Goodwood is inextricably linked to McLaren’s story. The Bruce McLaren Racing Team used the motor circuit throughout the sixties to develop racing cars, and it was at the circuit where the Kiwi lost his life in June 1970. So driving a brand new McLaren, launched at Goodwood, is an extremely special experience.
This time it’s a road car though, and it’s not the Goodwood circuit but the notoriously tricky 1.16-mile hill climb course in the Duke of Richmond’s back garden – the Festival of Speed. The car in question is the new 600LT and Auto Express is the first in the world to drive it.
LT stands for ‘Longtail’ and it’s an evocative name in McLaren’s history. The first car to wear the badge was the F1 GTR in 1997 which was designed to conquer GT racing and the Le Mans 24 Hours, and the 600 is the third following on from the 675LT of 2015. It’s for this reason that the new one creates so much attention in the Festival of Speed’s Supercar Paddock.
While there’s a whole string of mad one-off supercars sitting in their garages, the 600LT has a distinctive look itself. The stretched bodywork is the most noticeable change and that fixed rear wing makes a 570S (the car on which the 600LT is based) look rather conventional.
Start up the engine, engage ‘D’ and we gently nose the car out of the paddock. With helmets on and the same carbon fibre racing seats as the mad McLaren Senna, the 600LT feels every bit like a racing car. Indeed, the seats totally transform the seating position from a 570S – you sit perfectly straight and upright, and you feel more connected to the car.
A thumbs-up from the marshal and it’s away down the famous avenue of trees. The engine sings with a more tuneful rasp thanks to a completely different exhaust system.
The 600LT uses the same 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 as the 570S but there’s an extra 30bhp and 20Nm of torque, and it’s very noticeable. We’re up to 62mph in what feels like a blink of an eye (it’s actually an incredible 2.8 seconds) before leaning on the brakes for the first corner. There’s the McLaren’s trademark brake feel and the almost telepathic steering, but in the LT it’s even crisper. It’s now a short squirt to the second corner before blasting past the Duke’s country pile. It’s here where we can open up the 600LT and let the crowd hear that fabulous engine note.
Now we’re under the bridge and down to the infamous Molecomb corner. It’s off-camber and always a strong test of a car’s balance, but this weekend it’s also quite dusty so is rather slippery. Again, hard on the brakes and it’s here where the LT feels completely different to the 570S because it brakes completely flat and true. Attack the same corner in the 570S or 570GT and the nose would dive a little and the car would shimmy when scrubbing off the speed.
Once straightened up it’s time for another blast past the crowd and then to Flint Wall, kink right, gently hold the throttle and back into the trees. The 600LT blasts out into daylight for a moment before dipping back into the woods. And then it’s the dash for the line, completing a very special drive in what’s set to easily be probably the finest driving car McLaren currently makes.