789 horsepower, 2,641 pounds, almost a million dollars and you can’t even buy it… We’re in love.
– Sheffield, U.K.
Taking the Snake Pass through the Peak District between Manchester and Sheffield was a surprising joy after I sleepily clambered off the plane. The route is flanked by a rolling, heathered landscape that looks as if ripped from a Tolkien sketch book – a ribbon of a road cutting through with all manner of corners and cambers. It’s too bad I’m just a passenger, and slow moving, despite the lusty efforts of my shuttle driver and his groaning Transit van.
Of course, any of the current crop of McLaren cars would be heaven to drive here, but the Senna I’ve come to see and learn about is bound to be, well, more… More of everything. More power, more grip, more lightness (forgive me), and by the enthusiastic – some might say “fevered” – look in the eyes of those who’ve tested it, quite a lot more engaging.
Senna started life as “Project 15” about two years ago. Its goal? Toppling the track stats of the last of the brand’s Ultimate Series cars, the P1. To do so, and especially without the trick electrified powertrain of the P1, Senna would need to be ultra light.
The bodywork of the car looks rather big, and splashy; more imposing in person than the svelte 720S, to be sure. But design choices made for the sake of extreme aero have been counterbalanced by a fanatical eye on the scales.
An extraordinary deployment of carbon fiber helps here. The doors weigh in at just under 22 pounds each, for instance, or a little more than half the mass of the nearly 42-pound 720S doors. An example of the featherweight seat shells are on hand for me to pick up with two fingers, which, at about 7.4 pounds, is literally no big deal. Perhaps most impressively light and strong is that crowning rear wing, which is just under 11 pounds, but can carry some 500 times its own weight.
In fact, the magic metric numbers for Senna are 800 / 800 / 800 – meaning 800 PS, 800 Newton Meters, and 800 kilograms of total achievable downforce. Translated to U.S. standard figures that means 789 horsepower, 590 pound-feet of torque coming from the biturbocharged 4.0-liter V8, and a skull-crushing 1,764 pounds of downforce to keep the land-bound spaceship stuck to the ground.
Add it all up and you get a dry weight of just 2,641 pounds, a power-to-weight ratio better than that of the P1, and, frankly, an incentive for me to pack on a few pounds before I drive it, just to ease the stress.
Driver comfort is, as vehicle line director Andy Palmer said with just a hint of hilarious understatement, “less of a consideration” for the Senna. “The focus is solely on the driver,” says Palmer, “and his or her ability to drive the quickest lap.” I expect nothing less than abject and brutal speed, which is rather a departure from McLaren’s other road cars, with their ability to be easy daily drivers when not doubling or tripling posted speed limits.
In a machine so light and fast, driver engagement is almost a given, but McLaren has gone the extra mile to ensure the Senna is one of the most plugged-in cars ever built. To whit are the transparent composite panels in the doors; not only will these apertures offer drivers an excellent view of curbs on a race track, but they’re almost certain to amp up the sense of speed by laying bare just how low you are, and fast you’re moving.
Oh, there are of course more numbers to quantify that fast, too. I’m told that 62 miles per hour will come up in just 2.8 seconds, and the top speed – heavily influenced by the aggressive aero – nets out at 211 mph. More impressive to anyone who has raced, is the braking power: the carbon ceramic CCM-R brakes take months to manufacture, but when finished will drop your Senna from 124 mph to 0 in just 328 feet.
Those are aggressive stats for a race car, to say nothing of one that will be road legal. But don’t start worrying overly about door dings from parking your Senna at the office lot. For starters, McLaren wants $958,966 for each of the 500 units it’ll ever build. The entire production run is, of course, already sold out. Chances are good that when an example first comes up for sale in the used market, it’ll command well over a million bucks.
Still, for some reason McLaren is going to let some journalists – probably including yours truly – drive it in a few months. You could see that as an effective marketing exercise; it’ll undoubtedly be impressive to drive, at the very least. But I think it’s because, perhaps more than the cadre of enthusiasts at any other carmaker I’ve yet met, the folks at McLaren just love driving, talking about, and getting hyped over their own cars. I can hardly wait for the conversations around the first Senna drives – stay tuned.
Photos: McLaren Automotive