A Silk Cut Jaguar tasted victory at Le Mans again this year as the Group C series put on a spectacle ahead of the 24 Hours
by Damien Smith
Twenty years on from one of the most famous victories in the history of the Le Mans 24 Hours, a Silk Cut Jaguar returned to win again at the Circuit de la Sarthe. A lot has changed in the past 20 years at Le Mans, but the passion stirred by those fag-packet Jags back in the 1980s lives on – as we discovered on the morning before this year’s 24 Hours.
Group C’s golden era was faithfully recreated, with a 30-strong grid of cars that were not only beautifully prepared, but also largely true to their period colours.
The Group C historic series has stepped up a gear this year, largely thanks to the energy of new boss Charlie Agg. His aim is to do for Group C what he did for Can-Am in the Supersports Cup – and the evidence at Le Mans suggested that it’s already ‘mission accomplished’.
“If you look at the series compared to last year, we’ve cleaned it up,” says Agg. “We’re running just four races now to make sure we get 30-plus grids rather than just 12 cars or whatever. And the teams are reacting to the high levels of preparation we are expecting of them.”
Agg believes in getting the detail right, which is why he is determined that every car entered runs in period livery – and period spec, too. Anachronistic developments such as modern, downforce-inducing winglets have sprouted on some cars as the series has become more competitive. But Agg’s having none of it. “They are all coming off,” he states.
The 10-lap race at Le Mans lasted just shy of 40 minutes to avoid the complication of refuelling. Justin Law was the class of the field in his XJR12 and ran away with the race, but it didn’t matter. The event was still a spectacle to relish.
But the race ended on a controversial note when Gary Pearson soured his charge from 13th on the grid in his XJR11 by assaulting Fredy Kumschick’s Spice at the Ford chicane on the last lap. Both cars spun, allowing Oliver Mathai to join fellow Porsche 962 racer Mark Sumpter on the podium.
The most notable ‘new’ car to the series was Rob Sherrard’s glorious Sauber-Mercedes C9. He ran fourth early on before a spin, and then gearbox problems forced him out. Never mind, he’ll be back – and a Silver Arrow is just what the series needs.
It’s Silverstone Classic next at the end of July, featuring longer races, driver changes and refuelling. As for Agg, he won’t be sticking around beyond the end of this season. Knocking Group C – and various egos – into shape has been hard work. But he can rest assured it’s been worth the effort.