In 1997, the GT series gained full FIA status and with the works AMG Mercedes-Benz team joining Porsche and McLaren, it was set to be a thrilling year. The opposition were armed with purpose-built GT1 racing cars, and it was extremely hard for McLaren F1 - with its genuine road-going origins to compete. A revised long-tail version with more downforce gave the model a new lease of life, however.
The challenge was spearhead by the works schnitzer team, whose main pairing of JJ Lehto and Steve Soper won at Hockenheim, Helsinki, Spa and Mugello. They kept the title battle alive all the way to the end, just losing out to Klaus Ludwig of Mercedes-Benz. Their team-mates, Roberto Ravaglia and Peter Kox, also won at Silverstone, but it was a tough year for the other McLaren teams, Bscher having joined GTC to make it a three-car effort.
As far as McLaren was concerned, the F1 GTR programme concluded at the end of the 1997 season. Some owners carried on into 1998, but, by then, the opposition's GT cars had developed even further from what could genuinely constitute a road car.
There was an unexpected bonus at Le Mans in 1998 when owner Steve O'Rourke, Tim Sugden and Bill Auberlen took a superb fourth overall with their 1997 car. In the process, they set a record for the shortest time spent in the pits in the history of the race, another testament to the design and build quality of the GTR.
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