The first time I drove on Silverstone’s International layout, it was - as it is now - raining. I was in a tiny little Caterham with 125bhp, trying not to soil myself as the McLaren 650S GT3s I was sharing the open pitlane test day with blasted past, leaving big rooster tails of spray in their wake.
It’s fitting, then, to be back here in a kinda/sorta role reversal, taking on the circuit in a not a 650S GT3, but the closest thing to it McLaren makes in road car form: the 765LT. Then again, this is rear-wheel drive car with 755bhp (765PS, hence the name) and 590lb ft of torque. On a wet track. Perhaps there is still a risk of code brown today.
Thankfully, McLaren has put all of these pre-production prototype 765LTs on Pirelli P Zero Corsas instead of the car’s standard-fit, semi-slick Trofeo Rs. This takes away what - in the dry at least - is one of the most important weapons in the 765’s Porsche 911 GT2 RS-battling armoury, but there’s much more going on here than a boot swap.
You still get - as per the 720S - hydraulically-linked suspension, but the dampers and springs are bespoke here. The front end has a 5mm wider track and sits 10mm lower. The 720S isn’t what you’d call a fatty, and yet, McLaren has trimmed the ‘Super Series’ machine by 80kg, with a good chunk of that coming from the forged wheels (-22kg), the carbon fibre seats (-18kg) and that brilliantly ridiculous titanium exhaust (-3.8kg). This is a car that weighs 1339kg (DIN) - about 130kg lighter than the aforementioned Porsche.
There’s a dizzying array of tuners out there who’ll happily extract extra power from the Ricardo-built 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 of the 720S with a mere tickle of the ECU, but McLaren has been much more thorough for the LT. It has new forged aluminium pistons, carbon-coated valvetrain followers, and a triple-layer head gasket borrowed from the Senna.
While ‘Longtail’ used to mean dramatically elongated bodywork in the context of the McLaren GTRs, the name instead refers to the huge three-position rear wing, which also functions as an air brake. You also get a new front splitter, beefier side skirts, redesigned front and rear bumpers and finally a new diffuser.
As with the 600LT, the view from the rear is most likely to cause your jaw to flop downwards. Above that vast diffuser, you get a tantalising glimpse of the transmission’s arse end, and further up, the quad exits of the exhaust point up to the moody-looking sky. At the moment, the wing is in its high downforce position, giving an extra sense of purposefulness to proceedings. The driver’s side dihedral door is aloft, ready for me to climb aboard and pin myself in with a groin-crushing six-point harness.
I start with the Active Dynamics panel set to Sport for both the powertrain and chassis - Track can wait until I’ve acclimatised to the greasy conditions. Almost immediately, the M840T’s notoriously boosty mid-range has an argument with the rear tyres - a gentle winding on of the throttle is going to be necessary today.
Thankfully, whether you’re in a straight line or have a little lock on still, the electronics are good at curtailing the wheelspin without taking a big chunk of the power away. Once that’s out of the way with, the 765LT does a remarkable job of shrinking every one of Silverstone’s straights. Even with a slippery, less than ideal exit from Beckets, I’m nudging 170mph at the end of Hangar. And although the run down Vale is short, the 765 is clocking nearly 150mph at the braking point for Club. It’s stupidly quick.
Once a corner has swiftly arrived, the McLaren’s powerful carbon ceramic brakes (with Senna front calipers) come into play, but it’s not the braking forces that impress the most - rather, the feedback from the pedal. Woking has this sorted better than pretty much everyone else, as it has steering feel/ McLaren’s stubborn insistence on keeping a hydraulically-assisted setup in all its cars pays off here.
The linear, feedback-laden steering means the LT’s front end responds just how your inputs intend, so long as your entry speed is right - in these wet conditions, the front end is wanting to wander.
Switching to Track mode turns up the V8’s rage, firms up the suspension and dials back the traction control, meaning the back end is moving around even with sympathetic throttle inputs. Again, though, the electronics aren’t letting things get too far out of shape, and such is the communication from the chassis, you know well in advance when a little opposite lock is needed.
The firmed-up suspension suits it, too - although weirdly comfortable, the suppleness of the 720S makes it feel aloof at times. You can’t level the same criticism at the 765LT, although there are things to grumble about. McLaren build quality may have improved since the early examples of the 570S were screwed together, but the LT’s cabin isn’t anything like as solid as a Porsche 992’s.
The V8 sounds better and has a more interesting top-end than the 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 in Ferrari’s F8 Tributo, but it doesn’t let out the most soul-stirring din. And there’s no getting away from the fact that even with its new bits, it still makes the same noise and has more or less the same character as the V8s fitted to all the other cars in McLaren’s bafflingly convoluted range.
Speaking of which, we have to talk about the 600LT. There are a lot of similarities between the two - as with the 600LT, the 765LT’s greatest triumph is being approachable while still making it feel like you’re putting in the effort. It rewards your delicacy, but won’t punish your indiscretions.
Of the two, though, it’s the 600LT that nails the exotic track car brief the most successfully. The smaller Longtail wraps around you and becomes an extension of the driver in a way the 765LT doesn’t quite manage. And all that extra power - dramatic though it might be - doesn’t make it any more rewarding on circuit. Although we haven’t tried it anywhere else than Silverstone yet, we can be sure its output will feel especially OTT on public roads.
So, it doesn’t quite win the greatest-modern-McLaren-that-isn’t-a-six-figure-hypercar award I’ve just made up. But it’s a close-run thing, and given its outright ability, the 765LT is - in relative terms - a bargain. It’s £280,000, and if put on the same track as the £750k+ Senna, I can’t imagine the lesser of the two cars would be far behind by any meaningful amount.
It’s no surprise, then, that the 2020 allocation is sold out, and interest in the 2021 batch of 765s is oversubscribed. But don’t worry, this is McLaren - there’ll probably be a 765LT Spider at some point, and we’ve no doubt it’ll be every be as epic as the tin top.