One year after the Bentley Continental GT3 debuted, the Gulf 12 Hours plays host to the first race outing of McLaren’s new GT3 contender as well, as the British manufacturer gears up for a busy 2015 season.
A pair of new McLaren 650S GT3 cars have been entered for Saturday’s around-the-clock-enduro at Yas Marina Circuit, including an all-factory driven entry for Alvaro Parente, Kevin Estre and Rob Bell.
According to McLaren GT Managing Director Andrew Kirkaldy, the timing of the event was a good fit in the car’s development program, having collected significant mileage in recent months.
“For us, it’s a good race to do; It’s great for our testing,” Kirkaldy told Sportscar365. “We’ve got to run the car at some point and it just made sense to come here.
“Last week we just finished 10,000 kms (6,200 miles) of testing on the test car. It’s the right time to come run it, really.”
The McLaren 650S GT3 replaces the outgoing MP4-12C, which made its debut in 2011. The car’s initial runs also came in the hands of the factory squad, which hasn’t competed since the 24 Hours of Spa that year.
While featuring the same carbon chassis and 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 engine, nearly everything else is brand-new, including bodywork, suspension and gearbox.
The 650S is also slightly wider and features a longer wheelbase, in order to accommodate larger tires.
“It’s dramatically different,” Kirkaldy said. “It’s got a different gearbox and all different suspension with new uprights, bearings, wishbones, geometry and obviously the aero is a lot different.
“We learn a bit like everyone. If you look at everyone’s first GT3 car they have certain issues. When you make another one, you fix them. That’s the way it goes.”
Kirkaldy heads into the car’s debut weekend with realistic expectations, knowing there are many unknowns in a 12-hour race, although it acts as a perfect providing ground for the latest-generation model.
“From the testing, I’d say it looks pretty good,” he said. “There’s no substitute for racing and that’s why we have to be here. We’ve sold a lot of cars for next year so it’s good for people to see it out running. It’s quite important.
“At the end of the day, we just want to log the miles and get to the end and make sure it’s reliable. That’s the main thing.”
A total of 16 cars have already been sold, with the McLaren GT factory only able to build a maximum of 20 new 650S GT3 cars in 2015.
Kirkaldy, however, expects upwards of 30 new-spec McLarens competing in GT3 championships worldwide next year, as no fewer than ten existing MP4-12Cs will be upgraded to the new package.