When Zak Brown landed in cold and draughty England 30-odd years ago with dreams of becoming a racing driver, he was driven by his deep passion for motorsport rather than anything that really counted – such as a budget, for instance.
Nevertheless, the Californian booked himself into a week-long course at Donington Park’s Jim Russell racing school and struck up what turned out to be a defining friendship with his instructor, established racer and Yorkshireman Richard Dean. To Dean’s surprise, Brown refused to leave at the end of the course and ended up sleeping on his sister’s sofa. The guy meant business.
The only problem was that it turned out Brown didn’t have what it took to become a professional racing driver. So he changed tack, built up a sports marketing business that became one of the most influential in global motorsport, then sold it with an eye on bigger ambitions. Today, he finds himself at the head of his favourite racing team, McLaren, and the owner of one of the world’s fastest-growing and impressive collection of racing cars.
To house the collection, it helps that in 2010 he co-founded with his old mate Dean a sports car team, United Autosports, which has just moved into a new 62,000sq ft base near Leeds. As United Autosports forges ahead at Le Mans and in sports car races around the world, Brown must pinch himself every day as he takes on the challenge of guiding McLaren back to the top of Formula 1. He also probably stands out in our ‘My Life in 12 Cars’ series for owning one of every model he’s picked.
“Placing my top dozen cars into any type of order representative to which one I like more than another is impossible because they all inspire significant feelings for me,” he says. “I’ll break them down by road cars and race cars, and I’ll go from newest to oldest for the road, vice versa for the track. So that’s the reason they’re in this order, not necessarily because I like one more than another.
“I’ll start with road cars, where I guess the only theme would be power. They’re all totally different, but I like things that are collectable, so they’re all limited-edition cars. If you had to pull one common theme, they were all in their era the hottest sports cars to have.”
“This is the most recent addition to my collection. The Speedtail is one of the fastest road cars in the world. It’s not really a take-off of our 1990s McLaren F1 but it is the second three-seater we’ve done with a [driver’s] seat in the middle. But what I like about it is it’s extremely rare: just 106 will be made. The ergonomics are unbelievable. I’m not a small guy, but it’s extremely comfortable because you’re sitting in front of the passengers and you’ve got all this glass around you. It’s very easy to drive. But when you put your foot down, it’s the fastest road car I’ve ever been in. The Speedtail is very exciting.”
“To finish up where were started, it’s another McLaren: the MP4/6 in which Ayrton Senna won the 1991 Formula 1 world championship – the first McLaren to be powered by a Honda V12 and the last Formula 1 car to win the title using a V12 engine and a manual gearbox. In my particular chassis, 6, he won the Monaco Grand Prix. Ayrton was another of my favourite racing drivers, driving for my favourite race team. No wonder it’s another car that ticks absolutely every box for me.”