2021 McLaren 765LT at Lightning Lap 2021

2021 mclaren 765lt

Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

Lap Time: 2:38.4

Class: LL5 | Base: $363,500 | As Tested: $429,190
Power and Weight: 755 hp • 3107 lb • 4.1 lb/hp
Tires: Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R, F: 245/35ZR-19 (93Y) MC1 R: 305/30ZR-20 (103Y) MC1

One hundred and seventy-four-point-six miles per hour. That’s how fast the McLaren 765LT goes on the front straight, the highest speed we’ve recorded at Lightning Lap. This year’s best time is also the third-fastest lap in LL history. Only the alien-tech McLaren Senna and the hooked-up Porsche 911 GT2 RS Weissach beat it. But we may have left some time on the track because we didn’t read the manual.

You see, McLaren fits the 765LT with Variable Drift Control (VDC), which we figured was for people who want to go sideways for Insta­gram fame because a drift-angle setting pops up when it’s activated. Had we read the manual, though, we would’ve learned that VDC is actually a stability-control program designed to minimize lost tenths when the tail steps out due to inevitable power oversteer. McLaren launched VDC on the 720S, and even the Senna had it, but this is the first time we needed it.

2021 mclaren 765lt

Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

It’s not really a question of if the tail will wag but when. Pretty much every corner—save the Climbing Esses—has the potential to end in a lurid and time-robbing drift. The 765LT’s power delivery is more abrupt and prone to provoking oversteer than the Senna’s or the 720S’s. And yet, the challenge of eking out more thrust without overcooking it makes the 765LT more fun, too.

The 765LT provides wonderfully weighted steering that’s light when it needs to be and increasingly heavy as cornering loads build in the Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tires. While the engine creates drama and speed in equal measure, the steering and inexhaustible brakes ease matters and allow you to focus on more important things, like averaging 135.1 mph through the esses, another all-time LL record. If we’d read the manual, this McLaren would have surely found a few miles per hour in corner exits, and it might have caught the GT2 RS. Maybe.

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lightning lap virgin experience

Illustration by Clint FordCar and Driver

VIRgin Experience

What’s it like to take a lap of VIR at race pace for the first time? Research editor Beth Nichols reports from the passenger’s seat of the McLaren 765LT with K.C. Colwell at the wheel:

As I buckle my seatbelt, K.C. tells me he has earplugs in: “So if you want me to slow down, just punch me.” I grasp the sides of the seat bottom with no plans to let go. Entering the track, K.C. guns it, and my stomach does that flipping thing I’ve only ever experienced on amusement-park rides and when I read Harry Potter for the first time. I’m confident K.C. knows what he’s doing, but as we round NASCAR Bend at what I later learn is 1.15 g’s, I’m positive he’s overdone it and we’re about to careen into the barn in the distance. When that doesn’t happen, I’m even more unnerved. How is he doing this?

On the back straight, I’m watching the speed tick higher on the lap timer when K.C. yells something that gets lost between our helmets and the blare of the 765LT’s engine. I get the message moments later when he slams—and I mean slams—on the brakes. The belt catches my torso a few inches off the seatback, but my head keeps going. The weight of the helmet works against me as I try to straighten my spine, but then K.C.’s back on the gas and I’m thrown back in the seat. So that’s why they call that corner Bitch.

The seat bolsters do nothing to keep my small frame in place. As K.C. saws through Spiral and the infield, I’m smacked from side to side like the ball in Pong. It continues this way—stomach whooshes, neck checks, and body tosses—for another (faster, harder) lap. Back in the pits, my adrenaline keeps the nausea at bay while we look over the data: a 2:42.3 lap, 169.5 mph on the straight. I’m ecstatic until K.C. tells me, “I was giving it about 85 percent.” Is the offer to punch him still on the table?

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