With No Track in Sight, the P1 GTR Shows Its Real-World Limits

McLaren P1 GTR Profile at McLaren Philadelphia

With the debut of the McLaren F1 GTR, the F1 road car was stripped and sent to the track where at Le Mans it had never competed before, let alone won. Lanzante Motorsport, a specialist in classic car service and restoration, took the GTR and made it an instant classic.

The McLaren became the first car, and Lanzante the first team, to win at Le Mans in their respective debuts. The resulting success led to Lanzante Limited earning service capabilities for McLaren road and race cars, thus beginning the next chapter in the history of the F1 GTR and an unprecedented one: road conversion.

The F1 GTR eventually reached the end of its competitive lifespan, so conversion to street use was essentially the only way to keep the car from becoming a multi-million-dollar paperweight. With their experience with rare cars and the GTR, Lanzante took on the task and revitalized a number of the remaining GTRs for a new life on the road.

The remaining but still rare presence of the F1 GTR 20 years after its heyday inspired the namesake to arise again attached to the F1’s spiritual successor, the P1. The “GTR” tag was mostly plug-and-play as the P1 donor car was at the height of its competition, as was the F1, and is fully capable of transferring its ludicrous performance to the track, as was the F1. The P1 GTR sees better performance from upgraded downforce pieces and as much as 150 kg less weight, the same equation that put the F1 out in front of the 1995 Le Mans race.

The end result, as told by racers and automotive journalists thus far, is that it’s a groundbreaking new toy. It’s planted in the bends then explosive onward as nearly 1,000 horsepower propels the kaleidoscopic GTRs to lap times that seem unbelievable until they’re replicated.

But just like with the original F1 GTR, after its track dominance concludes, it can’t drive home afterward. Lanzante, again, wanted to change this.

Since most of the P1 GTR competition is held privately, there was no reason for the shop to wait until the car is outlived by its competition. Lanzante jumped at the opportunity and offered to now convert the P1 GTRs for road use as well, and already a handful of them in select markets have undergone the surgery.

Evaluating the P1 GTR as a road car and not its primary focus as a track day menace isn’t truly fair. It clearly serves its desired purpose well, even if it can’t be measured up against its competition in real racing situations. But when you take the GTR away from its home on the track, it allows for a new perspective, an equal treatment of the GTR as a “normal car.”

And that’s just wrong.

Our P1 GTR, finished in chrome red and black as designed by McLaren’s own Frank Stephenson, surely resembles a road-going P1 from the outside. Aside from its wacky livery and large, large fixed wing, it looks like the same formula – until you open the door. The single seat is hardly a seat, more so a carbon fiber sheet molded into an “L.” The steering wheel feels like a video game controller, with everything from ignition to gear changes happening simply from the wheel.

The car itself is not difficult to operate. The only stipulation for the GTR that differs from any other modern McLaren is that to shift into reverse (the other cars just have an “R” button), you have to select “Neutral” on the steering wheel and then click the left paddle to activate the reverse gear. It’s a simple process, but getting the car moving isn’t the obstacle.

You see, the GTR is optimized for turning at ludicrously high speeds and long bends of a road course. Our cramped photobooth is the ultimate litmus test for a car’s turning radius, and the handling of the GTR mixed with the extra care that goes with such an exotic machine forced movement of the car to be a never-ending back-and-forth until we got it parked as we needed. It was nearly impossible to know if it was parked where we needed, though, because the deep, reverberating rumble of the exhaust made it a struggle to hear directions, especially through the slide-open window on the driver’s side. I don’t think it’s even worth it to mention the lack of a back-up camera or sensors, because of course it doesn’t have those. A parking brake wasn’t even considered to keep it parked.

Without everything that makes modern cars easy to live with, the P1 GTR requires strong focus and attention in all aspects, and not just while it’s on the track. From moving it a few feet to photographing its vivacious chrome, it’s far from routine. The routine, for the GTR, will remain as a track competitor of the highest order. That is its home, that’s where it can be properly enjoyed.

But that’s not to say that we didn’t enjoy every second of it.