales were F40, F50, Carrera GT, Noble M600, Murciélago LP670-4 SV, Zonda F and XP5. This was the Analogue Supercars test.

In case you are puzzling over that last one, it is arguably the most famous McLaren F1 in the world – Experimental Prototype No. 5, or the very car in which Andy Wallace (wearing civvies!) recorded 240.1mph at VW’s test track in 1998. For our evo group test 15 years later we had to insure it for what now seems like a very reasonable £5million, but the excess on the policy was nonetheless large enough to close the magazine for good and put us all out of a job.

It was with this fact in a position a little further forward than the back of my mind that I found myself in the legendary central seat at the end of the first day of the test. For obvious reasons we had to park the F1 in a secure location overnight and we were driving across Snowdonia to get there. We had agreed to do the same with the F40, and Jethro Bovingdon was in front of me wrestling with its IHI turbos.

> Ferrari F40 – review, history, prices and specs

In front of both of us was videographer Sam Riley in his long-term Skoda Superb Outdoor. Sam knows little fear at the best of times and was putting the big white estate’s four-wheel drive and decent suspension travel to surprisingly effective use. On wet, bumpy roads, with dry-stone walls creating an unfriendly corridor, it was no easy job to keep up in the two icons. I knew Jethro was in need of a little more suspension travel because I could sometimes see sparks as the Ferrari skimmed across the choppier bits of tarmac. Add to these the occasional flames from the triple exhausts with the glowing roundel lights above and it looked like the whole thing was a firework about to take flight.

This merry display was exacerbated by the fact that it was dusk, and this brought its own problems in the cockpit of the F1. Reading the road by the beams of twenty-year-old headlight technology isn’t easy at the best of times, but it was made considerably more difficult by the two red LEDs shining directly back at me like small demonic eyes from either side of the rev counter. Hovering just on the periphery of my vision they were incredibly bright and incredibly distracting. They only appeared when the headlights were switched on and I wasn’t about to turn those off, so I just had to squint a bit and follow the sound of the Ferrari (or what I could hear of it above the McLaren’s V12). I would have backed off and tried to sort the issue, but to be honest I didn’t know where I was going and I’m not even sure the insurance stipulations allowed us to have the car out after dark…

Still, no harm done. Other than later on – to a certain Ron Dennis’s blood pressure. You see, I heard some years down the line that the first thing McLaren’s boss knew of the loan of his precious XP5 to a bunch of journalists was when a copy of issue 186 landed on his desk a month later. I think he would only have been less pleased if we’d invited Max Mosley to guest edit the issue.

As far as I know, our test remains the last time that anyone outside McLaren was allowed to drive XP5 on the road.

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