McLaren…..it’s a name synonymous with the manufacturer of cutting edge children’s push chairs, however there is also a company of the same name that nail cars together, small world eh.
The company in question has quite some pedigree too. Just mention the Mclaren F1 with its centre mounted driver’s seat, of the mid 90’s to any petrol head almost regardless of age, and you’re likely to be greeted with distant stares and talk of longing etc. More recent times have seen a revitalisation of the production of road cars, whilst the drive for F1 perfection exists now just as it always has. Whilst most British car manufacturing happens from buildings essentially evolved from some blokes shed in his back garden, the McLaren Technology Centre (MTC) couldn’t be more different. The brain child of Ron Dennis its nestled into an area just outside Woking in Surrey, and at the time of construction it was said to be the biggest privately funded construction project in Europe. As you drive up to it skirting the extremities of the lake, which acts as the heat sink for the wind tunnel, it would be a difficult claim to argue….the building is quite simply breath taking, much like many of the machines that it churns out.
With all this in mind the excitement levels for the UGD members that started to amass at the Petrol Heads Nirvana was tangible. What none of them were aware was quite how privileged the levels of access they were to be afforded was. Our tour would take a twist from the normal route that the McLaren staff took people on. We were to be taken into the F1 simulator room and the production facility, areas that were out of bounds for mere mortals! As the members checked into security, their machines were deposited into the “They’re not really McLarens are they” bays. The UGD machines included a Ferrari California, AMG GTS, Porsche 911 Turbo and C63 AMG amongst others.
The entrance into the heart of the building is via a white tunnel towards a lift. The tunnel is designed to allow staff to leave behind the outside world, and prepare their minds for the job in hand. Much like the multi functioning lake each and every element of the building has been designed with a clear focus on quality and performance, it’s a very apt insight into the minds of the people that built and work within it. None more so than Ron Dennis, stories of his almost tyrannical attention to detail and strive for perfection are well known, but nothing cements this for me quite as much as learning that builders were told that if the tiles didn’t span each floor space perfectly, without being trimmed etc, the building should be extended!!!!
As the lift door opens you are treated to an emergence onto the boulevard, with the lake yawning away from the building in front of you. You could almost hear the exhalation of breath from the UGD members as they drank in the view. However as lovely a puddle as it is the show stealer’s can be found in the form of various championship winning cars, lined up in a very McLaren flavoured perfectly spaced fashion.
If you have even the most fleeting interest in cars, it’s impossible to not be rather moved by the machinery on display, there’s an old Austin that was Bruce McLarens first racing car next to an XP5 F1, the very car that set the 240.1MPH record. F1 GTR’s share the area with a P1, 720S and 570 Spider along with a smorgasbord of Formula1 racers. It’s on this floor that our tour guide mentions the McLaren MP4-4 campaigned in the 1988 season by two blokes you may be aware of Mr Prost and Mr Senna. It’s a car of legend for a couple of reasons, firstly it won the season of 16 races, taking 15 pole positions and 15 race wins!!! It is however the feat of that chap Senna at Monaco that year where he won the race. If you’re not sitting comfortably I suggest you stop for a second and allow time to absorb the following fact. The MP4-4 is a manual car, and Monaco requires more than a couple of ratio swaps, this would have entailed Ayrton completing the lap whilst driving more or less one handed for the vast majority of it! Have a look at any on board footage of the course from either that era or the current one and the sheer movement of the car across the surface is difficult to control with both hands, but to have done it with 1 points to piloting skills on a par with God.
The tour continues past the canteen, where every employee must eat. Outside the canteen a wall is utilised to display the company’s trophies, one for each race victory. These are the actual trophies as drivers aren’t permitted to keep them, in our tour guides words “the team won the trophy, not just the driver”. They are here on purpose as a method of reinforcing to each employee the importance of their role in the constant battle for perfection and race winning success.
Our tour then took us into the inner sanctum of the facility to areas not normally on show to public tours, we were treated to time in the F1 simulator room, where each F1 track from around the globe exists in a virtual world. The tracks have all been laser scanned to ensure they are 100% accurate, yet another demonstration of McLaren levels of almost anal attention to detail. From here we were whisked into the production area, where McLaren showed us the processes and methods employed in the manufacturer of current and future road and race cars. Images of both these areas are etched into the memory banks of the fortunate UGD members who attended, which is the only place they can be shared as photography is rather understandably not permitted!
Each of the members agreed it was quite a visit, and huge thanks go to the guys at McLaren who made this possible and afforded us such privileged access. We will return next year for more of the same, if you didn’t attend it’s definitely one for the diary…watch this space.