Justin Bell gets invited by BMW North America for an historic test drive of their 1996 McLaren F1GTR at Mid Ohio on a private test day. While waiting for the track to dry, Bell got up close and personal with one of BMW’s most historic racing cars. The 1996 BMW Motorsport McLaren F1 GTR is the unicorn of racing cars. Gordon Murray is the man behind the McLaren F1.

His creation was the fastest production car for almost a decade when it was surpassed by Bugatti Veyron, Koenigsegg CCR and SSC Ultimate Aero TT. However, unlike forced induction (turbo or supercharged) cars mentioned above, the F1 is still the fastest production car with a naturally aspirated engine which was unsurprisingly made by BMW.

Dubbed S70/2, the engine was 16 kg heavier than 250 kg Murray had in plan, but it was also 14% more powerful, producing 627 hp.

Although BMW was given very little time for production, the engine employed several features that were still experimental at the time, but now are featured in almost all BMW modern cars. For instance, the engine block and head are completely made of aluminum alloy while cam carriers, covers, oil sump, dry sump, and housings for the camshaft control were made of magnesium.

Nowadays, almost all BMW engines feature similar aluminum-magnesium construction, making them the lightest and most fuel efficient in their power category.

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BMW has also implemented their VANOS variable intake control which would later evolve to Valvetronic technology introduced in 2001.

McLaren had no intention to take it racing, but many customers and racing teams started seeing the potential in the F1 as soon as the first cars had hit the roads. Although the engine was custom made for “road use” McLaren F1, it was also fitted in the McLaren F1 GTR race car which won Le Mans in 1995. Three years after, BMW V12 LM debuted on the Le Mans track and won using the same engine.

Now let’s have a closer look at this amazing racing car!