INSIDE HYPERCAR INVITATIONAL – MAKING DREAMS COME TRUE
By: Kevin Ehrlich | Photos Courtesy of: Hypercar Invitational
Imagine mixing the rarest high-performance cars in the world with pre-production prototypes breaking cover, a sprinkling of vintage race cars, and hand-built one-off machines built from a purity of vision and passion. Emphasize the driving experience through the eyes of both amateurs and professionals. Highlight a venue where owners, dealers and manufacturers interact outside the glare of auto show spotlights or concours displays. Display the potential of small builders who could challenge the big players one day – or even become big players themselves. Raise funds for Make a Wish Foundation in the process. That’s the Hypercar Invitational.
The Speed Journal is all about motoring experiences. The opportunity to experience the third edition of Hypercar Invitational at Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca in June was irresistible. Thanks to a kind invite from the organizers, Speed Journal Principal Jeff Francis packed a bag and headed to Monterey.
When Francis arrived, he found the paddock and garages full of marvelous hardware. The world’s most compelling cars exerted a gravitational pull on the motoring world for a weekend – Bugatti, Pagani, Koenigsegg, McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes AMG, Porsche, Ruf. Prototypes at the bleeding edge of road-car development shared garage space with racers that made history decades ago. Transporters unloaded one-off passion projects.
The Hypercar Invitational has been a largely unpublicized communion between owners, the special machines, and the companies that manufacture them. The idea originally came from a small group of like-minded friends and supporters. Static displays may show off excellence of craftsmanship and design. However, polished dealership floors or manicured golf course fairways miss the essential element of motion. A track day wakes the beasts and provides them room to roar and run.
The June 2021 edition was the third gathering of Hypercar Invitational. The Monterey Peninsula transformed into a playground for a weekend, making a valuable venue for manufacturers and dealers to connect with each other and their customer base. Guests learned about design, construction and engineering from practitioners.
Timing and scoring screens were set aside in favor of open track sessions to let the wild things roam. Builders, owners, manufacturers, dealers and professional drivers checked out each other’s handiwork and answered questions. The invite-only guest list capped attendance, giving breathing room in the garages and on the track.
In the days leading up to the event, the Hypercar Invitational team introduced a logo based on the silhouette of the only 1993 Isdera Commendatore 112i ever built. A brainchild of Eberhard Schulz, the Isdera was a slice of mid-engine madness for those who found a Lamborghini Countach too common. Gullwing doors, pop-up headlights, enormous rear bodywork that hinges from front to rear surrounding a V-12 Mercedes engine, a periscope central rear-view mirror, and a timeless shape. The Isdera fit perfectly as the spiritual mascot of the Hypercar Invitational.
Hypercar Invitational founder Alessandro Borroni found the Isdera owner and extended an invitation to attend. The owner not only accepted and brought the Isdera, but brought an eye watering collection of other motoring masterpieces. Each would have been the headline attraction at almost any other event in the world. Such are the people who heeded the call and helped to make Hypercar Invitational magic.
Manufacturers such as McLaren, Koenigsegg, and Pagani followed their customer base to California and sent cars and personnel. As if “regular” McLaren road cars weren’t special enough, McLaren brought several open-topped Elva models. The lightweight roadster comes with a $1.7 million price tag and a production run capped at 149 units.
The Elva’s styling incorporates familiar McLaren design language but charts its own course. After admiring the Elva in the garage, Francis took a blue Elva prototype with white accents to the track for the experience from the driver’s seat. (“XP12W Prototype Vehicle” lettering on the bodywork on either side ahead of the rear wheels gives away its identity.) Initially conceived without a windscreen, McLaren added glass for the US spec cars to comply with US regulations. The open-top, low weight and twin turbo V-8 engine make for an immersive driving experience. The time Francis spent behind the wheel only increased his desire to get additional time at the controls.
For companies like McLaren, the Hypercar Invitational is a cost-effective way to directly connect with their target market and highlight their artistry on the track. Manufacturers don’t necessarily view an event like this as direct competition with each other. Hypercar owners often go with “and” rather than “or” when they make buying decisions. A sale for one is not necessarily a lost sale for another. Borroni envisions future Hypercar Invitationals as a chance for manufacturers to get together for business-to-business interactions, adding value beyond the business-to-customer interactions.
Two other marques were on site looking to make their mark as well. DeTomaso is well-known for making cars in the 1960s and 1970s that wrapped Italian design around American Ford muscle. Argentinian founder Alejandro de Tomaso built the Vallelunga, Mangusta and the Pantera. After a complicated corporate journey, the enterprise was abandoned and new owners acquired rights to its name in 2015.
The P72 is the first project for the renewed effort, intended as a halo car that echoes DeTomaso sports racing cars of the early 1970s. A P72 development prototype displayed shapely curves in matte black with “P” logos (a reference to the internal designation for the P72 as “Project P”). Each of the 72 units scheduled for production will likely require over a million dollars for a buyer to take one home. The early prototype didn’t see much track time during the weekend, but guests appreciated a look at the ambitious resurrection project and hearing from the DeTomaso team at the Friday dinner.
Los Angeles based Czinger debuted its cutting edge C21, infused with clean-sheet-of-paper technology and design. Fusing artificial intelligence with human design resulted in mind-bending shapes and parts, in the name of strength and weight-saving. Additive manufacturing methods (more commonly known as 3D printing) turned the digital into the tangible.
Immense scissor doors pivot to the sky to reveal a center driving position under a long, narrow canopy with aviation cues. Striking angles and muscular curves give the mid-engine C21 a look more purposeful than pretty. Monstrous hybrid power (1250 horse power!) and low weight support its hypercar performance credentials.
Founder Kevin Czinger was on hand and described his journey during a panel discussion following Friday dinner. Limited to only 80 units, the C21 will be the company’s halo hypercar. More models are in the pipeline. The C21 is a showcase for Divergent 3D – the company with the design and manufacturing technology. Divergent’s technology is intended to enable efficient low-quantity production of C21 customer cars without the need for a large-scale factory. Czinger passionately believes the process will disrupt the process of automotive manufacturing.
Unplugged Performance brought their new Tesla Model S Plaid Pikes Peak racer for Randy Pobst to drive for the first time. How new? The one-off race car was finished in the late night/early morning hours, put on the truck and immediately sent to the track to turn its first shakedown laps at the Hypercar Invitational. The team stripped a road-going Model S Plaid of excess weight, added aero treatments, bulked up the suspension and installed a racing seat and harness. The shakedown only two weeks before the 2021 Pikes Peak hillclimb paid off – Pobst won his class and placed 10th overall.
These are the kind of projects the Hypercar Invitational wants to highlight and encourage.
A few weeks after the third Hypercar Invitational descended on the Monterey Peninsula, Borroni was still amazed. As the organizer, he was grateful to all who played a role, but amazed. Generous owners, supportive dealers, and manufacturers sent loaded trailers with rare and expensive machinery for a weekend of rolling thunder.
Speaking with The Speed Journal, Borroni reflected on Hypercar Invitational’s own origin story, starting with the inaugural event in November 2019 at Road Atlanta. It started with simple questions between a few friends – how can average people get a sense of what the most exotic road cars are really like? Beyond saying they’re fast and look great, what does the driver experience? What really makes elite road cars different?
The stars aligned. Founding sponsor Jonathan Hull at Merit Partners, an exotic car dealer and advisor in Atlanta, was there at the beginning. The opportunity to connect compelling machinery and clients at a renowned natural terrain road course was irresistible. Instagrammer Select32 generously cleared out his private garage. The Holy Trinity of Supercars converged – the Porsche 918, Ferrari LaFerrari and McLaren P1. A Ferrari 488 Pista and Porsche Carrera GT joined as well.
Borroni recalls talking with Horacio Pagani at a lunch about the dual hypercar identities – most often seen as rolling jewelry but rarely showing their performance capabilities. Straight out of a fairytale, Pagani offered the group the use of a Huayra for the day.
A breakthrough idea brought amateur and professional drivers together to hustle the cars on track and then compare, contrast and describe their driving impressions. Professional driver Randy Pobst was part of the early “what if” conversations. Armed with his extensive knowledge earned through years of driving an enormous range of cars, he was enthusiastic. Motor Trend writer Jonny Lieberman pushed the idea early as well.
The team methodically recorded immediate impressions and a post-event roundtable. They talked in terms that an average person could understand. They posted on YouTube, mostly to preserve memory and share with interested friends rather than seek views and clicks.
It went so well that the team decided to assemble another event. The Hypercar Invitational shifted to the west coast for the next edition, setting up at Laguna Seca in July 2020. There wasn’t a master plan, but the event took shape organically. Borroni and his team made requests and extended invites.
For manufacturers, reputational and liability risks mix with costs and budgets. It takes cubic resources to send cars and people to events and takes faith to put their cars at risk. However, they said “yes.” The idea came at the right time with the right vision. Gathering owners and potential buyers in a cost-effective format made a compelling concept. It became an automotive field of dreams – if you build it, they will come.
Porsche, Mercedes and McLaren badges joined Gunther Werks, Ford GT, McLaren and Pagani. A Gurney Eagle F1 tribute race car made by Scarbo Performance shared the track with a red 1991 Koenig C62 – one of only three Porsche 962 supercars for the road made by German Willy Koenig.
July 2020 landed in the midst of public health lockdowns in California which complicated logistics, but the show continued. Jonathan Hull at Merit Partners helped steer the team towards Make a Wish as a worthy charitable cause. The Hypercar Invitational adopted Make a Wish of San Francisco and made three wishes come true with rides during the weekend. For those watching from afar, glimpses on social media and word of mouth gave hints of the fairy dust that makes a hypercar event special.
The third Hypercar Invitational made a return visit to Laguna Seca in June 2021. Manufacturers and dealers saw the previous events as a proof of concept and increased involvement to support the third. The event hosted a rich array of both modern and vintage machines. Any one of them would likely be a star attraction at most events in the world.
Five Bugatti Chiron models flew in formation with a carbon fiber Dauer Bugatti EB110 Super Sport for a rolling group shot behind a camera car. Where else does a Bugatti Veyron merely fit in with the crowd?
The volume and variations from McLaren’s storied history could easily double for an official McLaren Museum collection. Wild things from Woking included brand new Elva open-topped spyders, several Senna GTRs, Sabre, modern P1s, Can-Am and even a Speedtail (sans wheel covers).
Despite the high-tech modern wizardry, the star of the McLaren show was an old-school pure-analogue Gordon Murray masterpiece that traveled across the country for the event on a Miller Motorcars transporter. An F1 is rare to see in a static display but a white F1 running at speed on a race track is just short of mythical (and yes, the F1 did Make a Wish charity laps).
Jesko and Gemera Koenigseggs? Yes. Porsche 959? Yes. Ferrari F50? Yes. Ferrari Monza? Yes. Mercedes AMG SLS? Yes. Two. Lamborghini? Yes. Porsche 911 variants? Yes, many of those too.
Race cars from decades of motorsport were on hand. Mercedes, Porsche, McLaren (among others) raced through factory and privateer teams in the FIA-GT series. 1997 was a golden year of modern sportscar racing and one of the handful of V-12 Mercedes CLK-GTR cars that raced in 1997 and 1998 was on site. For Porsche fans, a 962 and RS Spyder enjoyed track time, both formerly run by the well-known Dyson Racing squad from upstate New York. A Porsche 910 lurked nearby as well, not to mention a McLaren Can-Am car and a Maserati 200S.
A rare 1968 Howmet TX (Turbine eXperiment) racecar brought a vintage twist to the event. As its name suggests, the “mad scientist” Howmet features a jet engine. The whine of the turbine engine is more familiar on a runway, though, than a raceway. The dramatic lightweight gullwing doors would otherwise be a signature feature, but are easily overlooked amid the aural soundtrack.
Far away from the world of spotless high-tech laboratories, a 1970 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am was the epitome of hand-built. A star at the 2018 SEMA show, uber-fabricator Randy Stair stuffed a 1000 horsepower V-8 engine in an overhauled Trans-Am. The 20-month build didn’t only produce a pretty show car – the Trans-Am was made to run and found its own place at the Hypercar Invitational.
Another passion project on-hand was a Porsche 911 completely transformed into a full Baja rally spec monster by T.J. Russell and his team. The white rally racer laughed at curbing and cut its own lines through corners, bouncing around Laguna Seca in ways unknown at any driving school.
Borroni himself got a first-hand view while at the controls of a Ruf Yellowbird when Russell flew past in his Baja, sliding slideways and up the hill past Turn 5. Where else could that happen? Later in the weekend, a section of paddock was cleared and the Baja 911 put on a pavement drifting exercise that comprehensively tortured its tires.
The Baja 911 is a good example of another Hypercar Invitational ethos. T.J. Russell has a small shop and a vision. He doesn’t have a huge advertising budget. However, putting his Baja 911 next to Bugattis and allowing owners to appreciate his passion project is a unique opportunity. These owners could be Russell’s future customers as well.
Giving the smaller builders visibility helps to illustrate the full range of development – from single, solo efforts to full global factory operations. Just like Horacio Pagani and Christian von Koenigsegg have done, the solo builders are the ones who will make waves. Borroni wants guests to fall in love with the small builders, the entrepreneurs, as well as the origin stories in the making, and imagine what they might become.
An Instagram auction leading up to the event gave bidders the opportunity for charity rides to benefit the San Francisco Make a Wish Foundation. Passenger seat time in a Ferrari F50, Ferrari Monza, the Howmet TX turbine car, a McLaren Senna GTR (with Randy Pobst driving), a Koenig C62, a Bugatti Chiron, a Mercedes 300SL gullwing restomod and even the McLaren F1 were on offer. The McLaren F1 claimed the top bid at $3000 with the Senna GTR next at $1900. In all, just shy of $8000 was raised for the cause through the charity rides alone.
As sponsorship paid to put on the event, any donations or additional funding went straight to the charity. Not only did Kyle Kaplan provide and pour glasses of Rare Champagne for guests during Friday dinner, but Rare Champagne donated a bottle of extremely limited bubbles. Wine and wheels seamlessly combined for the charitable cause. In aggregate, Hypercar Invitational raised over $50,000 for Make a Wish. Even better, several Make a Wish kids were on site to experience cars they’ve only seen on the internet.
What’s next for the Hypercar Invitational?
Borroni envisions a fourth edition in California next year. Other locations in the longer term? Perhaps. Maybe even Europe given the home bases of many manufacturers and potential locations. The event, however, will remain focused on an immersive experience for founders, owners, dealers, manufacturers, designers, builders, fabricators and entrepreneurs.
Hypercar Invitational will maintain certain aspect of the event, such as augmenting track time with evening panel sessions and industry insights from people who are actively innovating. At the most recent event, in addition to the Czinger and DeTomaso teams, guests heard Porsche and Bugatti representatives speak about their projects, the engineering challenges, and how they are tackling them.
The goal of bringing together automotive forces across the spectrum of small and large, established and new, cutting edge and old school will also continue. Featuring smaller builders alongside more mature manufacturers illustrates what they might become. Everything large started off as small at one point.
Likewise, the charitable Make a Wish emphasis will continue, too. In fact, expect even more engagement between the San Francisco Make a Wish and Hypercar Invitational. Hypercar owners have no shortage of options and invites for their exclusive hardware, but engaging with a worthy charitable cause provides an enhanced meaning to an event.
Sponsors will continue to play a large role in determining the invite list. Participation will be limited to invited guests to ensure a high-quality experience for all involved. There are no plans to open the event broadly to the public but there may be more opportunities in support of the Make a Wish cause.
Perhaps most importantly, Hypercar Invitational will remain dynamic. It started as a project of passion and will adapt and adjust and follow where the enthusiasm leads. There is no set structure or format, but Borroni and his team intend to retain what works, while supplementing with good ideas that emerge along the way.
Much like the nascent builders Hypercar Invitational is seeking to showcase, the effort has its own origin story. This is still a new effort that is finding its way. Through a mix of provenance and initiative, Borroni and his team seem to have struck gold. Gathering people with similar interests in the right place at the same time with world-class hardware for compelling experiences while helping the Make a Wish cause is a potent formula. It will be interesting to watch as the Hypercar Invitational evolves and makes its own journey.