It’s been a very busy Charter flying season for EBG, not uncommon to see 30 or 40 quotes flood in each day. This was an easy one, one passenger, Fairoaks to Dunsfold, wait three hours and off to Battersea. Can we use G-WCKD because it’s pretty?
It was only the day before the flight that more information started to come in. Can the pilot sign a non-disclosure? Can we pick up from the McLaren factory? Mr Leno weighs XX. Sorry? Mr Leno? Unfortunately even though he triple checked, Ken couldn’t fly the job as he was out of duty hours. I was obviously disappointed on his behalf and expressed this by laughing and printing out pictures of the super cars he would not be seeing that day.
I was now quite enthusiastic, as I have been known to show some interest in cars. I flew to Fairoaks in the sunshine and waited to meet the organisers. Probably for the first time I was excited to meet a celebrity!
Jay Leno was instantly recognisable as he strolled out across the apron and opened by asking what engine the EC130 had in it. Explaining that one of his motorbikes had an Alison C20 turbine in it, because he thought it was a good idea. Probably one of the best opening gambits I’ve ever had. We were quickly joined by all manner of film crew, assistants and some people that probably weren’t sure themselves, what it is they do. It quickly transpired that we were here to film Jay Leno trying out his new car and it was all to be filmed for one of his many petrol head shows.
It’s a quick hop from Fairoaks to Dunsfold and there below us was the familiar Top Gear track and two prototype McLaren P1’s parked by the McLaren welcome centre. I was to land so that the P1 was visible through Jay’s window while he did a piece to camera. I’m pleased to say I hit the mark and didn’t pebble dash the £1 million car too much. I was doubly glad when I later found out it was actually his new car!
While all the meet & greets went on some of the McLaren engineers sneaked over to have a closer look at G-WCKD, cowlings up and prodding away at her. To our amazement we were quickly joined by Leno who was equally enthusiastic to have a prod and poke around at what is a very cool bit of kit to fly.
Normally us charter pilots try to hide in the background with a book and maybe send Robin a photo to show him that I’m having more fun with his helicopter than he does. But watching the P1 lap the track really was quite incredible! Leno was clearly not holding back, despite having just got off a long flight from the states. My enthusiasm must have been a little too obvious as I was offered a look inside the other P1 and MP-12C. Both stunning but I explained that I’d stick with my W reg Golf for now. I was happy to wait for the Diesel version which I hoped would keep the MPG in double figures.
Before leaving the Directors begged me to try and chase the P1 around the track “a couple of ariel shots would really make the video extra special”. Obviously chasing supercars around is very dull but if I must! G-WCKD is pretty quick but this was just silly! Think Wylie Coyote and roadrunner, I knew how the poor guy felt! We got the shots they wanted and it was time to wrap up for the day, (after pocketing a couple of chocolate brownies from the buffet).
But no, just one more thing…. Chris Goodwin (Chief test driver) wondered whether I’d like a couple of laps of the track for being a good sport? I’m only guessing at the last half of the sentence because I was already in the car putting my seatbelt on. These are prototypes so a little rough around the edges. I was bracing myself with one foot on each edge of a big hole in the floor full of electrical circuitry. I thought standing on them looked expensive, so best not to.
I’ve been lucky enough, thanks to my old job to drive some fast cars in my time so exiting the pit lane I was relaxed and ready for a quick bash of the track at a respectable pace. Turns out however that this chap was clinically insane with very little understanding of death! I think as we exited the 4th or 5th corner still flat out I may have said “I say old chap this is quite spritely” or words to that effect. After 3 or 4 laps, he let off for a moment and asked if I was going to be sick? “Only normally people were by now”. Definitely not! Can we go until we run out of fuel? Mr crazy decided that this meant I was implying that he was going a little too gently so we really went for it now.
The P1 has loads of new high tech bits on it but probably the most exciting is a system similar to F1 KERS whereby you press 2 buttons on the steering wheel and the spoiler lowers to reduce drag accompanied by an instant 120 BHP boost from electric motors. Who drove a 810 BHP Super car and thought ‘it’s good but needs another 120 BHP’ I don’t know but they are a loon and I like them! The kick in the kidneys is almost painful and things go very blurry!
Sadly all good things come to an end so it was soon time to fly Mr Leno back to Battersea. I’m pleased to report a very nice and interesting guy. I was even more impressed when he knew my car a 1927 Angus Sanderson. A true petrol head, nobody ever knows what it is. The flying’s great but the best bit of my job is the weird and wonderful people you meet along the way. It turns out I was the second person outside of McLaren to even sit in a P1, an incredible day that I don’t think I’ll ever forget!
Captain Nick Cox