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Jaguar Racing History

Broadcast dates : 8th August 2004
12th August 2004


Think of Jaguar in racing today and you might think of rather middling success in Formula One.

But for real Jaguar fans, of real Jaguars, there’s only one race that matters, and that is Le Mans.

Held on a 13,5 kilometre circuit over flat countryside in western France, terrain not much more inspiring than Delmas, the Le Mans 24 Hour can indeed be described as the world’s most famous motor race.

First run in 1923, during the 1950s Le Mans was dominated by one make, and that was Jaguar.

Starting with the newly-introduced XK120, a car that was embraced by club racers and rally drivers as the car to have, the factory team from Coventry first entered the race in 1950, without much success.

But the next year Jaguar was back with a new C-Type version of the 120.

With Stirling Moss as team leader, the Jaguars amazed everyone by leading almost from start to finish.

Moss unfortunately dropped out of the lead after midnight, but at 4 pm on the Sunday afternoon, Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead gave Jaguar its first Le Mans victory.

Jaguars were from then on a force in motorsport, with club enthusiasts racing everything with a Jaguar badge, including the lumbering Mk Seven saloons and the sleek Mk II three point eights.


But it was Le Mans that captured the imagination. In 1953 Jaguar again dominated the 24-Hour French classic, introducing disc brakes to racing for the first time with the C-Type. This enabled the drivers to brake from 240 km/h down to 70 km/h lap after lap at the end of the Mulsanne straight.

And the Jags averaged over 160 km/h for the 24-hour race, way back in 1953!

The new D-Type introduced in 1954 would become even more famous at Le Mans and other great sports car races around the world.

Driven by the likes of Mike Hawthorne, the great British Grand Prix champion of 1958 and swashbuckling characters like Duncan Hamilton, the D-Type would dominate Le Mans like no other car. That was until Ferrari came fully on song in the 1960s, followed by the Ford GT40s and then the Porsches in seventies and eighties.

The D-Type won in 1955, 1956 and 1957. It was the car that led to the development of perhaps the most iconic sports car of all, the E-Type, which became the very symbol of the swinging 1960s.

Jaguar officially withdrew from competition in the late 1950s, but enthusiastic privateers continued to race Jags all over the world.

One of these was American Bob Tulius, whose enthusiastic development of the V12 E-Type led, indirectly, to a Jaguar return to Le Mans in the 1980s.

Tulius was a front-runner in the Sports Car Club of America road racing series. Highly competitive, this series was spawned by American GIs returning home from World War Two who had been exposed to the delights of British sports cars such as the MG.

Run at wonderfully scenic road courses with delightful names such as Road Atlanta, Elkhart Lake and Laguna Seca, this series was for true-blooded sports car fans.

Famous names who cut there teeth in the SCCA series included Phil Hill, world F1 champion for Ferrari in 1961, Dan Gurney another F1 winner and car constructer in the 1960s, and Paul Newman, the actor who became a highly respected sports car driver at the age of 60!

Tulius success with the V-12 E-type led to Tom Walkinshaw developing the E-Type replacement, the XJS, for racing in Europe.

Walkinshaw was a brilliant driver and an equally good businessman. He would eventually go on to run a Formula One team in the 1990s.

But it was Bob Tulius, with his Group 44 motorsport company, who developed a Jaguar for a crack at Le Mans in the early 1980s.

The Tulius car never won, but it reawakened the possibility of success to Jaguar management.

Tulius English counterpart Tom Walkinshaw was now a fulltime race car constructor, having retired from active driving.

Walkinshaw helped develop a serious Le Mans challenger for Jaguar, still using the V12 engine based on the engine used in the E-Type Jaguar.

And this was a car that finally challenge Porsche dominance at Le Mans in the 1980s.

The 1988 Le Mans was one of the most competitive in history, with Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar all entering massive factory teams of three cars each.

But it was the beautiful V12-engined Silk Cut XJR9 Jaguars that took a famous victory at Le Mans, with Johnny Dumfries, Jan Lammers and Andy Wallace beating the might of the Shell Porsche team.

Earlier in that year’s race Martin Brundle dropped off the leader board with an engine failure in his Jaguar.

But the Formula One star, today the most accomplished Formula One commentator in the business, went on to sew up the World Sports Car Championship for Jaguar at the end of that year.

It was a dream return for Jaguar proving once again that the Le Mans legend was very much alive.

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