The burgeoning FIA GT4 class has cultivated a breed of sports cars being produced by an illustrious list of automakers that have blurred the lines between racecar and road car on a variety of levels and price points. What would they do then, McLaren Automotive engineers asked, if they could take their key learnings around aerodynamics, chassis tuning, powertrain development and weight management from the McLaren 570S GT4 – the marque’s single most-successful GT racecar – and free it from the technical regulations?
The answer comes in the form of the 620R, a car that makes the line between race and road car more malleable than it has ever been.
Punching out 620 horsepower from its 3.8L, twin-turbo V8 engine through a dual-clutch seven-speed gearbox that’s cradled in a super-lightweight carbon fiber Monocell II chassis tipping the scales at 3,203 lb, the 620R stops the clock at 2.9 seconds in the 0-62 MPH gallop. Balance is controlled at each corner with 32 clicks of adjustment on the lightweight dampers that are mated with aluminum wishbone suspension arms. When it comes time to rein in all that power at corner entry, a lightweight braking system equipped with carbon-ceramic discs and pads gets the job done quite convincingly.
The 620R’s aerodynamics are equally aggressive. The three-way adjustable rear-wing is capable of generating 408 pounds of downforce in full tilt configuration, while at the front, the combination of nostrils and dive planes generates another 143 pounds of downforce.
Inside, the cabin is pure race mode, dispensing with carpeting and most of the soundproofing while adding a full roll cage and six point safety harness. The seats are carbon fiber with a thin layer of foam for “comfort” and are only manually adjustable fore and aft. The steering wheel and dash are trimmed in Alcantara, and if opting for the “standard” version of the car, it eschews air conditioning, audio system and navigation; however, those items can be added in if preferred for just the cost of the weight penalty.
The 620R’s most novel feature is the ability to swap out the road-going Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tires for track-only slicks without the need to change or adjust anything else. Of course, with those 32 clicks of damper adjustment, the 620R can be fined-tuned to the track conditions as desired. Although most drivers probably wouldn’t, it is certainly possible to drive the 620R from home to pit lane and just swap over to slicks for a day at the track.
On the road, the 620R can be as docile or feral as you wish. Cruising about town on your best behavior is as straightforward as it would be in any other car, though extra caution is required around dips and curbs. But that’s not what the 620R was made for.
For a day when a twisting back road is on tap over a race track, the 620R set to Sport Mode delivers a light and lively driving experience. Its balance, even over a rough and narrow, twisting road more suited to a rally car than a supercar, is dealt with sublimely. Changing up and down from second through fourth gears faster than you can double-click your computer mouse accompanied by the melody of twin turbos gulping and spitting out massive volumes of air is more than a giggle-inducing good time. Find a longer strip of asphalt where the 620R can stretch its legs to experience some G-loads that will make you understand why professional drivers spend so much time building up neck strength, while the gear shifts give you a kick up the backside to let you know this car has no intention of coddling you. It wants to go. Fast. All the time.
And how is it on the track? For that, we turn to Arrow McLaren SP driver Pato O’Ward.
“Oh man, this car is so much fun to drive,” says O’Ward after spending a day with it on Willow Springs Raceway’s Horse Thief Mile track. “The brakes are amazing. I could just keep pushing deeper and deeper into the corners, which surprised me; just how much I was able to shorten each braking zone.
“I was also very impressed by the balance and grip, especially transitioning from right to left or vice versa. I could be as aggressive as I wanted to be. It’s a total racecar in that sense, and yet you can take it right out on the street and drive it home. I think at a place like Road America, the lap times would be as fast as an F2000 car.”
So did McLaren succeed in truly blurring the line between race and road car with the 620R? O’Ward certainly thinks so.
“You can’t compare it to an IndyCar or a prototype sports car in terms of true performance,” says O’Ward. “But for a road legal car, you probably can’t get much closer in terms of a racecar experience and the performance is definitely there to challenge you as a driver.”
For another look at what O’Ward and the McLaren 620R are capable of, check out this video.