McMurtry believes that the Bugatti-quick Electric Vehicle (EV) is the future of performance cars. It is amazing to see in action.
Supercars abound in Donington Park’s paddock. This is not the same impressive collection that you’d find at Goodwood Festival of Speed, but rather industrial volumes that make it seem normal after a 20-minute walk. There’s also a Bugatti Chiron …), but this is five times more than normal. Although it’s called the Michelin Secret Supercar Meet because of the large number of teenagers with smartphones at each junction between the M1 circuit and the circuit, it isn’t secret.
McMurtry Automotive’s Speirling prototype race car is now half of the pit garage 22. It’s making the Ferrari 250 GT SWB next to it look fat. I’m there to meet them and to learn more about their unique Speirling. It measures 3200mm in length and 1500mm width, which is around 30% less than the Chiron. And it has 1000bhp and less that 1000kg to make its power-to-weight ratio 40% higher. McMurtry is confident about McMurtry’s claimed sprint speed of 0-186mph (3300kph), in less than 9.0sec.
The Speirling was first seen at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. It’s a single-seat, fully electric competition car with a closed cockpit. It was built around LMP1 safety standards and features a carbonfibre body/carbonfibre monocoque construction as well as a cleverly integrated lithium-ion battery pack.
The Speirling’s uniqueness is the absence of any downforce addenda. This means that the Speirling can spear through the air and not have to deal with the drag caused by a conventional rear-wing. An underbody fan, which sucks the car onto the track’s surface and generates a jet-like sound of 120dB, provides downforce, but only when it is needed. You need to listen to Speirling’s fan if you think electrified motorsport lacks the all-important aural drama.
McMurtry was founded only five years ago. This is exactly the type of innovation you would expect from McLaren and Ferrari. It was founded by Sir David McMurtry (a prolific Irish inventor and businessman who played a major role in the development Concorde’s RollsRoyce Olympus engine). The company now employs a small, but highly skilled workforce based out of rural Gloucestershire.
Tom Yates, formerly of Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains in the UK and now McMurtry’s managing director shows me around the Speirling under the command of Alex Summers, test and development driver, and hillclimb champion.
This McMurtry’s second generation car is the first to make a public appearance. Yates tells us that Car one was a learning experience for them. “We made great strides in delivering a complete car starting from scratch. The current car has evolved from the original but has a slightly new design focus.” I am invited to sit in the Speirling with its gullwing doors lifted. At 5ft 7in tall, my initial thoughts were that I wouldn’t fit in the Speirling. It just looks too small. However, perception changes to reality and after I have been installed it becomes clear that McMurtry’s claim about McMurtry being able to accommodate a 6ft 7in helmet-wearing driver is true.
The battery wraps around the seat in an U-shape, partially being under your legs, and you sit slightly reclined. The adjustable pedal box allows you to achieve a comfortable driving position. Left-foot braking is required for the pedals on either side of column. Summers tells me that the accelerator has a long travel to help measure the power. Once the prototype F1-style steering wheels is installed, the other controls will be available. The controls include a paddle to manually control the downforce fan, which otherwise operates automatically, a switch to adjust the level of traction control, and two to three toggles that allow you to control subsystems of the car. The wheel’s centre has a digital display that keeps you updated.
Yates states that “our focus was from the beginning to keep the car small.” An electric car is expensive because of inefficiency. This includes the overall weight and weight of the battery. The car needed to be as low-drag as possible and as light as possible – even if it was a single-seater.
McMurtry is currently working with Speirlings on a single-make race series to show what’s possible in an EV-shaped motorsports future. Does that mean a McMurtry-designed road car is impossible? Yates states, “No, we do not intend to make a road vehicle in the foreseeable future.” The concept is a great idea for the future of an electric car driver’s vehicle. It is lightweight and compact, which makes it smaller than other road cars. It has a WLTP range that is 350 miles, which puts it right in the middle of EVs.
Yates says the Speirling’s benefits go beyond improving mechanical grip. He explains that “we need to deliver compelling levels downforce with very low energy consumption.” “The aerodynamics are a major part of most race cars. You have to carry them around all the time. This results in a significant drag penalty and makes the cars heavier.
The question of the technology’s use in an electric motorsport championship like Formula E is then raised. Yates clarifies that McMurtry would love to “have the conversation and discover” what McMurtry’s plans are. The Speirling is the main focus for the moment.
This should be a significant step forward, as the Speirling has only been properly driven on a major track for a 10-minute session. The small, black projectile is circling Donington and all eyes are on it. It looks unfeasibly fast and composed. It’s important to raise awareness at events like these. So it’s comforting when a small group gathers around the car before it is backed into the garage.
Then, a revelation. Summers says, “It feels great.” “But we ran the thing with very little downforce. I forgot to turn on the fans! This has shown how great the base (chassis tune) is.
Summers was pulling at least 150 mph down the back straight, which was well within the car’s maximum speed of 200 mph.
Summers emphasizes that it is not all about the headlines: “Many people are afraid of the technology, insofar its going to change driving experience. You don’t think ‘it’s electrical, it’s electronic’ when you are doing 150 mph around this area. Instead, you think ‘this is really quick’.
McMurtry plans to next hunt for world records in the Speirling, but it is being kept tight-lipped about what these records will be. One thing is certain: today’s reaction suggests that there will be a substantial slice of the UK supercar community that might have just seen the future performance car.