ROFGO Collection: McLaren GTR F1 Longtail

Gulf’s sport car programme had ended in 1975 and the company went through many changes over the next decade. It was bought by Chevron in the mid-1980s and the Gulf brand was relaunched in 1991, leading to a return to Le Mans in 1994 with Derek Bell and a Kremer Porsche. This captured the imagination of fans, company and customers alike and Gulf executive Martin Allerton decided to take the Gulf name into GT racing for 1995.

ROFGO Collection: McLaren GTR F1 Longtail


While Gulf had been running the Kremer Porsche, British ‘gentleman driver’ Ray Bellm had persuaded McLaren Cars to build a racing version of the F1 road car. Allerton met Bellm and was impressed by his plans, signing a deal before Gordon Murray had even completed his design. Bellm bought the second car off the production line; fellow gentleman racer Thomas Bscher bought the first. Bscher won the 1995 GT title in his McLaren but the Gulf team were the leading runners in 1995 and 1996, winning the title for Bellm in 1996.

McLaren F1 22R 024

For 1997, the FIA took over the running of the GT championship in response to Mercedes’ desire to run a car that was far outside the way GTs were then defined. McLaren had little chance of competing with the Stuttgart Steamroller but Murray designed a revised car, known as the ‘long tail’ GTR. Bellm joined forces with Bscher to run a pair of the new cars; Bscher being partnered by  Nielsen again in chassis 022R. Bscher’s car would carry No 2 during the GT season.

McLaren F1 22R 022

The series opened in Hockenheim in April with one of the new Mercedes CLK GTRs on pole with a shoal of McLaren GTRs behind it. A McLaren won, the BMW Motorsport entry of Lehto and Soper, but a Gulf team car was second (Gounon and Raphael) with the Bscher/Nielsen 022R in third. After finishing Le Mans prequalifying in a disappointing 15th position, the team returned to the GT trail at Silverstone where a Mercedes was again on pole but a Panoz GTR-1 took second leaving the leading McLaren in third. Nielsen and Bscher led the Gulf team McLaren, qualifying sixth, but finished a distant 9th.

McLaren F1 22R 023

The BMW and Mercedes works team were head to head again at Helsinki with the Gulf team leading the independents and the #2 of Bscher and Nielsen qualified sixth. The leading cars dropped out and Bscher/Nielsen were third, albeit a bit surprised to be behind one of the unfancied Porsche 911s. The car was then badly damaged in a fire at Le Mans and was not repaired until the Coupe D’Automne ACO, a 4-hour race at Le Mans in September. Nielsen and Bscher qualified amongst the LMP cars in an excellent third slot and were second in heat 1, only beaten by the LMP class Courage C41. A third place in heat 2 secured second overall. The season ended with the 6 hours of Vallelunga, the final round of the 1997 Challenge Endurance Italia. With the only McLaren on the grid, Bscher and Nielsen took pole position and won comfortably.

McLaren F1 22R 011

Bscher retained 022R for 1998, now with Geoff Lees as his team mate, and won the first round of the GTR Euroseries and also the prestigious Monza 1000km, both by massive margins. Then the Mercedes CLK GTR and the impressive Porsche 911 GT1-98 appeared and chances of overall victory evaporated. The car did visit Le Mans again in June but, co-driven by Rinaldo Capello and Emanuele Pirro crashed out during the night.

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