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Watch: I Hit 215 MPH in a McLaren (Legally). Here’s What It Was Like.

Writer Basem Wasef pushed a McLaren 720S Spider and a 765LT Spider to their limits at Idaho's Sun Valley Tour de Force.

Just north of Ketchum, Idaho is Phantom Hill, a scenic stretch of state highway that begs for extralegal speed. Tarmac cuts through the majestic natural landscape in a gentle arc that resolves into a lengthy downhill straightaway. It’s a delight to pilot these roads at triple-digit speeds, though 364 days out of the year doing so would likely land you in jail.

The Sun Valley Tour de Force was founded in 2018 as a way to celebrate speed and raise funds for local charities. While a group drive and car show offer typical supercar spectacle, the main event brings law-breaking wish fulfillment to new levels by closing off the road and allowing participants the opportunity to drive as fast as their high-powered cars will take them. The No Speed Limit portion shuts down 3.2 miles of road at Phantom Hill, and requires a considerable amount of coordination and safety precautions. Because I wasn’t able to attend the mandatory safety meeting ahead of the runs, the team arranged a Zoom meeting in which I was briefed on the particulars of the no-limits event. 

Basem Wasef drives a McLaren Spider

The McLaren 720S Spider   Sun Valley Tour de Force

Practically every eventuality has been thought through. Every participating vehicle is required to pass a thorough tech inspection and wear tires that are no more than 5 years old. Spectators must clear the road by 300 feet, and 16 spotters ensure the road is clear of wildlife by remaining in radio contact with drivers. 

The staging area fills early on Saturday morning with an eclectic group of participants. The usual contemporary supercar suspects are present—Ferrari 812 GTSs and 488 GTBs, Porsche 911 Turbos and Audi R8 V10s, and small batch specials like a Pagani Huayra and a Singer Vehicle Design Porsche 911. Classic exotica is also well represented, from a first-gen Dodge Viper to a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. Oddball outliers include a pristine, 40-year-old Volkswagen Rabbit pickup truck and a custom-built 1966 Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe, whose owner was intent on beating a 210 mph record. Incidentally, the outright 253.01 mph record was set by a Bugatti Chiron in 2019.

WATCH

Basem Wasef in the cockpit of a McLaren Spider

Basem Wasef in the cockpit of a McLaren Spider  Sun Valley Tour de Force

At my disposal is a McLaren 720S Spider and 765LT Spider provided by the carmaker, who serves as a title sponsor for the event. First up: the edgier 765LT, whose lighter weight and more aggressive aerodynamics might make it appear to be weapon of choice for these high-speed proceedings. With a radio tucked into my ear fitted snug beneath a carbon fiber helmet, I line up at the start line and watch the 720S ahead get the thumbs up and blast off into the distance. Moments after it disappears over the crest, there’s a beat of silence as I double check the car’s settings and anticipate the signal that the 3.2 miles of road ahead are mine to attack. 

The thing about driving a 755 horsepower supercar full tilt into a blind corner is that the first time requires a paradoxical combination of boldness and caution. Speed accumulates with brutal efficiency: 60 mph arrives in 2.7 seconds, 100 in 5.4 clicks. Hurtling into the triple digits, the McLaren makes the landscape blurrier until the tachometer’s climb hovers near 8,000 rpm. The thrum is intense, as is the near-impossibility of visually processing details as the surroundings speed past. Holding the steering wheel as it dances slightly in your hands near top speed is like balancing the upbringing of a spirited child: The grasp must be firm enough for control, but flexible enough to allow for the wiggles. Through the traps at an indicated 205 mph, I lift the accelerator and the air brake instantly fills the rear mirror, keeping the vehicle from losing control due to the sudden shift in balance and downforce. 

Basem Wasef driving a McLaren Spider

Writer Basem Wasef driving the McLaren 720S Spider  Sun Valley Tour de Force

Counterintuitively, McLaren’s less powerful 720S Spider manages a higher claimed top speed thanks to its slipperier aerodynamics and taller gearing. Lined up again at the start line, the 720S doesn’t punch quite as aggressively off the line, but still accelerates hard enough to press you firmly against the form fitting seats. This time the McLaren’s legs are long, punching past 150 and into 200, creeping up click by click until it settles at an indicated 213 mph. Data from the official speed trap reveals I hit a max velocity of 215.72 mph, a satisfying number that isn’t far off from the day’s fastest officially recorded speed of 221.67 mph, set by a Ferrari F8 Tributo.

Once the top speed event concludes, it’s time to enjoy Idaho’s stunning roads—only this time with heightened awareness of potential repercussions. It’s a seemingly frivolous endeavor, chasing top speed numbers in fantastical carbon fiber supercars. But if there’s a counterargument to the octane-fueled excess, it’s the organization’s fundraising efforts, which raised $580,000 this year for the Hunger Coalition, an accomplishment that gives even more reason makes next year’s event bigger than ever.

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