The 986bhp P1 GTR is the most hardcore interpretation of McLaren's hypercar, and we've driven it

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If you’re reading this, then you’ll likely know at least a little of this car already. You’ll probably have clocked the McLaren P1 GTR’s £1.98 million price, done the maths and realised that’s fully £1.1 million more even than a P1.

You’ll have seen that 1000PS power figure, although you’ll probably not have lamented, like me, that McLaren couldn’t have made it 1014PS.

With the wind in the right direction, the P1 GTR reaches almost 200mph, and there is no such thing as enough pressure on the pedal at that speed

That would have enabled me to call it a genuine 1000bhp car, which, thanks to the always conservative way in which these figures are calculated, it undoubtedly is. But the calculator offers a rather less catchy 986bhp, and there it must stay.

Quite a lot, isn’t it? Of course, it’s no more than a Bugatti Veyron offered 10 years ago, but the difference is that whereas the Veyron weighed at least two tonnes, the P1 GTR has a dry weight of below 1400kg, despite its battery pack and hybrid powertrain. Even taking a kerb weight of 1440kg, that’s 685bhp per tonne.

You can see how easy it is to obsess over the bald numbers of such a car, and now that I’ve driven it as fast as I can make it go and until the only yelping was from the searing pain shooting through my neck muscles, I find that amusing.

The performance is interesting – very interesting, in fact. But it’s far less interesting than some of the other things that this car can do.

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As you will know, the P1 GTR is a car conceived to do much the same job as the Ferrari FXX and its descendants, and doubtless somewhere deep in the Woking lair, there are those who are grudgingly grateful to Maranello for proving the concept of the million-pound motor car that can neither race nor be used on the road. As business plans go, it must have seemed unlikely, but Ferrari went for it anyway.

As has McLaren. It offered P1 GTRs to existing P1 owners only and snapped shut the order book when an expected sales figure of a little over 30 units breached 40 cars. Like Ferrari, it will lay on events at key tracks all over the world, train its drivers in fitness and nutrition and provide one-to-one trackside tuition for those who want it.

But owners will also be able to take their cars home and do with them as they will. I don’t imagine too many will be turning up at a ‘run what you brung’ day at Mallory Park, but if they wanted to, they could. You could take it to the Nürburgring, too.

Given that McLaren chief test driver Chris Goodwin reckons the GTR is between five and 10 seconds a lap swifter than a P1 around Losail, that the Nordschleife lap is four times the length of Losail and that the P1 has already gone under seven minutes there, you don’t need a calculator to realise the genuinely terrifying potential within those pumped-up, drawn-down lines.

But the truth is that but a small fraction of that additional raw speed comes from the extra power and 50kg weight loss. The increase in downforce is a significant help, but the night-and-day difference is the tyres. Goodwin describes the rubber on the road-going P1 as the car’s fuse, the weak link in its design, and you can see why.

However good a job Pirelli did – and by all accounts it was superb – it still had to provide a tyre good enough to work in all weather conditions, for some thousands of miles over a lifespan certainly measurable in months and years.

Imagine, then, a tyre freed from such constraints with a need to last mere minutes at maximum attack. Imagine a stripped-out, powered-up, downforce-optimised P1 on slicks, because in the simplest terms, that is what the GTR is.

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The GTR’s cabin is at least familiar. Chief engineer Dan Parry-Williams says that for all the car’s science fiction performance, he wanted people still to be able to relate the GTR to their P1 road cars and be reassured by that.

That said, the steering wheel breaks McLaren road car rule number one and comes slathered in buttons, not just to control the extant ‘push to pass’ and DRS systems carried over from the road car, but also the radio, flasher, pit lane speed limiter and engine starter button.

I stab it with my thumb and a small bomb goes off behind my right ear as the twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre motor spits flame through its new and unsilenced titanium and Inconel exhausts. The door folds down and I am alone in a carbonfibre cocoon, hoping that shaking sensation is the car and not me.

You drive the P1 GTR as you might any dual-clutch automatic car: tug a paddle, press a pedal and ease out into the unknown.

How do you deal with what must come next? I’d like to ease myself into the experience, but today McLaren is introducing the GTR to potential customers and apparently if you have two million quid to spend on one, that makes you more important than me. So I kick my foot to the floor and feel instantly, physically sick.

It’s what happens when your inner ear finds itself on the receiving end of something entirely unexpected. It’s not the extra power and torque that catch you out so much as what a set of soft slicks can do with it, namely dump the whole lot onto the hot Qatari asphalt.

Only now do you realise just how well and unobtrusively the normal P1’s traction systems work. But I can’t just sit here wondering why lunch is fighting back, because there’s work to be done.

So I start by driving at the same rate as I had earlier in the P1 road car, a pace beyond what almost anyone could imagine a car based on a street-legal design could manage. But in the GTR, it’s no kind of challenge at all.

I can sense the GTR getting bored, looking at its watch, wondering where Goodwin has gone. It doesn’t oversteer or understeer, or squirm around on rapidly melting tread blocks as the P1 does when driven like this. It just steers. It feels arcade-easy and, in that sense, actually less rather than more exhilarating than its sister with the numberplates.

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Pushing harder makes it worse, because your ongoing inability to find its limit make feelings of inadequacy sprout like knotweed through the topsoil of your mind.

There you are, trying to ignore the supplications of your survival senses as you angle into a curve at some preposterous speed, and there is the P1 GTR, gently caressing the apex, lining up the exit and filing its nails as it does so.

So you have to stop. Get out, go for a walk, drink coffee, do anything but drive this bloody car. I thought that by now I’d be drunk on the power and performance; in fact, I’ve never felt more sober in my life. You have to look the issue in the eye and ask yourself if you’re still actually good enough to do this job, to drive this car in such a way as to be able to tell its story.

My only consolation is that Goodwin is not surprised by my reaction, and nor is Parry-Williams, who is kind enough to tell me that he actually forgot to breathe when he first drove it. It’s that sort of car.

When I climb into my carbonfibre saddle for the second time, though, it’s as if McLaren has replaced the car with the P1 GTR I’d dreamt of all along. I’ll not be the first to note that the brain is a remarkable organ, and given just a little time to process the glut of information that it has just been fed, it can deploy its near-infinite capacity to adapt to its surroundings.

So this time I am neither scared nor nauseated by being turned into a human cannonball every time I press the throttle, merely exhilarated beyond what I imagined the capacity of a road car might be, however comprehensively modified for a track-only environment.

Now the P1 has put down its knitting and, as proper loads flow through its suspension and over its wings, started to talk back. Steering that had seemed aloof is flooded with feel, and as we hammer from turn to turn, it’s telling me the car is starting to slide. Yet this is not frightening but reassuring. Now I know where the limit is, and I like what I’m hearing.

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I thought it would be like a modern GT3 racer, set up to accept maximum braking followed by maximum acceleration with no time for any part-throttle balancing act between the two. But the GTR is not like that.

It’s quickest to ease gently onto the power, adding a little additional lock as the understeer gradually builds, but it’s far more fun to cancel that with a slightly sharper kick of the right foot.

One stint ago, I’d have feared that such a move might land me in Bahrain, but now I can feel the car addressing each corner in a state of gorgeous neutrality, trajectory controlled more by power than steering and all delivered with zero delay courtesy of the hybrid drive.

In the end, it is only the high-speed braking that continues to befuddle my mind. With the wind in the right direction, the P1 GTR reaches almost 200mph here, and there is no such thing as enough pressure on the pedal at that speed.

The downforce is so great and the Akebono discs so mighty that I can stamp on that pedal with all the force I can muster and all that happens is the world around me is propelled into my face like a dolly zoom from a Hitchcock film. I’d like another go, but my time in the McLaren P1 GTR and at the Losail circuit is up.

As I leave the circuit, it occurs to me that by the end of the second session, acceleration that had literally made me feel ill at the start of the first felt, if not normal, then at least natural and no more than commensurate with the surroundings in which I found myself. And I know how absurd that sounds.

By far the more remarkable achievement is a chassis that will pull more than 2.5 lateral g yet still remember that despite its pulverising pace, what matters most is not how fast you go but how much fun you have going fast.

What is the P1 GTR like? Try to imagine a car with as near to 1000bhp as makes no difference that weighs under 1400kg dry. Think of the acceleration that might result, and then be advised that this is the least interesting thing it does.

This is the true measure of the P1 GTR. However extraordinary it looks, you must take my word that its shape writes no cheque that the car beneath cannot cash in full.