As its first car since the legendary McLaren F1 and the Mercedes SLR program, the MP4-12C is the first in a range of high performance sports cars from one of the world’s most successful racing companies.
The McLaren MP4-12C will be the first in a range of sports cars from McLaren Automotive, the independent car division at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, England. The 12C, and future models within the range, will challenge the world’s best sports cars, benefiting from the expertise of the McLaren Group.
Twenty years of sports car design, engineering and production combined with its success in Formula 1 has driven Ron Dennis, the McLaren Automotive Chairman, to announce plans for the ultimate line-up of technology-led performance cars for the 21st century.
McLaren’s automotive division built one of the world’s most critically acclaimed supercars, the McLaren F1 (1993-1998) and the best-selling luxury supercar, the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren (2003-2009). But McLaren Automotive now looks to the future with a new range of revolutionary sports cars.
"It’s been a dream of mine to launch a range of sports cars that set new standards in the industry," said Dennis. "We began designing and building cars almost 20 years ago. Incorporating leading edge technologies that the McLaren Group has built within its various companies, I believe we are now perfectly placed to open a new chapter in McLaren’s history and play a part in the regeneration of high-tech manufacturing in the UK," he concluded.
At its heart, the McLaren MP4-12C features a revolutionary carbon fiber chassis, the Carbon MonoCell: the first time a car in this market segment is based around such a strong and lightweight engineering solution and the first time any car has ever featured a one-piece carbon structure. This change in means the 12C introduces new standards not just in handling, ride and performance, but also safety, economy and practicality. McLaren pioneered the use of carbon composite construction in the 1981 Formula 1 MP4/1 and set a trend that all Formula 1 teams have followed.
The two-seater, mid-engined McLaren MP4-12C will be aimed at the market segment for cars costing between $200,000-£300,000. It will be pure McLaren, featuring no parts from any other car, and will be produced by McLaren in the UK. It will go on sale through a dedicated, worldwide network in early 2011.
The 12C is said to have the highest specific power output as well as extraordinary power- and torque-to-weight ratios. Furthermore, Proactive Chassis Control will offer groundbreaking handling and ride comfort while a focus on occupant packaging will offer new levels of comfort and everyday usability.
It will be powered by a bespoke McLaren ‘M838T’ 3.8 liter, 90 degree V8 twin-turbo engine producing around 600bhp, driving through a McLaren seven-speed Seamless Shift dual-clutch gearbox (SSG). It is targeting not only new standards for power and performance, but also class-leading fuel economy and CO2 emissions; supported by McLaren’s experience of active aerodynamics to aid cooling, grip, handling and road holding.
‘M838T’ features dual variable valve timing and produces around 600bhp and 600Nm of torque. A dry sump and flat plane crankshaft allow the engine to be placed extremely low in the chassis thereby lowering the centre of gravity and improving handling responses. It also features composite cam covers and intake manifolds, which reduce weight and heat transmission into the charge air, as well as Nikasil-coated aluminium liners for further weight reduction.
The McLaren engine revs to 8500rpm, has quick transient throttle response and delivers its abundant torque throughout the rev range. A staggering 80% of torque is available at below 2000rpm, ensuring great driveability and no need to floor the throttle to deliver performance.
And it delivers a great soundtrack to highlight the engine’s performance, flexibility and driveability. The sound of the engine has been thoroughly engineered through exhaust manifold design and tuning of the exhaust and intake systems to deliver a unique engine note.
The high level exhaust pipes exit through a mixing box, rather than a conventional, heavy muffler. All parts of the exhaust system up to the mixing box feature sandwich layer heat-shielding that helps reduce heat from the engine bay. In just an 18mm gap, exhaust gas temperatures reduce from 900C to 300C.
"The 12C is all about performance," said Antony Sheriff, McLaren Automotive Managing Director. "We don’t just look at the traditional one-dimensional parameters like top speed, we focus equally on useable measures such as in-gear acceleration, braking performance in all conditions, and efficiency of power delivery combined with the lowest possible fuel consumption and CO2 emissions."
"There are many examples of race car process and technology transfer in the 12C," claimed Dick Glover, McLaren Automotive Technical Director. "The car owes much to McLaren’s experience and success in motorsport. The advantage of technology transfer is only one element; speed of decision-making and development, F1 processes and people all make an important contribution."
"Brake Steer, for example, is a technology we pioneered on our Formula 1 car back in 1997. It helps to dial out understeer on entry to a corner and improves traction on the way out. Another is the Pre-Cog function on the gearshift rocker that effectively primes the transmission ready for the next change, ensuring a more satisfying and faster gear change. This is a high performance sports car with race car genes and teamwork at its heart."
Gears are changed using a Formula 1 style rocker shift that pivots in the centre of the steering wheel. It is actuated on either side of the steering wheel (pulling right changes up, pulling left down).
As with the McLaren Formula 1 car, a shift can be actuated either by pulling or by pushing on the rocker. The rocker moves with the steering wheel, rather than being mounted on the steering column, so that if a gear change is needed while lock is being applied the driver does not have to fumble around to change gear.
The rocker itself incorporates an innovative feature created by McLaren engineers called Pre-Cog. The name stands for pre-cognition, literally ‘foreknowledge’. The rocker on the 12C has two positions with a slightly different haptic (or feel) for each. The driver applies first pressure to the rocker and it informs the gearbox to get ready to swap ratios, thereby saving time - latency - between the message being sent and the gearbox being primed to act. The second pressure confirms that the gear should be changed and the torque handover is completed in milliseconds.
"What Pre-Cog actually does is initiate the shift process by priming the clutch and torque handover - it takes significant time out of the process," explained Dick Glover, Technical Director McLaren Automotive.
"It’s a little bit like the first pressure on a camera shutter button. There’s no requirement for the driver to use it but it is more satisfying and engaging if you do. The SSG also promotes seamless shifting in which the driver doesn’t have to reduce engine power at all - rather than the gearshift slowing you down, it actually speeds the car up by recovering the energy of the crank spinning as it drops engine speed," he said.
The close position of the driver and passenger will allow a narrower, lighter body while improving visibility with a clear perception of the car’s extremities. Further weight savings come from the brakes with forged aluminum hubs save 8kg and weigh less than optional carbon ceramic brakes. Lightweight exhaust pipes exit straight out of the rear, minimizing length and weight. Airflow-assisted Airbrake deployment dramatically reduces weight of the activation system. A small, compact downsized engine coupled to the compact SSG minimizes vehicle length, weight and polar moment of inertia. Significant weight was also pared off the wheels through intensive Finite Element Analysis of wall thicknesses. The engine cooling radiators were mounted at the rear, as close to the engine as possible, to minimize pipework, the fluids within them, and therefore weight. They were also mounted in-line to minimize vehicle width.
"We have spent most of the program adding lightness," said Mark Vinnels, McLaren Automotive Program Director. "If the cost of reducing weight brought performance gains in speed, handling or economy, we did it. However, if the expense could deliver improved performance elsewhere, we didn’t pursue it. We never set weight targets as such; we set cost-to-performance targets and examined everything in this way."
"A good example of this philosophy is that we considered carbon fibre body panels. They would have reduced weight but added little benefit as the new one-piece Carbon MonoCell provides all of the torsional strength the body needs. The costs saved were used elsewhere for greater weight reduction and efficiencies overall. This was the holistic approach to weight saving that we used all the way through development," he concluded.
The McLaren MP4-12C design follows similar principles to McLaren’s Formula 1 cars, and the legendary McLaren F1, where everything is for a reason. This ensures that the 12C communicates its engineering through its styling and will remain a timeless automotive design.
The 12C’s body has been styled to support downforce that contributes to class-leading levels of lateral grip and stability. Air flow has been managed to support performance figures and weight targets. For example, placing the radiators adjacent to the engine keeps the car narrow and reduces weight. However, this results in a huge challenge of ensuring air flow to the radiators. The result? The large side air scoops and integrated turning vanes that are dramatic, but functional.
The name of the MP4-12C is derived from ‘MP4’ continuing the chassis designation for all McLaren Formula 1 cars since 1981. It stands for McLaren Project 4, resulting from the merger of Ron Dennis’ Project 4 organization with McLaren. The ‘12’ refers to McLaren’s internal Vehicle Performance Index through which it rates key performance criteria such as power, weight, emissions, and aerodynamic efficiency. The ‘C’ refers to carbon, highlighting the application of carbon fiber technology in the future range of McLaren sports cars.
When we embarked on the 12C project, we set ourselves ambitious targets. After all, building a car that matches the performance of competitors is not good enough for us. With a McLaren badge on the front, it needs to be the best.
"So we developed everything from scratch because it was the only way we could ensure we met our ambitious goals and did not compromise the car - a new chassis concept, new engine, new gearbox, new suspension system, new telematics system; everything is new. As exciting as it has been for us, we hope the 12C will prove even more exciting for our customers," Sheriff concluded.
"I am really proud of what McLaren Automotive has achieved with the 12C," said Ron Dennis, McLaren Automotive Chairman.
"We respect and admire our competitors in the high performance sports car market, just as we do in the world of Formula 1, but I also believe that fierce competition drives technology and innovation and produces ever better products."
"With the McLaren MP4-12C we are determined to deliver the best car in its sector by almost any measure. It is our philosophy to push what is possible in car design and engineering and bring innovation and engineering excellence to the performance car world. We have an incredibly dedicated team at McLaren who continue to drive this company to ever greater achievements, and the 12C represents the passion within, as the first of this new range of performance cars from McLaren," he concluded.