Epic New Zealand road trip- the birthplace of McLaren

I love cars. McLaren’s are my favorite. So to see 32 McLaren’s all in the same place in my home town of Wellington it’s fair to say I was a total fan boy.

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Now in New Zealand we seem to have one common religion- rugby. It dominates our news stories, weekend sports fix and is forever the subject of water cooler talk “did you see the game last night?”. To the point that the NZ stock market and domestic violence rates have been linked to how the All Blacks perform. To be frank. It’s ridiculous. Such is the strangle hold on the countries psyche that other sports tend to be over looked. Most glaringly to me is motorsport. Very few Kiwi’s know that McLaren was founded right here in our backyard by Auckland born and bred Bruce McLaren.

In the heydays of 1960’s the ‘number 8 wire approach’ which New Zealand has been so famously founded upon (an attitude of using anything to get the job done) Bruce and the boys were winning races in Formula One, Indy Car and Can Am. Taking the world by storm. He would say any New Zealander could have a job with him- figuring if you could make it to the other side of the world in those days you must have some initiative! After his death in 1970 the name continued on and became what it is today, thanks to merging with Ron Dennis from England and the Project 4 team.

Over the last decade the monstrous efforts of Scott Dixon winning multiple championships in Indy Car received merely a 20 second clip on TV. However a swell of young, extremely talented drivers performing on the world stage is starting to peak public interest- Hayden Paddon in the WRC, Brendon Hartley winning the WEC in a Porsche 919 Hybrid co-driving with ex-F1 great Mark Webber, ‘Mad Mike’ Whiddett on drift scene and the exploits of Shane Van Gisbergen racing a McLaren- it’s reminiscent of the good old days. Bruce McLaren won Le Mans in 1966 with another Kiwi F1 driver- Chris Amon.

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So thankfully, we’re starting to see some traction if you excuse the pun… Slowly more New Zealanders are becoming aware of the level of our motorsport talent and also the heritage, particularly thanks to some amazing work is being done by the Bruce McLaren Trust.

So with that in context the last few days have been an absolute treat. McLaren have been organizing high end road trips all over the world. This week kicked off the return to the spiritual home of McLaren, New Zealand- named “Epic New Zealand”. Over 8 days they’re travelling from Auckland in the North Island to Queenstown in the South Island- the length of the county. News agencies have been covering the event boasting of the $40 million convoy and screeds of people have ventured out to catch a glimpse of the cars. TV, radio and printed press have been invited along to share the experience and they’ve picked it up with enthusiasm. It’s been fantastic to watch.

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see them. Tracking the cars down took a bit or detective work as they weren’t on display to the public. Following a few hunches I had of where a 5 star road trip were likely to be staying I scoured the area. Spotting guys wearing familiar grey jerseys with a a red logo on the chest confirmed I close. Where would the cars be then? The hotel carpark is known to be notoriously difficult to get in and out of and a low front splitters worst nightmare. So I ventured across the road to where I knew was a large underground car park beside the harbour.

Opening the big wooden door, down the stairs and what is revealed to me? A McLaren F1. Beyond that, a treasure trove of carbon, titanium and rubber.

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The needing no introduction. Quite the sight to behold- Chassis #009

I could barely believe my eyes. The F1 is my halo car. I’ve said in previous posts I’d driven 8 hours to see chassis #018 on display. This year I traveled to the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England where I saw an additional four F1’s! For me, it seems 2016 is the year of the F1.

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This was chassis #009. The Australian owner bringing the car across from Melbourne to attend. Magnesium Silver in colour this was the first standard F1 I’d seen in road trim. Today it’s still amazing how compact the car is with a tiny footprint on the road and minimal body work overhangs front and rear. It still looks modern despite being over 20 years old. The biggest tell tale of it’s age is the size of the tyres- the profile is huge compared to the licorice strap tyres on modern McLarens. And the head lights- although this 1994 example had the HID headlight upgrade there was no fancy Xenon trickery.

Having an F1 in attendance was both a blessing and a curse I was told. Seeing one on the street, being used as Gordon Murray intended is special. And rare these days due to the sheer value they hold now. Over $20 million is the common figure being quoted for this example. As such, the crew were on high alert making sure passers by didn’t get too close. If you don’t drive them then they won’t get damaged. However, this car is being driven and unfortunately did have a little damage from the looks of rubbing up against a pole on the left rear hip above the wheel arch. A minor repair but no doubt a headache which added to the angst in the group.

Of the 32 cars there was one F1, two P1’s, several 12C’s and the remainder made us of the current crops of McLaren’s line up- 650S, 675LT, and the sport series of 570S, 570GT and 540C.

Notably a 650S Le Mans edition, one of fifty made, was in attendance.

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One of fifty 650S Le Mans special edition cars worldwide

Owners from all over the world are attending including Australia, Japan, Canada, Hong Kong as well as locals. Some owners flew their cars in, like the white P1 from Tokyo but others that chose not to used some of McLaren’s press fleet brought in for the event. Some of those renting their car have paid up to $60,000 for the privilage.

The carpark was a swarm of activity. Technicians from Woking and the local Auckland dealership plus an army of detailers and local driving school experts were busy prepping the cars for the next day. As you’d expect from McLaren it was nothing short of military. Cars would be taken in groups of three down to the local petrol station to be filled up with 98 octane fuel then returned to form a queue. Tyre pressures were then checked, lug nuts re-torqued and the cars given a visual once over. Then they proceeded forward in the line to be vacuumed, windscreens washed, body spray waxed and wheels cleaned. Out of the production line they were then parked up to rest for the night.

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Express car wash- McLaren style

One technician walked the carpark with a sandwich board of all the spare keys to distribute. Walkie talkies blared amongst them like a well oiled pit crew. This method meant there was plenty of movement of the cars to watch, smell, and particularly hear. An underground car park was the perfect place to listen to V8 and the V12 rumbles echo off the concrete walls.

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The man with the power…. the keys!

I left that evening buzzing from seeing that many epic cars lined up in one place. So much so that I decided I’d have to come back the morning! They were all departing for a ferry crossing to the South Island. Properly seeing them out on the street was too much of an opportunity to pass on.

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Venturing out in an F1 and 675LT into Wellington rush hour

7am the next day I made my way back in and watched them all fire up to convoy to the boat. Under natural, early morning sun light some of the more bold colour choices of Solis Green, Volcano Red and Taracco Orange really had a chance to shine.

Suffice to say it’s a sight I’ll remember for a long time and I’ll keep saving my pennies to attend one day. Hopefully it’s an event that will spark more Kiwi’s attention to motorsport that rather then just wanting to be an All Black they might think- ‘I want to race for McLaren’. Either way the future is looking encouraging here and as for the road trip, it’s an event that truly was epic!

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This Toyota Starlet owner was well surprised to find his car the centre of attention
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