There is a briefing pack that was handed out to senior McLaren personnel prior to their arrival in Geneva for the launch of the 720S.
And in the bit where it deals with journalists asking how fast it goes, particularly in reference to lap times at places like the Nurburgring, the stock response is meant to be along the lines of, ‘when you get to drive it, you will find out for yourself.’
Now, I understand as well as any why McLaren doesn’t want to get into a numbers-based arms race over what’s quickest where, but at the same time in order to understand exactly what kind of proposition the 720S represents, some measure of its performance beyond a 0-124mph time is useful. So I asked a couple of McLaren people I know well to see if they would go off-message.
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First was Jamie Corstorphine one time Autocar road tester and now McLaren’s global marketing director. ‘You will have to see for yourself, but I’d say it is an entirely different level of performance to a 650S.’ A bigger step than from the 12C to the 650S? His eyes widen a little. ‘A much bigger step.’ So far so good.
It soon becomes clear that this step has not come just from the extra power, the fractionally reduced mass and over half as much downforce again. To make the quantum leap McLaren thought was required, it has had to go into the details like never before. Talk to chief McLaren test driver Chris Goodwin and the phrase ‘contact patch’ peppers the conversation.
The real secret to the 720S’s performance is its ability to use the power put at its disposal. ‘Setting up the suspension on this car, getting the damping right is the most difficult thing I have done in my professional life,’ he insists, ‘but now that it’s done, it’s the easiest thing in the world to drive. It simply keeps more of the tyre in touch with the road more of time. And if you can control that, the result is not just grip, but the confidence to use it.’
So how fast then? Chris smiles at me. Ok, no need to talk lap times, just tell me: is it as quick as a 675LT? ‘Quicker, but in a different way. It does not feel as track focussed as an LT’ But is the 675LT not constructively as quick as a P1? ‘There’s not much in it and it depends where you are. At Spa, no, the P1’s power will always tell. Around the Indy circuit at Brands Hatch, very possibly.’
So if the 720S is quicker than an LT which has there or thereabouts the performance of a P1, does it not follow that the 720S is quicker than a P1? Goodwin smiles some more, but he’s not going to tell. Ok, would it be unreasonable to suggest that it is quicker than a P1? ‘To suggest it? No, not unreasonable at all.’ And that, I sense, is all I’m going to get.