12C Spider

McLaren 12C Spider: Remembrance Monday

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Decisions, decisions; an about-turn at the roundabout ahead of me and I’d soon be back at the MTC, the almost science-fiction-like HQ of Formula One legends McLaren. A left would take me to Brooklands, the first purpose built motor circuit ever constructed on British soil. A right and it’s the A320 through Woking.

Turning back isn’t an option. As much as I’d love to wander around The McLaren Technology Centre reading the inscriptions on the trophies and gazing at the cars, McLaren are very particular about who goes where once they’ve got past the gatehouse. And, call me old fashioned if you like, but as emotive as the old banking at Brooklands is, I tend to prefer my racing circuits intact and without the addition of retail parks, so a left it isn’t either. The A320 it is then.

I flick the indicator stalk upwards and nose out in to Monday morning’s commuter traffic. Letting the oil, water and the snug fitting cabin of the MP12 Spider warm through I make my way through Send and on towards Farnham.

“Are you looking for Mike?” asks the gardener trimming the hedges as I pull into the Cemetery on West Road. “Your car, it’s a bit of a give away. Mike’s over there, in the corner, by his father”.

John Michael (Mike) Hawthorn was Britain’s first world champion racing driver. Securing the title in 1958 he took the title by just one point, beating someone called Stirling Moss in the process. After announcing his retirement at the end of that year’s season, due in-part as a result of the tragic death of his Ferrari team-mate Peter Collins, Hawthorn decided to return to Farnham to run the family garage. On January 22nd 1959 he was killed when his Jaguar left theGuildford bypass and struck a tree. To this day, no-one’s quite sure what exactly happened.

I pay my respects to “The Farnham Flyer” by thumbing the Spider’s starter and indulgently blipping the throttle a few times before making my way south and back out on to the A3. Quite what the onlookers think of my 8 cylinder symphony as I leave the cemetery gates I’m not certain, but I’d like to think both Hawthorns junior and senior would have approved.

Heading for an appointment at just north of Chichester, I let the MP12’s auto-box find its own way into seventh gear before leaving the dual carriageway, circumnavigating the pretty market town of Petersfield and crossing the border into West Sussex. First though, there’s time for a little fun.

Up until the early 20’s the road to South Harting doubled as a Hill climb circuit. So, seeing as the sun’s come out, I fold back the Spider’s roof, switch the gearbox into manual, and roll its power-delivery setting round to Track. With 616bhp at its disposal, a carbon fibre chassis and steering that was signed off by both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, the MP12 makes astonishingly light work of the sinuous climb. A couple flicks of my left index finger and a flex of my right toe and in seconds the digital speedo is showing a third figure. The long straights and flowing curves that lead me past Chilgrove are devoured in what feels like a warp-speed blur.

My destination is Goodwood because the circuit links both Hawthorn and McLaren. Hawthorn made his first appearance in a racing car here, McLaren his last.

In 1959 as the world mourned the loss of one Formula One legend it gained another.  Bruce McLaren took victory in the U.S. Grand Prix at Sebring of the same year and became the then youngest man to ever win an F1 World Championship race. In June 1970 the racer-turned-constructor was tragically killed here on the Lavant Straight when rear bodywork of the M8D he was testing came adrift at speed. The lack of aerodynamic downforce destabilized the car, causing it to spin, leave the track, and hit a bunker.

In the Brooklands Garden behind Goodwood’s pits and just steps away from a statue of Hawthorn, there’s a simple yet elegant memorial to the softly-spoken New Zealander whose name is as equally synonymous to motor-racing as that of Tyrrell, Brabham or Ferrari. Bruce McLaren was 32.

Kindly, I’ve been granted 20 minutes on the grid so as I can photograph the Spider. The temptation to take a lap of the circuit is almost too great. However, the significance of a (nearly) orange McLaren at Goodwood on a quiet day isn’t lost on me and no-matter what my ability behind the wheel I’ll never be an F1 world champion: besides, the drive down here demonstrated the Spider’s limitations are way beyond mine.

Images captured, I make my way, across paddock, north via Woking, and back through the gates of the MTC.

McLaren 12C Spider

Engine: 3,799cc 8Cyl 32V twin-turbo petrol
Transmission: 7 speed SSG Auto, rear wheel drive.
Power:  616 bhp @ 7500pm
Torque: 442 lbft @ 3000 – 7000rpm
0-62MPH: 3.1 Sec
Max Speed: 207 mph
CO2: 279g/km
MPG: 24.2 combined
Price: £195,500

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