"Do you have any racing experience here in Hockenheim?" asks the man from McLaren, who assigns us to cars and slots. After almost all the other participants answered “Yes” to my horror, I hesitate for a moment. I've had hundreds of DTM outings and dozens of sovereign Formula 1 victories here on the circuit - but unfortunately only on the PS3. My awe was too great and the ego too small to simply answer the question in the affirmative. So I am honest and state “Gran Turismo” as the source of my driving experience.
A few signatures later, to my amazement, I still find myself in the left front seat of a McLaren 650S. With a helmet on, head past the gullwing into the carbon monocell and stuff the most valuable things into the sports bucket seat as elegantly as possible ... it helped a lot that I didn't have a steering wheel in front of me. First of all, it was about getting to know the supercar, which costs around a quarter of a million euros, from the British passenger side.
The 650S is technically based on its predecessor MP4-12C, with which it also shares the carbon fiber reinforced plastic chassis. It is a truism to speak of a flawless driving machine. But once you have taken place in it, then you also feel hormonal immediately, which means "driving machine"! A fighter jet on wheels.
The three-micron liter V8 biturbo sits just in front of the rear axle, which is powered by 650 horses via an 7-gear dual-clutch transmission with "sufficient" propulsion. Around 1,4 tons of curb weight are shot from zero to one hundred in just three seconds at up to 678 Nm of torque. Provided the 650S also applies the power of the crankshaft to the road surface. Which brings us to the important issue of tires.
All McLaren have been equipped with the Pirelli P-Zero from birth. In time for the 40th anniversary of the product brand, there is currently a new version that offers all kinds of refinements. For example, the F1 bead, which should ensure optimal distribution of the cornering forces even at high speeds. Will I ever get enough speed to feel the subtle difference with the popometer?
It goes out with the instructor at the Volant on the track. The first lap serves to warm up the tires. I know, I have already seen on TV and on the PS3. But here I learn something else: the warm-up happens at first not only about friction, but to the much greater part about the temperature of the brakes! If you brake too little, you can quickly "cool down" your tires. Exactly for this reason you do not want to sit instead of Bernd Mayländer in the safety car of the formula 1, when annoyed F1 pilots on the radio on a higher speed at introductory lap or in safety-car phases reminder. After all, whatever may be quite quick for the AMG GTS with the lights on the roof leaves the following F1 cars, their brakes and the P-Zeros quite cold.
It is not just about the optimal temperature window of the rubber compound and its resulting adhesive properties, but also about the changing tire air pressure and thus the tire geometry. Anyone who has a tire pressure monitor in their normal car can follow it live in the instrument cluster: between cold conditions at the start of the journey and operating temperature after a few brisk country road kilometers, the pressure in the tires often rises by almost half a bar. This in turn necessarily has consequences for the kinetic properties of the tires. If there are climatic changes since the last check of the air pressure (usually the time of the wheel change at the beginning of the season), you can quickly get wrong up to 1 bar. It is worthwhile to have a look on it as a motorist, especially on particularly hot or cool days!
Of course, the guys from McLaren have that in mind. The tire pressures are meticulously checked and corrected every few stints. So now when you change sides of the occupants. After the introductory rounds with some explanations from the instructor, I am finally allowed to drive myself to the driver's seat of the 650S
This is a bit like the practical driving school exam. The driving instructor sits next to me and I also feel a bit that he does not consider me to be the most talented of his students. This is certainly less in my sitting position and steering wheel attitude, because I have just internalize a model at a "Driving Academy", but because I initially probably too deep stacked with my mention of the Playstation as "only" foreknowledge.
Now I have to bear the consequences of "Noob": already felt 200 meters before the actual braking points, I am reminded by the professional to the courageous ejection of the carbon-ceramic anchor. And if I want to compensate for the perceived slowness by accelerating out of the corner early, an extremely conservative ESP keeps me from doing so. The 650S takes the gas practically only when the steering wheel is almost turned back to zero position. Only then does one get an approximate impression of his power development - and then I should brake again.
But: the man is right! What I think is slow when looking at the speedometer but rather crazy speed. Only: in 650S you do not notice too much, despite the low seating position! The car is so full on the road, the bucket seats do not allow any play, the helmets swallow a lot of the noise and the Pirellis are still good-natured even after the Sachs curve, so then just a deceptive "Playstation" driving and security feeling established.
However, this game console here has a pretty sustainable damage model in case of departure. Therefore, the caution. However, my instructor now allows me more risk from round to round. "Very good, Joe-Hannes!" It sounds after every neatly taken curve line over the intercom in the helmet. I'm even allowed to slow down late, and THAT is really cool in the McLaren monster!
For example at the end of the start-finish straight, where you would like to be fast for longer. The almost “digital” pedal feel of a ceramic brake system of this caliber is divine. Of course, no fading, no rubbing, no pulling in the steering, no noises - just a steplessly powerful bite, supported by the lightning-fast "Air Brake" of the rear spoiler. Then, just before turning in, open the brakes, look at the targeted exit from the curve, steer to the apex at the highest possible speed and with little steering intervention, let yourself be pulled out of the centrifugal force in a clean line almost to the run-out zone and the monster in the rear Give the spores early! The Brit back hisses and the Brit in the passenger seat says: "Perfect, Joe-Hannes!"
I'm even supposed to take the curbs with me. Which is unusual for a test drive like this. After all, it should also convince us of the outstanding properties of the new P-Zero, but hardly anything will kill the tire faster than the constant carrying of the curbs. I have not seen a wheel change here the whole afternoon. But please, I like to give the rest at an advanced hour, if I can get through the corners faster!
We have our fun: both the 650S, me anyway, increasingly also the instructor next to me and apparently also the four P-Zeros among us. They are not seriously offended when I finally overdo it. We arrive at the bottleneck at the end of the Parabolika with significantly more than 200km / h. I ignore the hand signals of the instructor for a long time and deliberately slow down too late. As expected, the McLaren is also slowing down as if held by a steel cable. The tires are getting a bit loud, but they reliably keep up with the maximum load. But because we are a bit late for my optimal ideal line, I break the brake a fraction of a second too early and steer hard - and we are almost drifting across the board. What a fun! If I had left the ESP, I would have liked to keep the accelerator pedal in stable drift. Unfortunately did not go - and would not have been in the sense of my driving instructor.
At the end of my stint, I'm more sweaty than expected, but feel good about my future racing career. But this newfound confidence lasts only a few minutes. Namely exactly to the final ride with my instructor in McLaren 570S, the "little brother" of our previous car. The description of this ride I spare myself and you for temporal and dramaturgischen reasons. She would relativize everything described above, especially with regard to my driving skills 😉