The McLaren 720S is already one of the fastest accelerating production cars and can be made quicker through some simple tweaks

Since McLaren got in the game of making road-going supercars, the British company known for its motorsport success has produced some pretty astonishing pieces of kit including the mind-boggling P1, the track-destroying Senna, and the 720S. The latter’s been the subject of a number of stories here on focusing on its prowess on the drag strip which isn’t surprising given its 710 horsepower output and the cohort of computers helping it get off the line as fast as an EV. However, can it really beat Porsche’s 918 Hybrid halo hypercar?

We know, given the pace at which the automotive world is moving nowadays, a car released back in 2017 can no longer be considered as ’fresh’ but the McLaren 720S that was first shown to the public at the Geneva Auto Show a couple of years ago is still pretty much what dreams are made of, not only because it looks incredibly well but also because it’s an incredibly competent machine. Potent enough to take on the 875 horsepower and 944 pound-feet of torque of one of the members of the Holy Trinity. Is, then, no need in this world for the P1?

You could hardly ask for a better supercar to take to the dragstrip than the 2018 McLaren 720S

Can a McLaren 720S Really Beat a Porsche 918 Spyder Down the Quarter-Mile?
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The McLaren 720S is the only model that’s currently part of McLaren’s ’Super Series’, the range that bridges the gap between the ludicrous ’Ultimate Series’ models and the rather more affordable ’Sports Series’ stuff like the 600LT or the 570GT. With over 710 horsepower at the crank (and about 690 at the wheels), the 720S is rivaling Ferrari’s F8 Tributo that’s powered by a 3.9-liter twin-turbo V-8 good enough for 720 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of twist. The Ferrari and the McLaren both feature seven-speed transmissions sending the power to the rear wheels and they both reach 60 mph from a standing start in about 2.8-2.9 seconds without any modifications.

The two cars are also evenly matched when it comes to top speed as they both exceed 210 mph in top gear and they’re also roughly as heavy (the Ferrari is slightly lighter at 2,932 pounds versus 3,168 pounds for the McLaren) and cost about the same: $301,500 will get you a 720S almost devoid of optional extras while a basic F8 Tributo starts at $293,500. So, looking at all of these numbers, it’d be fair to assume that pitting these two mid-engined supercars against one another on the drag strip would produce some exciting results, right?

Can a McLaren 720S Really Beat a Porsche 918 Spyder Down the Quarter-Mile?
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Only we’re not actually talking about a comparison between the F8 Tributo and the 720S. And the main reason isn’t that we’re yet to see the Tributo out and about but because it’s a comparison that everyone expects will happen. This is probably what the guys at DragTimes thought about when they got the opportunity to see just how fast a McLaren 720S is over the quarter-mile against... the Porsche 918 Hybrid.

As insane as it may sound, it actually makes sense. You see, the McLaren P1, the true hybridized rival of the 918 Spyder coming from Woking, was revealed in 2012 and the last car rolled off the production line in late 2015. It’s, thus, interesting to see how much McLaren’s mid-tier model has evolved in the five-year gap between the launch of the P1 and the launch of the 720S. As you’ll see in the video, the results are quite unexpected.

The orange 720S you see here is a bone-stock example, apart from the Toyo Proxes R888R tires replacing the standard Pirelli P Zero Corsa rubber. We’ve seen before what happens when you fit a 720S with a set of Toyo R88Rs, some of the best road-legal circuit-oriented tires out there. In short, while McLaren quotes a 10.03-second quarter-mile time with a 0-60 mph time of 2.9 seconds (0-124 mph in 7.8 seconds) with stock rubber, if you’re running on Toyo R88Rs you can easily get sub-ten-second runs.

Can a McLaren 720S Really Beat a Porsche 918 Spyder Down the Quarter-Mile?
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This was proved once more in this video, the McLaren being able to beat the Porsche in the first run with a 9.97-second quarter-mile time at 142.96 mph (a couple mph slower than that benchmark time we’ve talked about before). Granted, the 918 Spyder with its 875 horsepower and 944 pound-feet of torque was just 0.009 seconds behind with a time of 10.03 seconds at 140.11 mph and was gaining on the 720S when the two cars crossed the finish line practically side-by-side.

This is amazing for the 720S considering people clocked a 2.5-second 0-62 mph time in the past for the 918 Spyder. Sure, the German powerhouse is almost 600 pounds heavier than the 720S with a dry weight of 3,690 pounds and it did skid a bit more off the line - by the way, it’s shod in the standard Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber - but the result is amazing nonetheless.

To prove it was no fluke, DragTimes did three more separate runs and, at the second time of asking, the Porsche won by 0.080 seconds with a 9.90-second quarter-mile time at neigh on 143 mph versus 10.14 seconds at 138.2 mph for the McLaren. The next two runs produced similar results proving that the 720S is either the performance bargain you should bag right now if you’ve got $301,500 laying around or that the Porsche 918 Sypder is already outdated.

Can a McLaren 720S Really Beat a Porsche 918 Spyder Down the Quarter-Mile?
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In fact, it’s not that easy to draw a clear conclusion. That’s because each run was a bit different (the McLaren got a better start thanks to the grippier Toyo tires almost every time and, when the Porsche finally edged the 720S off the line, it won effortlessly). It’s also worth noting that, while the claimed MSRP of the Porsche 918 Spyder shown in the video is $929,000 which would suggest it was fitted with the optional $84,000 Weissach Package, there’s no mention of it actually being a Weissach 918 Spyder. Assuming the car is standard throughout, it is indeed much heavier than the 720S due to the addition of the electric motors and battery. The Weissach Package shaves off 90 pounds and this, in turn, reduces the official 0-60 mph time by 0.1 seconds.

So, yes, a bog-standard 918 Spyder apparently lacking the Weissach Package is, by and large, as fast as a much cheaper (the MSRP of the 918 Spyder when new four years ago was $845,000) McLaren but there are many variables at play. We think that if you stick a set of similarly grippy semi-slick tires to the 918 and add the Weissach Package to negate some of the disadvantages of the added weight, the Porsche will beat the McLaren on any day of the week. Then again, with some modifications, you can get a 720S to run sub-nine-second quarter-mile times but then one of the cars would no longer be stock.

Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert -
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read More
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