If you have spent your entire adolescence and all of your adult life longing for a McLaren F1, well, forget all that. Start over, right now, and begin devoting your life, as well as all that time at work when you’re supposed to be looking at spreadsheets and reading lectures from HR, and just slobber 24 hours a day over the new Gordon Murray T.50s Niki Lauda. It will be time well-spent.
The T.50s Niki Lauda is the track-only super version of the already super T.50, except that designer Gordon Murray and co. have removed even more weight from it, added even more downforce and given it even more power. Since it’s made for track driving only, it can be lower, firmer and even lighter than the road car. This thing should be banned from all computer screens at any company that wants to get anything else done during the day. But hang on, we’ll ban it later. For now consider these salient points:
And unless you are one of 25 of the luckiest, wealthiest potentates on Earth, you will never own one! (Well, some of you will (BASTARDS!) but for the rest of us all we’ll ever have are these photos.)
So okay, let’s discuss some specifics.
First, the name. Niki Lauda drove and won in several Gordon Murray designed cars in Formula 1, perhaps most famously in the BT46-B “sucker car,” with a big fan on the back that literally hoovered the car down onto the pavement. It was so good it was banned after Lauda won the Swedish GP with it that year. Lauda and Murray remained friends after racing. When Lauda passed away two years ago, Murray wanted to honor his friend by naming the car after him. How did he manage getting the rights to the name?
“I called the family and asked,” Murray said.
Now for the car: It’s based around a specially developed lightweight carbon fiber monocoque with carbon fiber wrapped around a honeycomb aluminum core. The body panels, all custom-fitted to the T.50s Niki Lauda, area also carbon fiber. The windows and windscreen are lighter than the street version, too.
It rides on the same forged aluminum double wishbones all around but the springs, dampers and anti-roll bar are optimized for track performance. The ride height has been lowered 3.4 inches in front and four and a half inches in back. So you’re not going to clear any speed bumps.
Steering is the same as the T.50 but with a quicker ratio. Brakes are carried over from the T.50, and offer 3.5 gs of stopping force (buckle up.) Wheels are forged magnesium and weigh just 13 pounds each. The aerodynamics create 3,307 pounds of downforce at 200 mph. That sucker fan is just to clean up the airflow on the underside of the body, it doesn’t actually suck the car to the ground, Murray says. The big fin is for stability during incidents of slip angle, i.e. sliding sideways.
The 3.9-liter naturally aspirated V12 makes 701 hp. The car’s power-to-weight ratio is better than an LMP1 car, Murray says. It’s mated to a “bespoke” Xtrac Instantaneous Gearshift six-speed transmission operated via paddle shifts on the wheel. Because the gear ratios are focused for track use, top speed is “only” 200-210 mph.
But enough specs-box yammering. We got about a half hour with Prof. Murray himself. Here’s what he said.
Autoweek: If you went from a McLaren F1 into this T.50s Niki Lauda, what would you notice?
Gordon Murray: I think it would be night and day. I mean the performance—720 hp (PS) and 850 kilos for a start, and an engine that’s even more fast in its response time than the F1 engine, and, of course, 12,000 revs. Not to forget 12,000 revs. I think it’s gonna be night and day. Its nearest relative (in the McLaren F1 family) would be the 1997 long-tail GT-R.
AW: Which would you prefer?
GM: Well I’d take 50 because I know the foibles of the F1, I know where it wasn’t that good, and we’ve fixed all those with the 50 so I’d take that. And for the ultimate track experience I would definitely take this. Once again, like the road car, we weren’t interested in records or numbers, I’m not interested in lap times, this is all about, if somebody had to have one-only track car, this would be it. And unless somebody else builds an 850-kilo car with a 12,000-rev V12 in the back, nobody’s going to get close to the feeling this will give you on a circuit. (It’s) not so much the lap time but the feeling.
AW: With a 12,500-rpm redline, is all the power up at the top of the tach? How does the torque band look?
GM: It’s not as good as the road car because we’ve taken off the variable valve timing to save weight, friction, and to reduce the height of the motor. Because that really only affects the car below about 4,000 or 5,000 revs. And on the track the only time you’re around (those engine speeds) is when you’re pottering around the pit lane, really.
AW: So you’re gonna have it floored the whole time anyway, you’re not going to be stopping and going on a race track?
GM: That’s it, yeah, and we’ve got a very close-ratio gearbox, so I don’t think the gearbox drops below about 9,500 rpm on gear changes anyway so yeah, you’ll always be up there.
AW: The sucker fan doesn’t draw the car down, it just smooths the air flow so, it’s not actually vacuuming the car down to the pavement?
GM: No, not at all, no. It’s a boundary layer control device. We have a very, very aggressive diffuser shape that the air would never follow with a passive aero car. The fan removes all the dirty air, let’s say, from the corner of the diffuser and forces the air to follow that (diffuser shape) and that gives us much more downforce and efficiency from the underbody of the car, which is how we manage to keep the top surface of the T.50 road car so clean, because we don’t need the aero. This car we were challenging ourselves to getting over 1,000 kilos (2,200 pounds) of downforce, so you need obvious aero. But the reason you can still see quite a lot of T.50 (in the T.50s)—the pretty shape shining through—is that the underbody does so much for us with the fan. There’s no different modes on this one, it’s just one, high-downforce mode, so when you start the car, the fan’s in high-downforce mode, there’s no valving or manifolds or driver control, it’s just always in max downforce.
AW: Shall we have a look at it? (Zoom meeting photos come up on screen) Orange?
GM: That’s our heritage. My first racing cars were orange so we launched it in the heritage color from back in the ‘60s. You see what I mean, there’s still a bit of the road car coming through, so it’s not destroyed the shape, the aero. I’m really pleased with it, I have to say.
AW: It does look aerodynamically pure. And the front splitter is obviously different?
GM: Yes, so, that’s a much bigger splitter and the central part where that orange band is, is actually an airfoil section which directs a lot of the airflow down under the car to activate the ground effects. Then the three NACA ducts on the nose, the central one is driver cooling and the two outer ones are brake cooling.
AW: What’s the purpose of the fin?
GM: It’s very important. It’s high-speed stability for when you get into the really high-speed corners, just about every Formula 1 car has got that as well. It’s a stability thing rather than a downforce thing.
AW: What aero forces would be going sideways back there aft of the cabin? I always assumed all the air just went straight back?
GM: Yeah, it’s when you’re driving at a slip angle. When you’re over the limits or on the limits, all four tires are running at a slip angle to the direction the car’s actually pointing. And that’s when you get yaw forces on a racing car. And that just helps stabilize the car.
AW: And that wing is obviously different?
GM: The road car just has a spoiler that pops up; it doesn’t have a wing. So that delta wing is brand new for this version.
AW: Could a T.50 customer order one of these wings?
GM: That’s a tricky one because you really would have to do all the front aerodynamics as well to balance the car. And this car runs a lot lower. A T.50’s got a very good ride height so you can drive it into garages and over speed bumps and things.
AW: That scoop on the roof, how much actual air compression are you getting from that? Is it like a supercharger?
GM: Yes, 30 hp at top speed. That’s what caught me out with the (McLaren) F1 because I calculated the top speed would be 237 mph and we went to Ehra-Lessien (high-speed test track) in Wolfsburg in Germany and we got up to 237 and got into the rev limiter and the driver said it feels like it wants to go more so we disconnected the rev limiter and it went to 241 and that was because of the ram induction, which I stupidly failed to calculate. You can see the diffusers are a lot bigger on this car than on the road car.
AW: Is that because of the lower ride height?
GM: Actually, yes, a little bit of that and a little bit of the fact that we haven’t had to design the fan for many different modes, so we can optimize the diffuser shape just for high downforce.
AW: A buyer gets more than just the car with this, right?
GM: That’s right, yeah. Included in the price of the car, a lot of these companies, not mentioning any names, they charge extra for engineering support, they charge extra for the tools, and the pit equipment and all sorts of things, we’ve got what we call a trackside package, which is included in the price which is a day’s setup for the driver, the car is very adjustable on chassis and aero balance. First of all, we get the driver ergonomically fitted to the car, as we do with the road car. And then we do a whole day where we balance the car to suit the driver. And we offer all sorts of different silencer accommodations depending on what circuit you’re going to run it at, if they have a decibel limit. All the tools you need, the pit equipment, the jacks, the fueling equipment, come with the car. And initial engineering support all comes included in the price, so if you buy the car it’s a complete package.
AW: How much does the weight of the driver matter as far as balancing a car like this?
GM: Happily, the driver is sitting pretty near the center of gravity on the T.50.and this car we only have one passenger, who sits absolutely on the center of gravity. It’s generally chassis balance. Spring rate change and some damping. It’ll be as little as that.
AW: Do you know most of the buyers of this car?
GM: Sure, yeah.
AW: Does the passenger’s weight upset the car?
GM: Virtually not at all because the spring rate is so high relative to the road car that there’ll be very little difference in natural frequency. And as I said the passenger sits absolutely on the center of gravity. So there’ll be no change in balance at all.
AW: Would most owners take a passenger around a race track?
GM: It’s optional. We’ve only got one extra seat and it’s a no-cost option because if you take it out, you save another three and a half kilos. 3.8 kilos. If you can find somebody brave enough to go with you.
AW: What does the car sound like?
GM: The noise, they’ll be much more entertaining than Formula 1 cars are.
AW: What’s next for you?
GM: Project 2. We’ve got to start focusing on what comes after T.50. As the last of these rolls off the line, we need to have something to put down the production line. So we’re just starting work on project 2.
He didn’t tell us what Project 2 is. Hopefully not an SUV…
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