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One-on-one with Ron Dennis, McLaren's boss

Mon, 19 Apr 2010

Here are a few stats to wrap your brain around: Since 1966, the year McLaren got into Formula One, 100 Grand Prix teams have come and gone--100! Only Ferrari and McLaren remain. McLaren has won 25 percent of the F1 races it has entered and has been on the podium a whopping 53 percent of the time.

Much of that success can be attributed to one man: Ron Dennis.

We sat down with Dennis at the immaculate Lord Foster-designed McLaren headquarters in Woking, England, on the day the company launched the MP4-12C. We asked what we thought were a couple of fair opening questions: “What motivates you? You're obviously a pretty successful guy. Why bother entering the road-car business--why not kick back on a beach somewhere?”

“Some people say I'm obsessive-compulsive,” Dennis, 62, said with a laugh, “but I don't think so. I'm still motivated every day by how we can improve things on the racing side and the production-car side.

“Why did we enter the production-car business?” Dennis sweeps his hand around, gesturing at the building. “Because I firmly believe that to keep all of these people employed [McLaren employs 1,500], to keep the doors open, we need to broaden our base.”

The MP4-12C is the first shot at broadening that base, and it's an intriguing car in a lot of ways. First and foremost is the weight: At 2,860 pounds, it is 400 pounds lighter than a Ferrari 458 Italia and 300 pounds lighter than a Lamborghini Gallardo. “Everything we did on this car was done with us constantly asking, "How can we save weight?'” Dennis said.

A 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 will power the car, with 600 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. Dennis said it will hit 124 mph in “less than 10 seconds” and that top speed, while not set in stone, will be “over 200 mph.”

Through six U.S. dealerships, McLaren hopes to sell 300 to 400 cars, starting in June 2011. “Our sales goals are modest,” Dennis said. “We don't need to be big. We want low-volume, premium products with the best customer experience in the business.”

The MP4-12C is only the beginning, but Dennis won't say exactly what's coming. “Anything we make will be high-tech and efficient. There will be new styles, new packaging and a diverse product range, but all will be two-seaters, and the engine will be in the back.”

At McLaren HQ, where people scurry about looking passionate, focused and glad to be there, you get the impression that Dennis gets exactly what he wants.

And after visiting Woking and sitting with him, you also get the impression that counting him and his car company out as merely a niche player would be a grievous mistake.

By Wes Raynal