After the success of the Jaguar D-Type that won three consecutive victories at Le Mans in 1955, 56 and 57, Jaguar was desperately in need for a competitive successor that could once again, place them at the top of the world’s most important endurance race. This would, however, be via private racing teams (backed by Jaguar) as the official factory racing efforts were halted after the total destruction of the ill-fated Jaguar XJ13 which was completely destroyed while filming for a V12 Jaguar E-Type sequence.
The private racing team of Tom Walkinshaw, TWR Racing, backed by factory support was highly successful at the World Endurance Championships of 1986 and 1987. In 1986, TWR Jaguar Silk Cut won eight out of ten races and the championship in the Jaguar XJR-6 LM. The following year, the team once again took the Championship by quite a substantial lead. It was, however, one race in particular that Jaguar wasn’t able to conquer, the gruelling 24-hours of Le Mans.
Before TWR would completely change the formula of their endurance racing car in 1989, the team gave the last attempt to win at the Le Mans with the now aged 7.2-litre V12. While everyone else was using smaller 2-litre and 3-litre turbocharged six- and eight-cylinder engines, Jaguar was still using the lumpy 7.0-litre V12. The engine made the Jaguar XJR 9 LM furiously fast, producing upwards of 700bhp that was capable of propelling Jaguar XJR 9 to a top speed of 246mph (395kmph). But it was big and heavy, affecting the overall handling and reliability of the car when working at its limit for long periods of time in endurance racing. Here, the Porsche’s smaller, yet equally powerful 3.0-litre, twin-turbocharged, mid-mounted flat-six was advantageous, giving it the extra edge when racing continuously for 24 hours at Le Sarthe. That said, the Jaguars were technically more advance. They had carbon fibre monocoque chassis in comparison to Porsche’s aluminium ones, while also having better aerodynamics due to the short cut off rear and low mounted aerofoil that enabled better downforce without generating drag.
While the 1987 World Endurance Championship results were no different for Jaguar, who once again took home the championship for the third time in a row, Le Mans was a highly desired victory for the British racing team.
This year, TWR and Jaguar ensured that they come with full force to Le Mans. Seeing Porsche, it was quite clear that the team needed more than just three cars to stay relevant throughout the race and equal out their chances for a win in case technical difficulties arise. With five TWR Silk Cut Jaguar XJR 9s entered, the team was fully prepared. The five Jaguars fought at the top spots at the start of the 24-hour race, until 8 hours in when the first car retired due to transmission problems. Eleven hours into the race and the second Jaguar XJR 9 was retired to the pits due to a broken head gasket.
It would have been all over for Jaguar at the 1987 Le Mans if Jan Lammers hadn’t realised his gearbox issue before hand. Leading the race, Lammers realised a problem with his transmission beforehand, keeping his Jaguar XJR 9 LM in fourth gear until the end of the race, crossing the finish line ahead of the Porsche 962C of Hans Stuck/Klaus Ludwig/Derek Bell.
June 12, 1988, 19-years ago today, Jaguar finally won Le Mans after 31-years since the D-Type in 1957.
Jaguar XJR-8/9 In Action at Spa-Francorchamps
Jaguar XJR 9: The Prologue
What led to Jaguar’s historic win at the 1988 Le Mans?
During the 80’s, Jaguar’s endurance racing efforts were given shape by two main private racing teams; the UK-based Tom Walkinshaw’s TWR Racing and US-based Group 44 led by Bob Tullius. This was a time when Porsche was dominating the endurance racing scene, specially Le Mans with their 956s and 962s. So both teams knew that they needed a substantially good Jaguar contender to beat the race cars from Stuttgart.
While Group 44 developed a Jaguar endurance racer in the form of the Jaguar XJR-5 mainly to race at the American IMSA championship, it was the British team of Tom Walkinshaw (TWR) that would get closer to creating a proper Porsche – beating Le Mans contender in the form of the Jaguar XJR-6. A victory at the grueling 24-hour race would however, take its own sweet time to culminate.
Jaguar XJR 9 Onboard
Via: Definition Media
For the 1986 season, TWR created the Jaguar XJR 6. The newly-developed car was a huge advancement in technology that used a carbon fibre monocoque and a completely different aerodynamic package that was unrivalled at the time. The team even created a bespoke fuel injection system for the Jaguar XJS-based 6.2-litre V12. The Jaguar XJR 6 was highly successful throughout the 1986 World Endurance Championship (then called the World Sportscar Championship), winning eight out of ten races and the entire championship. At Le Mans, however, luck was not on Jaguar’s side. In wee hours of the morning, the competing TWR Jaguar Silk Cut had a tire burst which led to broken suspensions and a broken transmission bell housing further ending the British teams campaign hopes for the year. The victory, once more, went to Porsche and their 962C. But Jaguar knew they were close, very close.
Next year, the TWR’s Silk Cut Jaguar returned with an even larger V12. This time, around the 6.2-litre V12 was bored out to 7-litre, making 720bhp. Paired with a lightweight carbon fibre monocoque and a short cut off rear and low mounted aerofoil that enabled better downforce without generating drag. Despite having better technical hardware in comparison to the Porsches, all three low-drag Jaguar XJR-8s suffered technical difficulties. Two cars failed to complete the 24-hour race, while the third car limped to the chequered flag with a broken gearbox. While failing to win at Le Mans, Jaguar did once again, take home the 1987 World Endurance Championship, winning eight out of the ten races in the calendar.