McLaren Applied Technologies

Paul Beresford is a man with motor oil in his veins. His father, Don Beresford, worked for the Aston Martin Le Mans team before joining the fledgling McLaren Motor Racing in 1966, and Paul’s two brothers also work in motorsport. He has spent the past 25 years at McLaren Applied Technologies in roles that include heading up the Electro-Mechanical Production team – and no one is better qualified to speak about the craftsmanship and care that go into McLaren alternators.

He says: “There’s a reason why so many people use our alternators, and that’s because they have been developed over a long period of time: they’re a proven product, and as efficient as the laws of physics allow. Until someone comes up with a super-material that means we could do something differently, they’re as good as they can be. But this being the racing world, we’re always looking for ways to push the boundaries further!”

McLaren Applied Technologies supplies both bespoke and off-the-shelf alternators for an impressive roster of clients. All World Rally Car teams and many private entries use them, and they have a presence in NASCAR, World Rally Cross, World Endurance Racing and GT. Among the most extreme conditions that they face are in desert rallies such as Dakar, where they have time and again proved their robustness.

“The failure rate is extremely low, considering the obscene environments in which they’re used,” says Paul. “Some of the parts we get back for servicing, you wouldn’t believe they could still function because they’re so caked in mud.”

One rally team even reported that a McLaren alternator was still functioning after their car had been submerged in a lake for 10 hours. “Our customer phoned to say, ‘We had to change all these components, but we left the alternator on and it fired up first time. You can’t have a better advert than that!’”

A great measure of this durability is down to simple build quality. A dedicated team invests all of its time in putting together all McLaren alternators by hand. “The actual build side is a small team of four people, and that’s all they do,” says Paul. “They know the product inside out, so we can control quality very closely. Although we have very defined documentation, there’s no substitute for the human eye, and they will pick up on the smallest blemish.”

One of the attributes that makes McLaren alternators special is the winding, which is also done manually. Paul points out that while a typical production-car alternator can produce 55A of current, expert hand-winding of the stator can dramatically increase efficiency, achieving 180A from an alternator of the same physical size.

“We have a guy permanently winding by hand to achieve maximum packing density,” says Paul. “We can get far more copper on to the component than we’d be able to using machine winding. It’s a dying skill, and there are very few people these days that still hand-wind because it’s a costly process.”

Every single alternator is tested rigorously before it is allowed to leave McLaren Applied Technologies. Cross-checking occurs throughout construction, with a “four-eyes” principle meaning that two people have to sign it off at each stage. Shipping can only occur after a final run on a bespoke test dyno is passed. “That’s quite unusual,” says Paul. “Not many automotive suppliers test 100% of their parts – typically, they would test only a small sample.”

But all this would be to no avail if the department couldn’t hit the tight deadlines demanded in motorsport – and that means working under constant pressure. “The motor racing world is such that there is rarely such a thing as planning ahead,” says Paul. “They’ll be thinking about the next race. And if someone says, ‘We’ve got Le Mans next week, and we’ve gone to our spares box and it’s empty,’ we’d never say that we couldn’t cover that.

“We try to be as flexible and adaptive to our customers’ needs as we can be. The option of not supplying the customer or meeting his demands is not acceptable, unless there was a component we couldn’t possibly get hold of – but it would have to be something like kryptonite for us not to achieve delivery!”

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