Recently we had the privilege of participating in the Sun Valley Tour de Force, in Sun Valley, Idaho. The SVTdF is a wonderful event which raises money for a great cause, The Hunger Coalition, and helps a large number of people in need. The SVTdF is in its 6th year and is a three day event which runs Thursday – Saturday, capping off on Saturday with high speed, close road, runs followed by a gala dinner and charity auction that night. We decided to take the three day event and turn it into a weeklong road trip in which we covered just over 2,000 miles in the McLaren 765LT Spider. The following article is part II of IV and covers the Sun Valley Tour de Force.
Part II – The Sun Valley Tour de Force
The Sun Valley Tour de Force is one of the best automotive events I have ever had the pleasure to participate in. It’s a three day event that starts off on day 1 with a welcome breakfast followed by a scenic drive up into the Sawtooth Mountains. Day 1 concludes with a reception at the Limelight Hotel. Day 2 is mostly taken up by the technical inspection which all cars have to pass to be able to participate in the Day 3 high speed closed road runs. After the technical inspection, the Tour de Force puts on a spectacular free car show for the community. Day 3 brings with it the High-Speed Runs at Phantom Hill followed by the gala dinner, live auction and comedy show. For the first time this year, McLaren was the main sponsor of the SVTdF and turned out in force with a wide range of McLarens including the new 750S. Porsche and Singer were the other two automotive sponsors.. What makes the SVTdF so special is both the amazing organizing committee and the great group of people that committee chooses to invite to participate in the event. The three days ran flawlessly, and I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of time and effort that went into making it happen.
Day 1 started with me back in the driver’s seat of the McLaren 765LT Spider. This early morning excursion lasted all of 200 yards as I pulled the car out of the garage and parked it up on the street with many of the other participants cars. It was right behind the patio where the welcome breakfast and check in was taking place. After breakfast we all piled into our cars and headed to the muster point for the Huckleberry Drive which is a 40 mile run out on RT 75 from Sun Valley to the Smiley Creek Lodge. A spectacular Ferrari 812 GTS pulled in behind us at the muster point and the owner could not have been nicer as I had quite a few questions about the car. After a few more minutes milling around, we were off in a long convoy of roughly 100 supercars covering just about every major manufacturer from the latest McLarens, including three Arturasdriven by members of the McLaren North American Marketing Team, to 1950s Ferraris. This stretch of RT 75 is pure driver’s road as to winds through the valleys and up and across the mountains. While the tarmac was a bit iffy in places after a long harsh winter, the scenery more than compensated. As we wound through the mountains, the convoy stretched out smartly and everyone gave each other space. The 40 miles disappeared far too quickly, and I was ready to keep going for 40 more. However, we did comply when we were waved into the parking area and parked up at the end of a long line of McLaren 720S’ and Arturas.
One of the most special and spectacular cars on the Huckleberry Drive was a Ferrari 250 Tour de France. Mrs. SSO was quite smitten by the 50s Ferrari and was in a deep conversation with the owner about the car in a matter of minutes. Before I could even get a few good pictures of the 250 TdF, Mrs. SSO announced that the owner had offered to take her out for a short drive in it and they would be back in 15-20 minutes. With that, off they roared up RT 75 towards the distant mountains. I must admit, it did sound glorious and was in spectacular shape. Once Mrs. SSO was back, with a huge grin on her face, it was time to decide where we wanted to head next as the group activity was now concluded. The McLaren marketing team indicated that they planned to continue the drive up north and invited us to join them. We were also joined by an absolutely stunning Burton Blue McLaren 720S and the couple that brought it were some of the most interesting, and nicest people we have met.
This second part of the drive was one of the highlights of the whole experience. To start, all the members of the McLaren Team really know how to drive. They all go through advanced driver training, and it shows. The section of RT 75 we now drove runs alongside the Salmon River as it descends from the Sawtooth Mountains. Spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe it as you wind your way through the gorge. The 765LT Spider was made for these sorts of drives. The huge amounts of grip alongside zero body roll provide enormous confidence going into each of the never ending corners. I found that I rarely needed to give the brakes more than a short quick jab going into a corner as the engine braking via a couple of quick downshifts did the rest. Getting back on the power as soon as the corner opened up again pulled the 765LT Spider through nicely, then it was a couple of quick upshifts before heading back down the gearbox again. I have to admit, I did do a bit more shifting than needed but I was thoroughly enjoying the echo off the rockface as we banged through the gearbox with the top down, of course. After another 30-40 miles, sadly the fun had to end as our fuel was starting to run low. Despite the 765LT Spider being quite light weight, having to push it back to Sun Valley didn’t seem like a particularly attractive outcome. Fortunately, Stanley, the one small town, that we passed on the way north did have a gas station, which just happened to be about the most expensive I have seen this side of Europe, and we were able to fill up.
After a very enjoyable lunch at Sawtooth Luce’s, we had another great run and made our way back to Sun Valley. The days official festivities ended with a lovely cocktail party on the Limelight Hotel patio after which we headed over to one of the world’s great dive bars, Grumpy’s, for dinner. The place was packed and for good reason.
Day 2 was Technical Inspection and Safety Briefing Day. All the cars which would be participating in the high speed closed road runs on day 3 had to pass a through technical inspection at the Sun Valley Auto Club. The technical inspections were then followed by a detailed driver’s briefing. As I hate lines and knew there were a large number of cars that needed to go through the technical inspection, the 765LT Spider and I headed down early and arrived shortly after opening at 8AM. The technical inspection was followed by a well needed bath for the bright orange beast and the car was all signed off on and ready to go by 10AM. To kill time before the 11:30AM Safety Briefing, I wandered over to where both McLaren and Porsche (another SVTdF Sponsor) were offering test drives. On the McLaren side, they had a fleet of Arturas, which were fully booked out for the day, and on the Porsche side, a number of Taycans. As I am not a fan of short test drives, I passed on the opportunity. Instead, I took the opportunity to admire a pair of stunning Singer 911s. These cars are truly works of art. I have to give the owners a huge amount of credit for bringing them out and driving them at full tilt down the following day. After a quick lunch followed by the Safety Briefing, I headed first to Phantom Hill to do a sighting run for the next days’ high speed event, and then back to the Limelight Hotel for a few hours ahead of the SVTdF Car Show.
The SVTdF Car Show is a free event put on by the SVTdF Organization for the local and surrounding communities. All the cars participating in the Phantom Hill high speed runs participate along with other collectors’ cars from the area. In addition, McLaren organized a display of some of their greatest and rarest cars from the last decade including an Elva, Senna, Speedtail, 688 MSO HS, and the new 750S. A P1 also turned up to complete the full suite of McLaren Ultimate Series cars from the last decade. I did take the opportunity at the show to take a closer look at the 750S. Design wise, it’s keeps a lot of what I like about the 720S while improving the overall lines. The updated interior incorporates a number of elements first seen in the Elva along with a major upgrade of the infotainment system. I was very glad to see that McLaren has left the steering wheel simple and not encumbered it with a multitude of dials and switches. To top off the McLaren display, McLaren also flew in one of their former Formula 1 driver’s, Stefan Johansson, to sign autographs and drive the 750S on Phantom Hill the following day.
Day 2 concluded with a small dinner hosted by the McLaren Team. By a stroke of luck I ended up sitting next to Stefan Johansson. He was absolutely fascinating to talk to and turns out, quite a talented artist (Stefan Johansson Art) on top of it all. After an eleven year career in F1, Stefan spent 5 years in Indy Car before winning Le Mans in 1997.
Like the other two, the final day of the SVTdF started early. We needed to be in our cars at the meeting point by 7AM. From the meeting point, we would drive out to the Driver’s Pit on the Phantom Hill section of RT 75, which was about 10 miles away. The high speed runs were due to start at 8AM and like all the SVTdF events, it was very well organized and started promptly. For the runs, we were assigned to groups of 8, across 9 Heats. We were scheduled for two runs and placed in Heat’s 2 and 6. Each Heat ran for about 20 minutes, after which the road was reopened to the public for 20 minutes before being closed again for the next Heat. The start line is at the bottom of a slope, and as you climb up, the road curves to the left. At the top of the slope, it’s a bit of a blind apex before the road drops down and stretches out in front of you. From there it’s about a 1 1/2 mile run to the finish line. Stefan drove the McLaren 750S in the 1st heat and hit a 198 mph top speed before going just over 200 mph in his second run. Having not done this before, Mrs. SSO and I discussed what was going to our strategy. The plan was to get a feel for the course on the first run and then really push hard on the second.
It was still quite chilly when we were waved forward for our first run. The temperature was still in the 60’sF and we had a slight tail wind. Once we were given the all clear and told the course was ours, off we went. The “Handling” was set to “comfort” as the road surface was not exactly smooth and every imperfection is amplified at speed, the gearbox set to “auto” and the “Transmission” was in “track”. As I wasn’t sure what the grip levels were going to be and how the apex would appear, we exited the left hand curve at a modest 120 mph before mashing the accelerator as soon as we cleared the apex. While 120 mph to 180 mph seems to happen in just a couple of seconds, 180-200 mph feels like it takes 3 times as long. Shortly before the finish line I saw 201 mph on the speedometer although we were officially clocked at only 190 mph. There were several learnings from the 1st run. At very high speed, the 765LT Spider is incredibly stable and planted. This is both a blessing and presents a challenge. The car is so well planted because it generates a huge amount of downforce. However, that downforce comes at the expense of top speed. To get anywhere near the 765LT Spider’ listed top speed of 205 mph, we were going to need to come out of that curve much faster and hope for a bit of a push down the hill from a strong tail wind.
By the time our second run had rolled around, the mercury had headed north to over 90F and the wind did a 180 degree turn and was now right on our nose, blowing at 12-15 mph. As soon as we had the “all clear”, we set off at a much more rapid pace than the first time. By the time we hit the apex, we were at 150 mph and it was flat out from there on in. 190 mph appeared much more quickly this time and we were still in 6th gear when we topped out at 199 mph, a final downshift into 7th dropped us a couple of mph and we got half of it back before crossing the finish line. While the speedometer didn’t hit 200 mph, the 2nd run felt faster and much more dialed in.
One thing that struck me as quite interesting as we were discussing our last run with a couple of fellow drivers was the cars that people chose to bring. To be accepted as a SVTdF high speed participant you needed to go through a vetting process where you had to show prior high speed and/or track/racing experience. Everyone sitting around in the Driver’s Pit both knew what they were getting into and made a choice on which car to bring based on experience, trust, and confidence in that car at very high speed. In addition, many of the SVTdF participants have multiple supercars in their garages so plenty of choices available. The automotive brands that were represented in the Drivers Pit were almost exclusively McLaren, Ferrari, Porsche (including the Singer & RUF 911s), and Ford. Several other major supercar brands were noticeably absent.
Overall, the McLarens had a great showing on the Phantom Hill runs, with the 720S’ setting all 5 of the top speeds and holding 8 of the top 10 spots. Our new friends in the Burton Blue 720S set 2 of those 8 speeds. The overall top speed was set by Alexandra Hainer with her parents occupying the next several spots. The other two cars to crack the top 10 were a Ferrari 488 Pista and a Porsche 911 Turbo S. The atmosphere in the Driver’s Pit was terrific and both Mrs. SSO and I really enjoyed getting to know a number of our fellow participants much better.
The final event of the SVTdF was the Cars & Comedy Dinner & Auction to benefit the Hunger Coalition. The team that ran the auction was both terrific and highly entertaining. How they can learn to talk that quickly is completely beyond me. My favorite piece that crossed the auction block was a painting kindly donated by Stefan Johansson. As it had been a wonderful by long day, Mrs. SSO and I did retire on the early side as we had another full day of driving ahead of us. Overall, it was a terrific, brilliantly organized, and highly memorable several days and I hope we are invited back for the 7th SVTdF.
Next: The Road Trip Back
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