The team go behind the scenes of the McLaren 720S power test. Chris takes the 570S Spider around the test track and Rory is joined in the studio by Marino Franchitti and Rob Bell.
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Hi. I'm Rory Reid. Welcome to Extra Gear, the show that dives under
the Top Gear bonnet to give you more. Tonight,
we take you behind the scenes of the 720S power test.
OK, he's on the straight.
Here we go.
Chris takes the baby McLaren around our Top Gear test track.
It just goes.
And I'm joined by two bona fide racing drivers.
Marino Franchitti and Rob Bell.
That's right, this is Extra Gear.
OK, let's get our guests out.
He's a member of the Italian Scottish racing fraternity and most
definitely knows his way around a sports car,
welcome Marino Franchitti.
Have a seat.
And this man is no slouch in a sports car either.
McLaren factory driver and 2016 Blancpain champion, Rob Bell.
Take a seat.
Welcome, guys. Thanks for coming on the show.
We're at the start of a brand-new season of motor sport.
What's in store for 2018?
For me, a lot of work with Singer,
with this new car we're working on with Williams, well,
it's an old Porsche, but making it new.
And a lot of historic racing for me.
So driving in some ridiculously valuable old cars
and having fun while doing it. So maybe some modern racing as well.
Not sure yet, but there will be plenty to keep me busy, I'm sure.
Keeping busy, good. And, Rob, yourself, what are you up to?
I'm back with McLaren, which is great.
So I'll be driving the current GT3 car, the 650S,
and we are developing a new car, the 720, into a GT3 car,
so that's going to be my focus really from
sort of mid-season onwards.
It must be so cool to see what's in the future.
Just to be a part of it, having your DNA in
a racing car is pretty special, actually.
OK, this week Chris tested the McLaren 720S,
and Extra Gear managed to get in on the action.
Let's take a look.
The Top Gear team get to work preparing for the day's shoot,
and readying the 720 for Chris's first taste
in McLaren's latest supercar offering.
So, the 720 was launched several months ago.
Pretty much all of my work colleagues have driven
the flipping thing, and I haven't.
I deliberately resisted the temptation.
I've been offered the chance to drive it, but I agreed with
Al Renton, my boss, that I was going to wait so that when I got to the
car it would be fresh, and I'm really glad I did,
cos I came into it with no preconceptions,
and I think that always makes the review a bit fresher,
and it makes the responses and reaction on the camera more real,
because they are real - I haven't driven it before.
How good is that?!
It does feel ridiculously quick.
But this wasn't your standard power test.
The 720 was here to square up to its big brother, the P1.
Lap times would need to be set under the same conditions,
and with temperatures soaring, they were changing by the minute.
It's ten o'clock in the morning, and the earlier we do it
the better it is, because the cooler it is the quicker it goes.
So, it's a big deal. It's quite tense, really,
because we need the conditions to just be right and the turnaround to
be really quick.
There's quite a lot at stake. We've got to do it now.
There was no time to spare,
and all crew needed to be safe and in position before the car could be
One of the big issues on Top Gear is crew safety,
so you get our presenters to do what's called a sighting lap,
so he spots where they are, checks the run-off,
so our camera guy is right on his front line, there.
We know that camera guy down there is safe,
but you've got a car doing about 180mph.
You've got to hold your nerve for that.
Getting a shot under those conditions isn't easy.
The sighting lap was complete, but track conditions
were beginning to deteriorate.
I just ran out of grip halfway through the lap.
I've got a lot of understeer, but I have got oversteer as well.
It's the heat, temperature...
The heat right now is bad for times. That's a fact. It's crazy hot.
36 degrees, something like that.
The track temperature was reaching levels that could rule out
competitive lap times for either car.
With fresh tyres on both, the time was now.
The crew roll camera and set themselves for shooting
the P1's lap time.
OK, lads, he's coming out now. Flying lap.
Going past cameras. He's got two laps, two goes, over.
OK, so we've got a flying lap happening in about 45 seconds,
so make sure you're all clear from the track.
If you've got shots, we're going in for it, people.
The P1 did a lap time of 1.54.7.
I'm happy with that.
That's a good time. It's a hot day today, really hot.
The P1 always struggles with tyres,
so I think that is a good time,
and I struggle to see how the 720 can get anywhere near it.
In order to compare the laps,
the 720 had to head out within moments of the P1.
Three, two, one, go.
OK, he's on the straight. Here we go.
He's going for it.
OK, the finish line shot. Should be coming round the final corner now.
Drone, give me a pit lane shot of him just coming in.
So can I have the lap time, please?
The 720S did it in 1.55.12.
So that's half a second off?
That is remarkable.
And that, my friends, is how it's done.
I think he loved it.
He was pretty taken with that. I mean, half a second behind a P1,
it doesn't make any sense whatsoever.
What's your take on the 720S?
I haven't driven it on a track yet.
I drove it on the roads in Scotland
on the same day I was driving the P1 - it was a good day.
-Another good day.
It was so impressive.
First thing is just they've taken the design from the P1
with the windows in the top of the doors and stuff,
so it's a really airy cockpit.
It's a nice place to be.
You could drive it every day. It's so usable, yet when you go,
it's right on the edge of being a hyper car. It can do everything.
And just the progress they've made and even the cockpit, the switches,
the way everything works, McLaren are at the top of their game,
which, as young as the company is, is very impressive.
It's incredible that they can achieve that kind of performance for
a quarter of the price.
You must be quite astonished at the rate of development that these
things are going through.
And to get things going so quickly in such a short
period of time, the new product is absolutely fantastic.
I want to talk suspension for a second, because the 720S has this
remarkable new suspension system.
It's amazing they've managed to separate
what the car does in heaves, so what it does vertically,
they can make it soft in that way so it can deal with the bumps and the
hard inputs, but when you turn and put load onto the car,
it just stiffens up, it's unbelievable.
The roads in the UK are awful. They're just terrible.
And the roads we were on in Scotland,
you would struggle with an SUV,
whereas this thing was like a magic carpet, the 720, and even the P1 -
as old as it is now - they just go
across these bumps like they're not there.
The expensive suspension is even better than what people
have in their normal everyday cars, it's incredible.
And, as you say, it's like a racing car in stiffness.
I heard a story that the 720S was tested in Colorado and in the Alps,
and also at a bumpy roundabout in Woking!
I think it's perfect. That's where people want to drive their cars.
They want to show off their cars in ordinary places like Woking!
Absolutely, absolutely. You've got to do these things.
It's just incredible how you can get both things in one car.
Let's talk about Portimao for a second.
I know that Chris and the team really wanted to make sure there was
a level playing field in the 720 versus P1 film there.
Portimao has a very abrasive surface,
so you go through tyres quite a lot,
so the temperatures can affect the performance of the tyre.
What's your experience of this track?
Well, the way Chris drives, you go through tyres everywhere, but...
Portimao, it is very abrasive.
On the P1, to this day, having revisited the P1 recently,
tyre technology cannot keep up with the performance of these cars.
I think if you could get a tyre...
..with the P1, with its lower
suspension on track and everything else,
if you could get a more advanced tyre,
a slick... Almost a racing slick,
the performance would be otherworldly.
It would be even further set apart from the 720s of the world.
Halfway through the lap, the tyre has already started to overheat.
It is screaming for mercy.
The surface of the tyre has overheated,
that starts to build the pressure in the tyre
so you get even less contact patch, less grip.
It's just a vicious circle.
How do you manage that with so much power?
It's so difficult.
You get through those first couple of corners, it just...
It's like falling off the edge of a cliff. It just goes down and down,
and you have less and less grip.
You saw on the videos, he goes through the last corner,
and he's just hanging on to the thing.
It's four-wheel drifting.
The tyre has given up halfway round the lap and gone home.
At that point you are...
Your inputs just increase everywhere.
More steering, more work on the throttle, more work on the brake,
and it's a fabulous track, Portimao,
because not only does it have a lot of different types of corner,
it has the abrasion.
As it settles, it's really quite bumpy,
but you also have a big elevation change,
and the video doesn't do it justice.
It's so, so different from one corner to the next,
blind. It's tough.
Rob, you've driven there yourself quite a few times, I'd imagine.
What kind of testing do they do here?
Well, we've raced there over the years
and testing, and the other thing is the climate.
If you want to be testing in warm weather, you go at 12 o'clock.
If you want to be testing in cool weather, you go earlier, so,
in amongst what we do, a lot of it is based on climate, temperature,
and looking after the tyres.
Management, a lot of traction control work we do,
especially in the race car,
it's not about necessarily getting the best lap time on that lap,
it's about making the tyres last.
You know, you could maybe squeeze another tenth out of a car
over one lap, but then if your tyres are dead,
then that's no good to anyone,
so we do a lot in these sort of places, especially here at Portimao,
when it is hot. That's why you go,
because it's so gruelling, you know?
If a car can survive there for an hour,
then you're going to survive pretty much anywhere.
You talk about the car surviving, but what about for a driver?
What's it like to be at full pelt around this track?
It's intense. It's hard.
We do a lot of endurance testing there as well,
so I've done a 30-hour simulation for Le Mans and...
..it's really dark, it's in the middle of nowhere,
there's no ambient light - they put some lights up,
but you don't see very much -
and the tyre is
going away all the time, so you are fighting the car,
even in the race car, the slick,
it works the tyre harder than anywhere else
and, as Rob said earlier,
if you can survive there, you can survive anywhere.
And, Marino, you worked with Chris on a film, didn't you?
I did. I was lucky enough to work with Chris on
a film that we're very proud of with some pretty special cars.
I mean, it was three and a bit years ago, I think, nearly four years ago.
It's a long time. But I think people enjoyed it
and we had a blast making it.
This is when Chris Harris lived on the internet and I think we
actually have a clip of it right now.
So, this is the test that everyone, including me,
thought wouldn't happen.
Well, it's going to happen.
This film exactly reflects the order in which we shot the actual film.
I mean, you can't skid a 918 for two days and then expect it to set its
best lap time, can you?
So we did the lap times first.
I drove them for a bit of slidey time
to discuss how they all actually
feel behind the wheel and then two very special guests joined me for
a three-way track battle.
Look at these things.
Job one done - made it into the first corner first.
What a view I've got.
Oh, I'll take Marino as well, then.
I've been mugged!
Tim's got his indicators on.
I don't think he really knows how all this works.
I still cannot believe we've got these three cars doing this.
Having driven all three over the last couple of days,
I need all three.
I need them all. I don't know how I'm going to make it happen,
but I'm going to make it happen.
What an amazing three cars.
I don't think I've ever had such a good view in my mirror, ever.
That was about four years ago, but surely it's still such
a memorable experience for you.
It's unbelievable. I still can't quite believe we did it.
I haven't aged very well, have I?
But Chris has aged even worse than I have, so...
It's amazing to see that again and to have those three cars.
We were the first people to get it together.
Chris made that happen all on his own and it was just an unbelievable
-I think your hair might have grown a little bit, actually.
A little bit, and certainly in some places,
but it is just nuts to think that we got to do that and to do it first.
It was a special, special thing.
Chris mentioned in the film that the three cars have such a different
approach but, you know, even though they approach things so differently,
they all have very similar lap times and similar capabilities.
Isn't it amazing that these three manufacturers go away and build
these entirely different cars, yet they are within
such a small amount of time?
The LaFerrari I would say is more...
..a classic car. You can make it oversteer,
you can make it understeer,
it reacts to your inputs more than the other two.
The other two cars, the 918 is the most digital of them.
Four-wheel drive, electric motors at the front,
and it still provides its performance, though,
in a very natural way.
But every now and again,
it's like when you get that little spinning wheel on your computer.
It just doesn't quite flow as well as the LaFerrari.
Particularly in the brakes, I believe.
-Is that right?
the 918, while it's still quite natural,
it harvests a lot of energy from the braking.
With the P1, what they did was the energy's harvested when you lift off
the throttle, rather than the brakes.
So the brake pedal's really natural,
really normal in the P1 and the same in the LaFerrari,
whereas in the 918,
just now and again, it wants to take more energy, less,
so you don't have the same braking pedal every time that you use it.
And then, the P1 is definitely the most ferocious.
I think we see the video with Chris -
you see him in the 720 and it's like...
..the elbow out the window, he's relaxed,
he's doing almost the same time.
He's sideways, making a cup of tea.
Exactly. And it's all relaxed and he gets to the end of the lap and he
doesn't look quite as rung out as the P1.
The P1, you get to the end of the lap, you're breathing hard,
you're sweating, you're just like, "What is going on?"
And I think a big part of that is to do with the tyres and not being
capable of putting up with what this P1 can put down.
And, Rob, you were one of the first people to actually drive a P1,
-is that right?
-Yeah, pretty much.
It was back in the day where we were still doing
the endurance work on the 12C.
So I was asked - would I go to a little test track in Spain?
And then we kind of heard, "Ah, there's a P1 in town.
"There's a P1 coming out."
But at that point, they were still cloaked in secrecy.
So it turned up at night.
And they said, "Right, we've done our simulation on this car,
"but we've never actually had a racing driver behind the wheel.
"Are you free for ten minutes?" sort of thing.
So I was, like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'll do that.
"I'll step up to that."
And they said, "But it's a mule car,
"so it might not be quite as refined as the real thing."
So I'm thinking, "Yeah, that's cool."
Doesn't matter to me. "And we don't want anyone taking photographs,
"so we can only drive at night around this test track."
So I get in the car, and there's, like, wires hanging out,
and, you know, they said, "Oh, the brakes, we haven't quite come
"to the final preparation for the brakes yet."
The last thing you want to hear.
We've not quite worked out what's going on.
They're not selling it to you, are they?
"And the lights aren't quite finished yet, either.
"So just take it easy, but go for it."
So I set off, and I couldn't see a thing.
I didn't really know where I was going.
The brakes are much more refined now, when it was finished.
What an experience. It was like
the fastest road car you've been in.
In first gear, it's amazing.
Second gear's pretty good.
Third gear... By the time you get to fourth gear, it's OK.
That thing, every time it was first gear, just, like,
pulling first gear.
It was amazing. And the other thing they didn't get quite right was the
fuelling. But it was good because every time I downshifted
I got such a big flame out the back, I could see where I was going.
But, actually, what a fantastic experience.
Kind of a little bit of history, so I really enjoyed it.
I'd love to see that flame feature on more road cars, actually.
-Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
-It could be a decent anti-theft device as well.
All right, well, it would seem that Chris just couldn't get enough of
McLaren this week, so here he is in the 570S Spider at Dunsfold.
Cracking traction off the line.
Very clear dashboard,
so I can see the shift light to get my shift time just right.
Paddles click beautifully.
I can just tell it's a proper car. Pitch it in, and immediately...
..I'm having fun.
Open differential, but McLaren have this very, very clever system,
where they can brake a wheel and make it feel like it has
a locking diff.
And I have to say, even though it doesn't quite feel like an LSD,
it's so close that you don't really worry.
You just marvel at how nimble the thing feels.
Whoosh, it goes.
And this is a Spider, but it makes no big difference being a Spider
because of the McLaren carbon tub.
You chop the roof off a Ferrari, it makes a big difference.
Chop the roof off a McLaren, there's a small weight penalty,
but it really drives just the same.
It's agile, it's nimble, it's fast, it's beautiful.
Got a bit of admiration for this thing.
It's a stunning achievement.
I think this might be the best car they make, I really do.
I think the tyres were getting a bit of a punishment there.
So, Chris is talking about that not being that far off a 720S,
and a 720S not being that far off a P1.
McLaren seem to be, kind of,
outdoing themselves at every opportunity by building all these
awesome cars that are not that far from each other
in terms of performance.
That's my favourite McLaren.
-Right there. That 570, it is fabulous.
It's the one that, for me,
reminds me most of the original McLaren F1 road car.
It just shrinks round you, it does everything you want it to do,
it's just... It's lovely.
Just does everything you want it to do as a driver.
What gets me is that they're making the cars cheaper,
but not losing the performance.
I'm kind of waiting for the day when they end up making a hatchback for,
like, 15 grand.
That will be a bit better when it's in my price range.
Speaking of which, I'm going to give you one more opportunity to make
a decision. We saw you saying you wanted
all three of the holy trinity -
the 918, the P1, and the LaFerrari.
Or I might throw in the 720S as well.
-What are you going to have?
-The problem is, since then,
I've driven the 675 and the 570S as well.
I still need them all!
And, Rob, I get a feeling I already know the answer,
-but what would you choose?
-Yeah, it's pretty easy.
Yeah, yeah. I'd choose a McLaren, yeah.
-All three, all three.
-Well, on that note,
it's time to say goodnight.
Let's give a big thank you to our guests,
Marino Franchitti and Rob Bell.
Join me next week as Extra Gear heads to Japan to celebrate an icon,
Chris gets his hands on a 370Z,
and I'll be joined here in the studio by Nismo team driver
Jann Mardenborough, alongside presenter
and comedian Matt Richardson.
Don't miss it. Goodnight.
In this week's instalment, the team go behind the scenes of the McLaren 720S power test. Chris takes the 570S Spider around the Top Gear test track and Rory is joined in the studio by Marino Franchitti and Rob Bell.