At the start of the driving day, we were offered sighting laps in a 720S before moving to the faster, lighter, more agile Senna — which was not to denigrate the 720S, but it demonstrated graphically to a non-racer the amazing effect a GT racer’s level of downforce (it builds to 800kg at 150mph) has on stability and cornering grip. Looking in the reverse direction, the experience (quietness, smoothness, carefully tuned sounds) also demonstrated what impressive refinements have been built into the 720S, given the velocities it can attain.
I must say I admired the McLaren people for this straightforward approach; others in the car game would have been a lot less willing to make this sensible distinction between a big-selling road car and a much lighter road-going track weapon costing three times as much, for fear of damaging one or other. Instead, they give the knowledgeable people who buy cars like this the credit for a bit of intelligence…
Although massively quick in the right hands, the Senna turns out to be easy to drive in the hands of a mortal, courtesy of powerful, beautifully progressive brakes, a near-instant paddle shift, an enormous but surgivally accurate mid-range engine response, enough grip to chuck you out of the seat if you weren’t tightly retained by straps and an unobtrusive circuit-tuned ESP (that’ll let you slide the car in slower corners) waiting in the wings.
It was all a fabulous experience. But the major surprise of the weekend was discovering that, were I in the bracket money wise, such is the clever, careful development of this car that I reckon I could handle it up to a pretty decent performance level — and so could you.
Last time Cropley was at Estoril…
Being at Estoril took me back 15 years to an interview I did there with Michael Schumacher at the height of his Ferrari pomp. In those days, you placed a request with his connections, and about the time you’d forgotten making it, they’d call to say you’d reached the top of the pile. Schuey was undoubtedly the ultimate give-no-quarter driver, but I’ll always remember an affable, friendly and remarkably modest bloke who discussed what made him different from the rest — the fact that he had a brain compartment that allowed him to race at full speed and another that allowed him to think race craft at the same time, as if we were talking about someone else.
He unconsciously demonstrated the same ability a few minutes later when called away by his pit crew to look at some wrinkle in the practice telemetry. He returned, grinned, apologised for the interruption and continued answering the question I’d posed 20 minutes before, without needing to be reminded what that was, as a normal mortal would have done. I’ll always remember a charming, helpful and all-round amazing bloke — making what subsequently occurred such a lingering tragedy.