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Road to Race: McLaren 570S vs. 570S GT4

Brian Makse takes the McLaren 570S GT4 for a test drive in latest “Road to Race”…

McLaren’s 570S is part of the company’s Sports Series range, which is to say, it’s one of their entry-level supercars.

As if there could be an entry-level supercar. That’s a bit of an oxymoron, I suppose, but these McLaren supercars are appealing because they’re uniquely British, minimalist in design, and as understated as a British supercar can be.

Of their current road cars, the 570S is a favorite, as it’s aesthetic aligned with notions of a supercar and it’s a bit more approachable than the mind-bendingly fast 720S.

Photo: Brian Makse

Without question, it was a dream come true for me when Compass Racing invited me to take their 570S GT4 for some laps around Watkins Glen.

As a race car, the 570S GT4 is remarkably similar to the road car, as the basic chassis and drivetrain remain intact. Road or race, the car doesn’t stray too far from McLaren’s general formula of a carbon tub, mid-mounted twin-turbo V8, and dual clutch gearbox.

Where the GT4 differs from its road-going brother is with the addition of the fixed splitter and tall rear wing, swapping out the carbon ceramic brakes for steel, center lock wheels, dropping the adaptive shocks for more conventional racing dampers, the addition of an air jack system, and the necessary safety bits.

To make 570S GT4 competitive in IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge GS class, current Balance of Performance regulations detune the car by about 100 horsepower from the road car’s 562 horsepower and the addition of a shocking amount of weight.

Photo: Brian Makse

McLaren factory driver and Compass Racing ace Paul Holton said: “We’re stacked so heavy with lead, we weigh 1,560 kgs dry.”

That’s 200 kg (440 pounds) heavier than the road car. That’s at least one and a half Guy Fieris. Even the Mustang GT4 tips the scales at slightly less than 1,500 kg, and the Cayman GT4 weight in at roughly 250 kg less than the McLaren. Now, that’s some BoP.

While I’ve had plenty of seat time in the McLaren 570 road car variants, I haven’t driven anything quite like the GT4 and there’s plenty to the race car that’s new to me.

Thankfully, Holton had some pointers before I got behind the wheel.

“My advice is that you have to work with the electronics, the stability control, the traction control, because they can make your life real easy or real hard, depending on how you treat them,” he said.

“In the McLaren, you tend to square up the corner, it’s kind of a point-and-shoot car. Think about having two sectors to the corner, a deceleration phase and an acceleration phase. That’s the quickest way to get this car around a race track.”

Photo: Jake Galstad/IMSA

For my laps, I drove the 570S GT4 during open test day and the speed differential between the Racing McLaren and any of the road cars is staggering.

Still, compared to top GS class times, I was well off the pace since it wasn’t my car and I was being very careful, and, well, both Paul and Compass team principal Karl Thomson wouldn’t be pleased if I bent it.

Also, I right-foot braked simply because I’m more confident with my right, but the trick is certainly to left foot brake this thing, so that didn’t do me any lap time favors, either.

No, I won’t share my lap times, thank you very much.

Despite the drop in power and massive amounts of ballast added to the 570S GT4, this McLaren race car is much, much faster than the road car on the track.

Photo: Brian Makse

I enjoyed the same excellent steering, with the quick rack and feedback. Even more so than in the road car, the GT4’s steering has a wickedly positive feel, which is a massive advantage over the BMW M4 GT4 I drove earlier this year.

Overall, this is the most compelling race car I’ve driven in a long time. What’s interesting is that for a production-based car, it’s the closest thing you can get to a prototype race car, giving you the feeling of driving a purpose built race car.

But among the GT4 racers, it may very well be the closest in specification to its road car counterpart, which is remarkable.

Perhaps that is the real spirit of the GT4 category – to race what you sell – and for those lucky enough to pilot this McLaren 570S GT4 like Holton, it must be exceptionally rewarding.

Brian Makse is a championship-winning racing driver, performance driving coach and auto writer and presenter. You’ll find Makse’s work in automotive publications around the world and on his YouTube channel.

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