Jaguar’s racing pedigree
Track success throughout the decades
Over the years Jaguar has built some of the fastest, and most recognisable, sports cars in the world. And it has always been keen for their potential to be demonstrated on the race track as well as the open road.
Amid the austerity of post-war Britain the XK120 caused a sensation. At the time it was the fastest production car in the world, and its reliability made it a natural for motorsport. The car notched up three Alpine Cup victories and two RAC Rally wins, while XK120s finished first, second and third in the 1950 Tourist Trophy.
William Lyons was quick to appreciate the publicity that a pure-bred racing Jaguar could generate. So, after an exploratory visit to Le Mans in 1950, he agreed to the development of what eventually became the C-Type, based around the XK120’s engine.
Three C-Types were completed in time for the 1951 Le Mans race, and one driven by Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead claimed victory on its first outing.
Two years later, C-Types finished first, second and fourth at Le Mans, thanks in part to their revolutionary disc brakes, developed in conjunction with Dunlop. These allowed the Jaguar drivers to gain valuable yards by braking much later than their rivals towards the end of the 150mph three-and-a-half-mile Mulsanne Straight.
THE WINNING STREAK CONTINUES
Malcolm Sayer’s successor to the C-Type, the D-Type, also benefited from a technical innovation that has become standard in subsequent decades. It benefited from a monocoque construction, featuring a strong central “tub” for the driver, with the major mechanical components on subframes in front and behind.
The D-Type’s design was so aerodynamically efficient that its top speed rose to 170mph and in testing for the Le Mans race in 1954 it smashed the previous year’s lap record by five seconds. It wasn’t until the following year that a D-Type claimed victory at Le Mans. This was followed by another win in 1956 and the remarkable whitewash of 1957, when D-Types finished first, second, third, fourth and sixth.
See the D-Type victory film >
THE MODERN ERA
Jaguar itself withdrew from motorsport in 1955, but it has continued to provide cars for customers to race. The first of these to achieve notable success after the D-Type was the Series 3 E-Type, equipped with a competition version of the V12 engine. It was this model that enabled Bob Tullius to take the Sports Car Championship of America in 1975. Tullius also won the Trans-Am title in 1977 and 1978, driving an XJ-S. A similar car, prepared by TWR Racing and driven by Tom Walkinshaw, won the 1984 European Car Championship.
Three years later Jaguar and TWR proved an unbeatable combination in the Sports Car World Championship, winning eight out of the ten races in an XJR-8. This car evolved into the XJR-9 with a 7.0-litre engine, which brought Jaguar a Le Mans victory in 1988, its first since 1957.
Jaguar’s most recent Le Mans win came in 1990, when XJR-12s finished first and second. More recently the dream of glory on the legendary French circuit has been handed to the JaguarRSR team, which has been racing a modified XKR in the American Le Mans series and took Jaguar back to Le Mans itself in 2010.