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2013 McLaren MP4-12C Spider: Track Day

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There are few cars that are actually abhorrent to drive on track, though there are many ill-suited to the task after the first lap, or even less. It's almost always fun to drive a slow car fast, especially if it has some dire handling deficiency, to be overcome by technique and anticipation--as long as there's no clock running.

But driving a fast car on track is entirely different. It can be rewarding, challenging, and obviously quite fun. But it can also be extremely difficult, frightening, and even dangerous.

Why? Because fast cars are, well, fast. And speed, rather than some innate handling or balance defect, is what causes mistakes to become massive accidents. Of course a fast car with a massive tendency toward end-swapping can be doubly frightening, as it increases the chance of error as well as the force of impact; but most fast cars are actually reasonably well-behaved, precisely because they are fast.

The 2013 McLaren MP4-12C Spider takes the idea of a well-behaved fast car to its epitome. Anyone who has pushed a mid-engined car of any sort hard on track knows that its low polar moment makes for good maneuverability, but can also make for tricky-quick spins that are hard to prevent or recover. With the 12C Spider, that's simply not the case.

Oh, it's fast, and blazingly so. The turbo comes on song at a reasonably low RPM, and once boost has arrived in full, it seems even quicker than its 616-horsepower rating would indicate. But it's also incredibly easy to modulate that power, thanks to a linear (or nearly so) throttle map, and, of course, its brilliantly engineered structure.

2013 McLaren MP4-12C Spider track day

2013 McLaren MP4-12C Spider track day

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In fact, McLaren's drop-top is an immensely easy car to balance, whether on throttle exiting a corner (or maintaining speed through it), or on the brakes at entry, trailing brake pressure and approaching the zero-steer ideal. The lightning-quick, but never violent or dynamically upsetting shifts from the dual-clutch transmission and the light-but-informative (if not quite telepathic) steering enhance this innate sense of balance and controllability.

Much of the credit for this may be due to the electronic aids, which even in track mode, remain engaged to some degree (though they can be defeated). However, driven well, those aids do not interfere with even relatively aggressive maneuvers requiring intentional amounts of yaw and slip angle. This is not the case with many performance-car electronic stability and traction control systems, even in their most relaxed settings.

But surely more of the credit for the McLaren Spider's balance and responsiveness to driver input, and hence its ultimate controllability, result from the engineering and construction of the chassis and suspension itself.

Designed as a "clean-sheet" project, the MP4-12C, and the Spider based upon it, are, under the sheet metal, shockingly simple. It's a testament to the engineers' ability that such a highly capable, high-functioning, modern supercar can be accurately described so.

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