A historic race series supported by a mainstream manufacturer? There’s value in history
Awards evenings abound as the season runs down but those for historic racing don’t often resonate outside our little world. So the dinner for the Jaguar E-type Challenge, held at the RAC club in November, was a little different.
Recently the RAC club has been pushing its motoring heritage, something many may be unaware of. Built by and for early motorists, the London club now has no connection with the breakdown service, but the palatial clubhouse with its glorious marble and gold-pillared swimming pool displays many racing paintings and trophies and a library packed with motoring and racing literature. Whether most of its members are aware of the history I’m unsure, but the staff must be getting used to manoeuvring racing cars through the front door as I’ve seen a few in the oval hallway recently. Certainly it was hard to ignore the E-type at the foot of the stairs as we filed in.
What made this event more significant was the presence of Dr Ralf Speth, CEO of Jaguar Land Rover, and Frank Klass, global head of communications for JLR. It’s rare to see such high-level figures at a historic prize-giving, but the E-type Challenge, which boasts 95 drivers, is funded by the company. Pointing out that no other manufacturer supports serious racing for its old cars in this way, Klass said “the past is at our heart, but we still need to amaze drivers with the XKR around the Nürburgring”. It may be a soundbite, but if there’s a firm trying to make it true, it must be Jaguar. In his turn Speth pointed out that exactly 50 years before to the day, Norman Dewis was hammering an E-type round Silverstone – and here was the veteran test driver himself, now 92, still full of spark and stories, dressed cowboy-style and twinkling at the ladies.
Martin Brundle (himself a V12 E-type owner) was good value as the evening’s host, firing quips and doing a grid walk round the tables to quiz various prize-winners, such as all three racing Minshaws who carried off the three class awards, and doing a great double act with his old team-mate Win Percy (left) about their time in Le Mans Jaguars. Win recalled Tom Walkinshaw’s concern with economy, such as not snapping the intercom cable when getting out of the car, which stuck in Win’s head even during his enormous 1987 accident in the XJR-8LM on Mulsanne straight. “I’d just flown 200 metres, then slid upside down for few hundred more, and I’m scrambling out of the shattered wreckage worrying about unplugging myself because I can hear Tom’s voice telling me not to break this bloody plug worth about £1.50!”
A light-hearted evening, but perhaps an indicator that manufacturers, under the shadow of recession and facing the ever-increasing quality of Asian brands unheard of 10 years ago, are recognising the importance of their past as a foundation for marque loyalty. A glorious history is one thing you can’t buy.