With 2015 underway, McLaren Automotive is getting ready to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its first and only 24 Hours of Le Mans win. Motorsports enthusiasts might recall that McLaren’s sole success on the Circuit de la Sarthe occurred in 1995, when the dark-gray-liveried F1 GTR of Kokusai Kaihatsu Racing took the checkered flag one lap ahead of the Courage C34 driven by then-55-year-old Mario Andretti. Three more GTRs completed the top five for one of McLaren’s greatest racing campaigns. 20 years later, the Brits recall the birth of the F1 GTR with Ray Bellm, the very man who convinced Ron Dennis to build an F1-based race car.
Bellm, a racing driver himself, began his career in 1980, running in historic racing series before moving to modern sports car racing in the mid-1980s. Although he has never reached the fame of iconic British racers such as Sir Stirling Moss or Jackie Stewart, he went on to win the World Sportscar C2 Championship in 1985, 1986, and 1988; the International GT championship in 1994, and the BPR Global GT Series in 1996, driving a McLaren F1 GTR to 11 victories in two years. He was also part of the F1 GTR-powered GTC Gulf Racing team that finished fourth at Le Mans in 1995, making him one of the very few drivers suited to talk about McLaren’s greatest Le Mans car.
Bellm’s story begins with the 1992 Monaco Grand Prix, when the road-going F1 was launched. That very day, he told Dennis he would buy one, which he did about a year later. Then, as he was racing in the BPR Global GT Series in a Porsche, Bellm started thinking that an F1-based race car would obliterate anything in its path. Interestingly enough, he went on to present the idea to Ron a week after racing the day Ayrton Senna died at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
As first, Bellm wanted to turn his road car into a racer, but Dennis said he would build F1s for the track if he found at least three customers. A few months later, the three customers and Dennis met to sign a contract and the F1 GTR project was born. In case you’re not too familiar with the GTR, you’ll find it interesting to learn that the track car was actually a stripped road vehicle that maintained its suspension and steering rack, making the fact that it won Le Mans that much more amazing. What’s more, the F1 GTR won its maiden race by a 50-second margin, despite showing up to the track without having been tested properly. Hit the play button to learn how Bellm persuaded Ron Dennis to develop the F1 GTR.