Go for Gold: with the McLaren Elva in Monaco

The Olympic Games are almost over - and with them the hunt for the coveted gold medals. Didn't notice anything? Never mind, because in search of precious metal you can also take a drive in the Maritime Alps around Monaco. In a golden McLaren Elva and with the spirit of James and Kimi.
Text Marko Knab
Photo Marko Knab · ramp.pictures

»I chose motorsport because I don't have to get up so early.« All right, Kimi. I am panting, sweating, propped up on my knees, the man at the check-in desk looks at me with amusement. It's 1 p.m. here in Frankfurt and I've already had more than six hours of travel, including snow chaos with capital traffic jams, two cancelled ICE trains and a final sprint. Not ten minutes more and the plane would have taken off without me. »Bwoah«, Kimi would probably say. But not much else. Räikkönen used to be a McLaren driver, I will be tomorrow. But for now, take a breather before heading to the McLaren Elva media drive.

Arrival in Monaco at almost 20 degrees in the middle of February. At the casino. The object of desire is already there. Gold! High class! And yet elegant all in all. In short: the Elva. Its roots are in New Zealand, thanks to Bruce McLaren. Home country? England. And the name? French, by all accounts. Because »Elva« comes from the expression »elle va.« Which means something like: »She goes«. How well she goes exactly, we shall see tomorrow. We are definitely on our way in the appropriate latitudes, both in terms of language and exclusive appearance. My guide and professional pilot tomorrow will be Ralf Kelleners. Formerly a GT1 racer and now simply a very cool guy.

"Elva" comes from the French expression "elle va". Which means something like: "She walks". Tomorrow we will see how well she walks. We are definitely on our way in the right latitudes, both in terms of language and exclusive appearance.

The next morning I am awaited by: 815 hp and no wings, no windshield, no double bottom. I try not to aim too high The main goal: Keep the car in one piece, but also have a little fun. I think of James Hunt. »Hunt the Shunt« as his British compatriots called him affectionately and bitingly, only completed the race in Monaco once in his career. The janky nickname? He didn't really get it because of his modest record of seven starts and six retirements in the Principality - it was more the whole demeanor and his often very daring driving that were the reason. And the correspondingly expensive consequences for the teams. But hey, you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. In Hunt's case the omelette was the Title of F1 World Championship in 1976. A bit like Kimi, who after his time at McLaren went on to win the world championship with Ferrari - and won against two McLaren drivers in the process. Nevertheless, the two would certainly have gotten along well. They always did their own thing anyway. Just like McLaren with the Elva: The Speedster is definitely not everyone's cup of tea, that much is clear. Some scold it, others praise it. And the people at McLaren? They did it because they can. That's right.

7:45 a.m., the sun shining again and we slip into the comfortably cushioned carbon. Our hands find their way to the familiar positions of nine and three o'clock at the wheel. The wheel? Well, it's not really a steering wheel, but rather a pair of boxing gloves. The fingers claw into the indentations behind the slightly oval rim - and off they go. The V8 biturbo roars: left hook, right hook. The 815 hp hammer away in their carbon fiber shell, which wraps around the engine just as it does around the wheels. No, it doesn't wrap around the passenger compartment. Or should we say the ring? If the wind were to hit me in the face right now, I'd be more of an aerodynamic sparring partner. We drive off - and the Elva starts talking.

Self-confident, cheeky, and quite light on her feet, we're on our way. The engine revs up, and it's immediately clear: The ladies and gentlemen from Woking are rightly proud of this vehicle - the Elva is the lightest McLaren of modern times. Lighter than the P1, lighter than the Senna. The direct steering combined with the sports tires lets the car carve around the switchbacks with pinpoint accuracy - and then? The V8 takes over. A double liver punch! It rumbles in the back and the Elva takes off even more viciously. A smooth and well controllable wheelspin, a power oversteer - there' s a rumble from the quad exhaust, the wind is unusually loud. Left, right, left! Everything feels so intense, as if you yourself were the vehicle out in the elements. A driven boxing match. A car like Muhammad Ali: Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!

The steering wheel? It's not really a steering wheel, but rather a pair of boxing gloves. The fingers claw pleasantly into the indentations behind the slightly oval rim - and off you go.

I stop and take off the boxing gloves, Ralf takes over. »Now you,« I grin. He still puts on the goggles with bulletproof glass that were specially developed for the Elva. Which, by the way, is also a term in motorsports when it comes to reliability, at least for the British. Which unfortunately was often not the case with Ralf's cars at his Le Mans starts: In 1997 he has to jump out of a burning Porsche 911 GT1, in 1998 it tears his teammate's gearbox apart just under an hour before the end of the Toyota TS020 GT-One - both times while in the lead. Two pretty good shots at the world's most famous endurance race, no hits. Ralf? Smiles today nonetheless. For us, today is simply about being safe in terms of stone chips, after all, the Elva has no windshield.

Ralf briefly looks at me, smiles back - and gets going. And how! The V8 roars, it hisses away between the rock faces - we’re riding a wild swarm of bees. And I wonder - halfway between La Turbie and Monaco, somewhere between speed and intoxication - how come no insect hit me today. At the speeds here, not only would everything from flies to dragonflies probably be slush, but I would likely be knocked out as well This does not happen thanks to AAMS - the so-called Active Air Management System. A virtual windshield, produced by a carbon plate, which rises at a certain speed. In fact, I had already been told about this. In the heat of the moment, however, I forgot about it. Suddenly my head jerks forward, then to the left and it pushes me back onto the headrest. Ralf slams on the gas coming out of a hairpin bend, the V8 roars again and sweeps any thoughts straight out of your head. Relaxed, we roll on toward Monaco, a racing cyclist raises a wheezing thumb and laughs. We nod.

The Elva comes to a stop in front of the casino and we get out. I silently think for myself: I'm sure James and Kimi would like this car, too. True to the credo: »No bullshit, just driving.« I walk carefully up the stairs to the hotel, take another quick look around and am just glad that McLaren built the Elva. And went their very own way doing so. Just like real champions and legends do.

And then there's the realization that, unlike Kimi, I'm glad I got up early.


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