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McLaren P1, a Le Mans racecar for the street, edges into the spotlight


McLaren P1, a Le Mans racecar for the street, edges into the spotlightTechnically, the McLaren P1 unveiled at the Paris Motor Show Thursday is just a tease of a tease. It's billed as a design prototype, the final version of which won't be seen for several months. And McLaren held back many key details about the car, such as how much power it has to offer, vowing to reveal that early next year. What we did learn was that McLaren has put its typical obsessive compulsion of racecar engineering toward building a street car that can race any other at Le Mans and win.

As the preview pictures suggested, the P1 was designed as a spiritual successor to the McLaren F1 supercar of the '90s, down to the "snorkel" in the roof that helps cool the engine. It's part of a concerto of scoops, strakes and vents styled by the same engineers who handle aerodynamics for the McLaren Formula 1 team.

The result isn't just about making the car go fast, but keeping it on the track; thanks to a massive rear wing and two flaps that pop from the body, the car can generate an extra 1,322 lbs. of downforce at racing speeds -- which McLaren managing director Antony Sheriff compared to having a young elephant sit on the car.

Everything about the car's exterior is meant to shuttle air around it at speed, and McLaren says its spared no expense in the P1's construction; it's made mostly of carbon fiber, but there are more exotic materials mixed in, like the heat shield for the exhaust that's coated in gold leaf. To help stop the car, the wing can pivot down and act like an air brake -- not that the car will need them if it keeps the brake calipers large enough to fit across the tires of some small cars.

McLaren says the rest of the details about the P1 will arrive at the Geneva Auto Show, with production beginning late next year as a commemoration of McLaren's 50th anniversary.