After just one full season of racing, the 570S GT4 had claimed eight championships and more than 40 wins. Strangely though, “the most successful GT model to wear a McLaren badge” has rarely been seen in 24H SERIES action since its debut in 2016. When the lesser-spotted 570S turned up to compete in Sicily, we asked Equipe Verschuur namesake Frans to work us through Woking’s track weapon.
“No pressure at all!”
It’s a surprisingly candid response CREVENTIC receives from Frans Verschuur when asked if his eponymous team is under pressure to take a class win in Sicily. One that, on the surface, may seem a bit odd.
Equipe Verschuur after all is no newboy when it comes to motorsport. The Dutch team was founded by namesake Frans as a Formula Ford entity back in 1978, secured its first championship – the Renault 5 Turbo Eurocup – in 1989, and since then has claimed the Dutch Renault Clio Cup nine times, the national Alfa 156/147 Challenge five times, the Dutch Touring Car Championship twice, a loan Porsche GT3 Carrera Cup crown, and, together with Van Merksteijn Motorsport, claimed LMP2 championship honours in the Le Mans Series as well as LMP2 class victory at the great race itself. And all of that only takes us up to 2008!
“We won the Renault Eurocup Mégane Trophy two times [’06 and ‘09], we won the Winter Endurance Championship [‘10], we spent six years in the Porsche Carrera Cup, two in the Renault Sport Trophy and we won that in 2016… in total my team has won 36 titles in 42 years, so we have a long history!”
For Frans Verschuur to say then that victory is not on his mind at the 2020 COPPA FLORIO 12H Sicily may seem unorthodox, but, ultimately, not that surprising. After all, the 12-hour Coppa Florio revival marks the Dutch team’s first true endurance test of the sports car with which it has competed in the sprint-focused GT4 European Series since 2017: the McLaren 570S GT4.
“We’ve been doing GT4 for a long time now with the McLaren,” Frans continues. “Nowadays CUP racing is ‘not there’ anymore so we tried long distance racing instead, and we’re enjoying that very much.
“This is also the first time that we’ve done a long-distance race with the car. We did the [WEK 6H DUBAI] in January and that went very well” – the Las Moras-entered McLaren finished 4th overall with Gaby Uljee, and Liesette and Maximilian Braams at the wheel, and might even have won had overheating issues not interjected – “so now we’re trying a 12-hour race to see what problems we have so that we can solve them. We’re keen to do more long distance races in the future.”
Launched as a track-focused alternative to its 570S ‘Super Series’ sports car in March 2016, the new GT4 shares the same 3.8-litre ‘M838TE’ twin-turbo V8 as its road-going, 562bhp brethren, albeit with power detuned to around 430bhp in-keeping with Balance of Performance regulations. Both also share the same ultra-lightweight, ultra-rigid ‘MonoCell II’ chassis, a development of the innovative carbon fibre monocoque McLaren first introduced to the world with the MP4-12C back in 2011. And both, according to Frans, are also inherent strengths of the 570S GT4.
“Actually the chassis is very strong and the engine is strong too. We’ve already driven more than 20,000km with one engine, so you could call both of them ‘bullet proof’. There are still a few things we have to improve but we will manage that too. I know that for sure!”
The dihedral doors remain untouched aside from selective weight saving, but the reprofiled bodywork, complete with additional aluminium construct, now includes a competition-spec rear wing mounted on aluminium pylons and a sweeping rear flank that canvases a wider rear track (traction is key!) and new 18-inch, centre-locking magnesium alloys. On top of that, adjustable dampers with coil-over springs, a brand-new floor, and a larger front splitter emphasize the GT4’s “pure focus on laptimes”. Endurance, of sorts, has also been taken into account courtesy of an extra radiator beneath the ‘GT3-inspired’ bonnet to improve cooling.
On paper then, firing up the 570S GT4 on-track is akin to lighting the blue touchpaper, and such has indeed been the case since 2016. During its season-long development program in the British GT Championship, Woking’s new track weapon was a GT4-class race winner on only its seventh outing with Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse. One year later, and with six more customer entries now signed up for British GTs (adding a track-version of Woking’s ‘baby’ model did make buying and running a McLaren much more attainable), the 570S GT4 won all but two of that season’s PRO-AM races and two of the ‘Silver’ category entries. In only their first full racing season, customer-operated 570S GT4s secured an incredible eight championship titles, 44 wins, 96 podium finishes and 24 pole positions across Europe, Scandinavia and North America.
The GT4 proved so popular in fact that in August this year, and in the wake of high customer demand, McLaren unveiled the 620R, a limited-edition ‘competition-inspired’ coupé that was, essentially, a road-legal version of the 570S GT4.
Weirdly though, “the most successful GT model to wear a McLaren badge” (Woking’s words, not Frans’) has very few starts to its name in the 24H SERIES. Prior to Equipe Verschuur’s outing in Sicily this year, the 570S GT4’s only other start with CREVENTIC was back in Dubai in 2018, when ALFAB Racing unfortunately managed only 10 hours of racing before falling to overheating issues. Before that, you need to go back to Lapidus Racing’s win at the 2012 Hankook 24H BARCELONA with the MP4-12C GT3 to find McLaren’s last entry at an official CREVENTIC event. Even Equipe Verschuur, a McLaren customer since 2017, has only competed in the 24H SERIES with its Renault R.S.01 GT3 over the last two years.
Unfortunately, Verschuur, which is competing with long-time affiliate Las Moras Racing in Sicily, has already suffered problems when CREVENTIC swings by the Autodromo garage for a chat.
“We lost a lot of laps because of an electrical problem. But okay. This is our first [endurance] race with the car, and if we can finish, I think McLaren will be happy and we will be happy also.
“Don’t forget this is a road car built for racing. So it is very fast but it can also be a bit fragile. At the beginning, in 2017, we were struggling a lot with the McLaren, but now it behaves much better and we’re making good progress.”
On top of the ‘electrical problem’ Frans mentioned, not helped by the Sicilian heat, the McLaren has also lost time to a left rear puncture and suspension issues over the Autodromo di Pergusa’s unforgiving kerbs (“it’s like going back to the ‘80s, but I love that!” Frans explains with a grin when asked about the old school circuit). Sadly, at half-distance, the #409 570S GT4 is already 40 laps behind the class leader. The frustration is almost tangible for Equipe Verschuur, given that the Dutch team has already suffered engine and terminal driveshaft problems with its Renault R.S.01 GT3 in Monza and Hockenheim respectively.
Still, galling as the situation is, there are still some positives to be taken from the team’s maiden endurance run with the 570S GT4.
“In terms of handling, the car is pretty good. The brakes are very good too: we had some problems in the old days but now the discs are perfect” – A new endurance braking kit was part of the official 570S GT4 upgrades for 2020 – “Like every other GT4 car we will need to change them during a 12-hour race but that’s okay. That’s normal.
“Another big bonus is that the car has ABS (anti-lock braking) and other driver assistance systems, and that’s one of the best things you could ask for in an endurance race. The car is easy to drive, and we have air conditioning too. So that means the gap between your ‘gentlemen’ drivers and your PRO or SEMI-PRO driver stays quite low – I think the difference between Maximilian [Braams] and Liesette and Luc [also Braams] is around two second but no more – and they don’t get too tired during a stint. That’s very important.”
Is the McLaren 570S GT4 a solid car for aspiring ‘gentlemen’ driver then?
“Yes, I think so. The way that the McLaren is built compared with our Renault [R.S.01] makes things a little more difficult. The electronics are quite sensitive, and we’re more reliant on what warning signs the driver can see on the dashboard. We then have to react to that. The Renault is a bit simpler.
“But the Renault is also a ‘downforce’ car, which means you have to drive it differently to the McLaren, which is better through the corners.
“One big [benefit] of the 570S is our relationship as a customer team. We’re working very closely with McLaren in England to improve the car. We get full support when we do the European GT4 Series, and we’re a leading customer team, so everything we do is reviewed at the factory. Things are a bit different for us because nobody else is doing long distance racing with the McLaren. But in the future, I think long distance races will be [more important] than racing for only one hour. Customers love this, and with all the travel involved, it’s getting more expensive to drive for just one hour rather than 12 hours.
“That’s why McLaren’s support is so important. They want results for us and we want results for them.”
Liesette Braams, despite understandable frustration, also had some words to say about the McLaren post-event. Liesette, who competed with her husband Luc and her son Max at Sicily, is a former CUP1 class winner at the Hankook 24H DUBAI, and has taken multiple AM-class podiums at the wheel of the Las Moras Racing 570S GT4 since 2018. It’s a sports car she knows all too well…
“The nicest thing for me is to race with Luc and Max. Racing with my own family is the thing I like best since we all know what to do and what our limits are. All three of us have raced with the McLaren 570S GT4 for a long time now, and so we know how the car should feel.
“But because [ADAC] GT4 European Series are sprint races, you can be almost sure the car will make it to the end [of the race], so there’s less chance of overheating. Full pull for 50 minutes isn’t a problem. We’ve all seen that the troubles come when the car gets too hot.”
Despite its misfortunes, the #409 McLaren is nevertheless showing demonstrative pace. On Friday afternoon, Maximiliaan Braams takes a commanding pole for Las Moras Racing Team by Equipe Verschuur (the latter’s third of the year following outright GT poles at Monza and Hockenheim), and one day later, the young Dutchman sets a fastest lap of 1m 43.548s, more than a second quicker than eventual class winner PROsport Racing manages throughout the entire race.
“I feel the McLaren 570S GT4 is much stronger on the long straights,” Liesette continues. “I was on the tail of the Aston Martin and the BMW M4 GT4, and because the McLaren is really strong [under braking], I could brake much later into the corners. That was a big advantage.
“I think the whole weekend in Sicily was super cool! I learned to race on a new racetrack with great chicanes and improved my [pace] all the time. We all enjoyed this episode and surely hope to be back next year!”
Liesette’s laptimes similarly reveal another strong selling point of the 570S GT4. Her best lap around the 4.983km Autodromo di Pergusa on Saturday – a 1m 47.482s – is only a tenth slower than the 1m 47.324s she manages on Sunday. Remarkable consistency at the wheel of a GT4 sports car that prioritizes “driver betterment”.
No, really. That’s the ghastly term McLaren actually uses in the marketing material.
Unfortunately, after a gruelling race, Las Moras Racing Team by Equipe Verschuur is eventually forced to throw in the towel with just 90 minutes left on the clock on Sunday, the electrical gremlins now too intricate to fix. Despite this, the Dutch team has covered enough ground around the Autodromo to be classified a hard-earned 3rd in-class, behind the victorious PROsport Racing Aston Martin Vantage AMR and the Team Avia Sorg Rennsport BMW M4. It’s Equipe Verschuur’s best result in the 24H SERIES since taking ‘SP2’ victory at the Hankook 24H DUBAI in 2013, and McLaren’s best since its Barcelona win in 2012.
“We have learnt a lot from this weekend,” Frans continues, “and we have a lot of information to send to McLaren in England. We still have work to do but we will make improvements. Things will get better.”
Make no mistake, there’s plenty of potential left unrealised. We’d expect nothing less from the incomparably experienced Frans Verschuur and the most successful GT model to wear a McLaren badge.
Words by James Gent
Photos by Petr Frýba and McLaren Automotive
Frans Verschuur was speaking with Quinten Kentie at the 2020 COPPA FLORIO 12H Sicily.
V8, twin-turbo, 3,799cc
562bhp @ 7,500rpm
600Nm (443lb ft) @ 5,000-6,500rpm
Seven-speed SSG, rear-wheel drive
Double wishbone, adaptive dampers
8J x 19in (front), 10J x 20in (rear)
225/35 R19 (front), 285/35 R20 (rear)
4,530mm (L) x 2,095mm (W) x 1,202mm (H)
*Power and torque dependent on BoP
V8, twin-turbo, 3,799cc*
Seven-speed SSG, rear-wheel drive
Penske two-way adjustable motorsport dampers, coil-over springs
9 x 18in (front), 11 x 18in (rear)
245/645-18in (front), 305/680-18in (rear), racing slicks
4,606mm (L) x 2,095mm (W) x 1,179mm (H)
Las Moras by Equipe Verschuur (#409)
ALFAB Racing (#241)
1st class podium in the 24H SERIES, COPPA FLORIO 12H Sicily
Las Moras by Equipe Verschuur (#409, Luc Braams / Liesette Braams / Maximiliaan Braams)
Debut, 24H SERIES, Hankook 24H DUBAI
ALFAB Racing (#241, Erik Behrens / Daniel Ros / Fredrik Ros / Anders Levin)