THE McLAREN NAME is indelibly attached to its supercharged racing team. But there’s another legacy that founder Bruce McLaren left behind. The innovator and race pioneer died in 1970 while testing a prototype, the M6GT. That model – a car which his daughter, Amanda McLaren, called “a racecar with a roof and number plates” – was the genesis for all McLaren Automotive vehicles today.
The Automotive entity may be separate from the Formula One team, but its cars ooze the high-performance McLaren racing signature. Think of carbon fiber bodies, aerodynamic techniques, and an aggressive look. Amanda, Bruce’s only child, was just 4 years old when her father died on the tracks. In 2014, she fulfilled her birthright as racing royalty.
She and her husband gave up their careers and their home in New Zealand to move to Britain. There, Amanda became brand ambassador for McLaren Automotive. She tells Keyyes of her journey, and reveals her thoughts on women in the racing world.
When did you initially become interested in motorsports?
Growing up, I was surrounded by motor racing. Drivers like Graham Hill, Denny Hulme and Jack Brabham came to our house, so I didn’t think it was anything special. It wasn’t until I was 10 years old that I went to the 1976 British Grand Prix. James Hunt was driving for McLaren and my school friends and I thought that he was just lovely. I told them I’d met him over the weekend, and they asked me how. I said that he drives for the team my father founded, but I realised that I knew nothing else.
So, I started reading my mom’s motor racing journals and books that she and my father had collected. I made a scrapbook of that epic year between James Hunt and Niki Lauda, the fight for the championship.
That was a real turning point for me, from (racing) being something that all our family friends did to realising they were other people’s heroes… Realising what my father had done at such a young age, the records he’d set, the races he’d won and establishing his own business was incredible for me.
What is a memorable story about your father?
Howden Ganley, a mechanic in the Bruce McLaren Motor Racing team, often said: “If Bruce had said, ‘Right men, today we’re going to march across the desert’, we all would have done it, no question.”
He was a natural leader and had the ability to inspire people. He took no leadership courses, no master’s degree in business, or anything like that… To have a father who was universally liked means as much to me as his achievements on the track because he was, according to everybody, such a lovely man.
You were a nurse in New Zealand. What made you decide to leave your life there and begin working for McLaren Automotive?
At that point, McLaren Automotive was half the age that it is now. The P1 was being built. (It was an opportunity to do) what my father was doing, but in a much more modern way, with modern materials and cutting-edge technology. My father wanted to diversify and build road cars. The opportunity to go and work for the company that still had his name on it, doing what his next big plan was, was one that we couldn’t say ‘no’ to.
What’s your favourite McLaren memory?
Driving my father’s M6GT at a tribute parade to him at the 2015 Goodwood Revival. What a thrill and an honour to be asked to drive my father’s prototype road car, the only one he actually built. I get in and I can’t reach the pedals. There’s no time to make blocks or do anything about it, so they find cushions. I am now perched on the edge of the seat and the steering wheel is literally touching my chest…
In the end, I put it into second gear and I don’t get it out of second gear, as I can’t get the clutch in. After a few laps, I’m getting the hang of it. Then turning back into the pits, I put my foot on the brake and nothing happens. I sail straight on, so I do a U-turn and sneak back into the pits.
Are we seeing more women become professional race car drivers and gender stereotypes changing in male-dominated motorsports?
It will take a while for it to reach any sort of parity, but the opportunity is now there for women to design, make and drive race cars.
Engineering was not an option for me when I went to school; it is now for young women. We have a lot of female engineers at McLaren, which is absolutely fantastic. But I believe that people should be employed for their talents and skill, not for their gender. I do think there will be more women visible because they’re starting to come up through the ranks.