The McLaren 650S GT3 is a staggeringly quick race car.
The iconic British marque launched the 650S as part of its Super Series in 2014. The GT3 race version went on to cement its legacy on the track between 2015 and 2018.
McLaren’s 650S GT3 is one of its most successful customer racing variants. It racked up countless race victories and titles across the world.
Its achievements appear ever more impressive given it was only in circulation for three years. McLaren replaced the 650S GT3 with the 720S for the 2019 season.
While the 720S GT3 is an achingly beautiful race car, it still has large shoes to fill from its predecessor. For what the 650 GT3 gave up in looks, it more than made up for with its performance.
McLaren 650S GT3 specs
At the 2014 Geneva Motor Show, McLaren revealed the 650S as successor to the MP4-12C. The GT3 version would later replace the 12C GT3.
Inspired by the exceptional McLaren P1, the 650S was billed as the most engaging supercar of its class. Producing an astounding 641 bhp from its unique McLaren M838T twin-turbo V8 engine, it is insanely fast. This is a car that hits 0-100 km/h in just three seconds and reaches a top speed of 333 km/h.
Its unique suspension and MonoCell carbon-fiber chassis kept it light: weighing in at 1330kg dry, the 650S spews out 498 bhp per tonne. Phenomenal power, phenomenal speed.
Naturally, that speed made the 650S a very good race car. Power was compromised to satisfy the FIA’s strict GT3 homologation regulations: the 650S GT3 is not as ‘brute’ as the road version.
That said, the McLaren 650S GT3 is an incredibly innovative car that looks as menacing as it sounds.
This iteration is supremely optimised for the racetrack. McLaren prioritised three things it learned from feedback of the 12C: a desire for better aerodynamics, better engine cooling and improved driver comfort.
The 650S GT3 features aggressive splitters, a huge carbon rear spoiler and enlarged air intakes. The cockpit was roomier, and new supportive race seat installed.
Combine enhanced aerodynamics with a carbon fiber chassis and body, and you have a competitive race car. The 650S GT3 was given a revised suspension system, wider track and ventilated disc brakes to improve grip. Its new, unique six-speed sequential transmission made shifting seamless. Everything the 12C GT3 had going, McLaren revised and improved on its successor.
If the road-going version was designed to give “the ultimate in driver engagement on the road”, the 650S GT3 offered the same on the racetrack.
McLaren 650S GT3 race history
All of those updates made the McLaren 650S GT3 very well suited to endurance racing. The outgoing 12C GT3 was a hit, amassing numerous championship and race wins across the globe. The 650S GT3 had racing in its DNA and now was the time to step up.
And it did.
The intimidating McLaren 650S GT3, a second generation GT car, took on and destroyed many of its rivals, some of which were third and fourth generation. McLaren, for all its innovation, became the brand to beat.
Chris Goodwin, McLaren’s Chief Test Driver at the time of the 650S GT3’s release, said: “This is a car that is improving on a race-winning formula, and is designed and built to offer even greater levels of driver involvement, but also to be easier to drive."
According to records, the McLaren 650S GT3 was statistically the most successful GT3 car in 2016 when it came to pole positions, race wins and podiums. That season, the 650S GT3 racked up an Australian GT championship title, Australian Endurance Championship title, Pirelli World Challenge Driver and Manufacturers’ championships as well as Blancpain Endurance Cup wins for both drivers and team. Add those to overall victory at the Asian Le Mans Series and you can see why the 650S GT3 is held in high esteem.
However, its overall victory at the 2016 Bathurst 12 Hour race will always stand out above everything else. This was a truly masterful performance that showed the McLaren 650S GT3’s capabilities on the track as it smashed the lap record at Mount Panorama.
It ended McLaren’s long wait for a premium endurance race win: Bathurst marked their first victory in the category since the F1 GTR’s triumph at Le Mans in 1995.
Why did McLaren stop making the 650S GT3?
Surprisingly, McLaren only used the 650S GT3 in GT competition for three years. In 2017, the launch of the 720S as its road car successor in the Super Series was shortly followed by the birth of the 720S GT3.
McLaren’s customer teams would use this new iteration competitively in GT racing from 2019.
Boasting many improvements to its predecessor, the 720S GT3 is formidable. But would it have reached the same levels had it not had the 650S GT3’s tire marks to follow?
There is no doubt that, among the plethora of GT race cars to have come and gone over the years, the McLaren 650S GT3 had something a little bit special about it.
It may not be the most attractive model in the McLaren showroom. But who needs looks when you’ve got silverware to show off instead?