The British are coming
Forward to America this month, circuit spectating and driving to see how manufacturers promote their wares to the World’s biggest car market. Ironically we watched Jaguar win the final IMSA GT Championship round at Daytona and discovered that the best in sports prototype racing is threatened with diminished Jaguar support.
“There’s competition in the United States because there are so many factories producing cars. It’s much better than Formula 1 because there are ten manufacturers in IMSA racing and in Europe there are only two or three, so the interest is down. The racing is very close here because a lot of top European drivers come here to race. So, in IMSA, you get the best drivers from both continents and it makes for a high class field.”
Yes, the grammar is odd. Yet the sentiments expressed by West Germany’s Klaus Ludwig, who has been racing for Ford in the USA since April 1981, aptly summarised our awe. Observing single car qualifying and three hours of top-class sports racing beneath October’s sun was certainly a contrast to European events in the current fuel economy era.
The sheer speed on the bankings, plus the quality entry found rushing around Daytona’s 3.56 miles in the 1986 Championship finale of the International Motor Sport Association’s (IMSA) prestigious series, were worth the dubious pleasures of transatlantic flight to the enormous airport complex of Atlanta, Georgia.
Sitting up on the “bleachers” above Daytona’s banked turn from fifth gear heroics to infield scrabble, we registered that IMSA quality initially in terms of speed. A State Trooper had given his radar gun a holiday from the nearby 55 mph public roads and was exercising it on a point 75 yards after the start and finish.
The two twin turbo, 3.5 litre, V6 “Corvettes” topped the trooper’s lists on Friday morning with 206 and 201 mph. These mid-engine machines with Lola chassis (you lose count of the British connections and drivers in this category) squeezed ahead of the similarly powerful Buick Hawk. This time March running gear assists the minimum of 950 qualifying horsepower to produce 199 mph.
An all Porsche 962 — tied by the regulations to a single KKK turbo for its fabled flat six in 3.2 litres pounds along in speeds in pursuit at speeds up to 196 mph. Still the dominant presence in the winners circle, despite repeated regulation moves to slow it to numerous rivals, there are eight 962 Porsches present.
Said 962s occupied second to sixth finishing positions after three hours and one minute’s racing. Porsche AG must also have been relieved to bring home the tyre-troubled 4WD 961 in a lowly 24th place as they are apparently planning to promote this complex model’s racing career in the United States next season.
Also in the 190 mph club that morning were the fast but fragile four cylinder Fords (a batch of small capacity Cosworth DFXs built by Terry Hoyle is now being assessed in the Zakspeed Probe), and the the most fabulous racing Jaguars I have seen.
Fabulous is a gushing description, much over-worked, but it is the word I want. It portrays sparkling cars proudly wearing a simple white and green Jaguar message — a 190 mph billboard for Britain that surges through Daytona’s long bankings to the accompaniment of the most thrilling exhaust backwash.
Shrill in an almost effeminate way beside the whistling turbo sixes, these 6.5 litre enlargements of Jaguar’s alloy V12 are credited with 700 bhp in racing trim.
Qualifying sixth (Group 44 proprietor Bob Tullius/Chip Robinson) and 13th (Brian Redman/Hurley Haywood), the XJR-7 Jaguars were first and second at the two hour racing mark. For just a few minutes they were split by their equally victory-hungry opponents at BMW, who offer more from the British club) John Watson/David Hobbs were driving a March chassis with 2.1 litres of four cylinder Bavarian turbo propulsion rated up to 800 bhp at 9,000 rpm. Then Brian Redman’s XJR limped toward the dead car park with an unspecified but oily engine failure.
Both BMWs, fortunately for British hopes, had further dramas in what has been a traumatic year for McLaren North America running these GTP hybrids, leaving Bob Tullius to cement 12 Jaguar racing years with a 1m 6.29s advantage over the closing customer Porsche.
However much this reporter admired the racing he witnessed, it seems neither BMW nor Jaguar in North America shared my enthusiasm! BMW of North America Inc confirmed that this was the last race fot the McLaren-run GTPs (rumoured to have cost over $25 million owing to disastrous early season fires and subsequent engine mayhem) whilst Tullius repeatedly told reporters and post-race media that he would be cutting down to one car in shorter, televised, races in Group 44’s 1987 IMSA programme.
The inference from Tullius was that Jaguar funding was not sufficient.
Enquiring further into Jaguar’s position on my return I discovered that Group 44 receives no cash from the British connection. Funding is the responsibility of the North American affiliate which sells “over 50% of all our production, beyond 20,000 cars a year,” commented Jaguar sports specialist Ian Norris. However, Jaguar does supply some technical assistance in the form of rig endurance testing for engine and chassis components; complete engines and chassis are the responsibility of Group 44 in the USA or TWR in Europe.
English Vice President Michael Dale at Jaguar North America Inc must negotiate with Tullius in West Virginia to establish the racing fate of the only non-turbocharged front runners in the IMSA series. What of Coventry’s 1987, and beyond, competition plans?
Jaguar raced to victory in the 1984 European Touring Car Championship for drivers (Tom Walkinshaw) using the Group A (5,000 cars per annum) XJ-S coupe, and took an eventual third in the 1986 Sports Prototype World Championship for drivers (Derek Warwick).
Since 1982 Jaguar’s European racing representation, support cash and technical support, has been behind Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) who have currently completed the first of three years in contract to Gallahers Silk Cut brand. Ian Norris confirmed that we are likely to see developments of the present XJR-6 TWR/Silk Cut prototypes back in the 1986 World series, “although the series is so far flung, with rounds in Argentina and Australia, that detail confirmation of series attendance is not practical at present.”
The kind of direct support Jaguar lends this for any racing useage and presently feel that programme can be judged from TWR’s evaluation of four valve per cylinder for the now 6.5 litre (they started the at 6.3) twelves. The basic design of heads came from Jaguar’s own development department and dates back to its 1972 work on a 48 valve V12 that 630 bhp. These four valve per heads owed much to the “great Walter Hassan and Harry Mundy gained while developing Coventry Climax engines said Jaguar in 1984.
TWR are charged with the responsibility for any racing useage and presently feel that the power bonus obtained from four valves per cylinder (“satisfactory” says Jaguar) is not worth the weight and possible reliability penalties incurred thus far.
There is another aspect to Jaguar’s racing involvement outside the simple, “same again in 1987, Tom” approach. Mr Walkinshaw no longer has the job of racing Rover V8s, with which his driver Win Percy had apparently won the 1986 European Touring Car series.
(“Apparently” because FISA was still debating the fate of the title and sampling fuels used in the final round a month after the series ended!) The Group A racing Jaguar XJS is still competitive, a fact which Mr Walkinshaw proved with an outing for two of the V12 saloons at Japan’s Fuji international in November. Jaguar executives are quite keen to have the XJS raced again because “there are firm production plans for this model well into the nineties.”
It is also known that Sir John Egan and his team have not been slow to press ahead with development of sportier XJS road cars in line with their aspirations to lower the average busying age from strictly Company Chairman to a wider and younger audience. Longer term there is the scheduled F-type sports car, which our German contacts tell us is front engined, rather than trading on the mid-engine racing heritage.
Thus industry and sport needs could come together at Jaguar with Walkinshaw exploring the 1987 Group A World once more, whilst also pursuing a full blooded Group C racing programme. If the World Championship for Touring Cars to be promoted in 1987 is marginally less chaotic than its 1986 European counterpart, then it is possible Jaguar may ask TWR to contest a full year of that title hunt for saloons in 1988, provided they have a correctly homologated car. JW