Jaguar’s sports car with a Formula 1 heart blazed a trail, then burned out within one season. but the XJR-14 was a ‘game changer’. the impact of the last great racing Big Cat caused tremors that still echo today.
By Gary Watkins
The engine note didn’t waver. Not one iota. And the team hanging over the pitwall to catch a glimpse of their new creation’s first flying lap thought there was a problem. Sports cars didn’t take the final corner on the old Silverstone South Circuit flat. Which explains why they turned tail or ducked. But there was no accident, no grassy moment, not even a hint of oversteer. Just a driver flat on the throttle and laughing in the cockpit in the knowledge that he had one hell of weapon for the coming season.
The machine Derek Warwick was so overjoyed to be driving that day in March 1991 was the Jaguar XJR-14. The TWR organisation’s take on the new 3.5-litre Group C rules for the 1991 Sportscar World Championship would live up to expectations. Nearly 2.5 seconds quicker than its nearest rival in qualifying at the opening race at Suzuka the following month and then four clear at round two at Monza, it would go on to claim both the SWC drivers’ crown and the manufacturers’ title.
Not only did the last of the Walkinshaw Jaguar Group C cars stand head and shoulders above the pack when it hit the track, it has been put up on a pedestal by just about everyone who had the good fortune to drive it. Warwick, Martin Brundle and David Brabham all count it as the best car they have ever raced. Not just the best sports car, the best racing car.
Tales of the XJR-14 are the stuff of legend. Anyone who had anything to do with the project has one to tell.
“I did an installation lap, and came in and said to Ross [Brawn], ‘This car is f” ” “ing amazing’,” says Warwick of the shakedown. “I went back out, and I could feel the grip.
“The South Circuit had a pits of sorts and just before that was a fast right-hander, which wasn’t flat. I came through there so fast and completely flat that everyone was ducking behind the Armco. Ross told me afterwards that they thought the throttle had stuck open.”
The XJR-14 was a car that made headlines. Anyone who was at the British Empire Trophy at Silverstone, round three of the 1991 SWC, can’t possibly have forgotten Brundle’s stirring solo comeback drive.
The XJR-14 was fast, but it was fragile — at least around the edges. Starter motor failure and an electrical problem at Suzuka had handed victory to the porpoising Peugeot 905, and this time a throttle cable snapped on Brundle after two laps. The nine minutes lost while the secondary cable was attached left him six laps down. Two hours and 12 minutes later, the moonlighting F1 driver had made it up to third, just four laps down on the winning Jag shared by Warwick and Teo Fabi.
Brundle revelled in the machine he had under him on that day: “The XJR-14 was such an amazing car: corners like Copse and Becketts were extraordinary. I remember laughing the first few times I went through Bridge — it was flat when you got used to it.”
One race earlier, Brundle had been so fast that his team had blinked and missed him. The previous year’s Le Mans 24 Hours winner had started from the pitlane at Monza after a late engine change. Even so, he crossed the line at the end of lap one in eighth place.
“The team came on the radio asking if there was a problem,” he recalls. “They hadn’t expected me to come around so high up. That first lap was like a video game. I was zig-zagging between cars on a damp track with rooster tails streaming off the rear slicks.
“The XJR-14 was a game-changer,” continues Brundle. “It was, if you like, the first modern sports car. It was the first prototype I ever drove that, when you turned the steering wheel, was willing to go with you.”
The 3.5-litre Group C formula encouraged a new breed of sports car based around Fl-spec engines, but it didn’t mandate it. The chassis rules were largely the same as for the old fuelformula Group C machines, save a new weight limit of 750kg, down from 900kg, and a concession to allow perspex windscreens.
What wasn’t the same was the mindset of Brawn and the design team he had established at TWR after his recruitment from Arrows after the end of the 1989 F1 season with instructions to spend a whole year designing the car around Cosworth’s Ford HB V8.
“The starting point was the question: How keenly can we interpret the regulations?” explains Brawn today. “We took a very competitive interpretation of the rulebook from a structural and aerodynamic perspective.”
Just look at the XJR-14 in our photos, resplendent in surely the best of the Silk Cut liveries. It looks like nothing that came before it.
Group C sports cars of the day had doors. The XJR-14 had windows that popped out — a mechanic was assigned to play catch at pitstops. It was central to the concept of creating what chief designer John Piper calls “a fat F1 car”.
“There was a regulation stipulating the size of the [side] window and the size of the door,” he explains. “We made them the same thing. That meant you didn’t require a dogleg in the tub, which meant you could have a narrow, high-sided and very stiff monocoque.”
The narrow chassis allowed the TWR technical team to move the radiators out of the nose and into the sidepods, freeing up the nose for aerodynamic gain. Here again, TWR came up with a novel interpretation of the rules to get sufficient airflow behind the front wing that distinguished the XJR-14 from its forebears.
Brawn again: “We checked the crash-test regulations and it stated that there could be no damage to the survival cell beyond the pedal line. That meant there was a large chunk of the chassis that you could damage and that allowed us to achieve the short nosebox.”
The XJR-14 chassis, produced by TWR’s in-house ASTEC composites company, didn’t quite make it through the test as planned. The damage to the monocoque was more extensive than envisaged, which meant the pedals had to be moved backwards.
That wing was crucial – though never entirely successful — in trying to balance out the massive amounts of downforce generated from the underside of the car courtesy of another bit of clever rulebook interpretation.
Piper: “The rules stated that you could have a two-element rear wing, but there was no regulation on the distance between them. So we put the second plane down level with the diffuser, which effectively gave us a massive extension.”
That explains downforce numbers that were, according to Brawn, “an order of magnitude more than were being achieved in F1 at the time”. He can’t recall the figures, but points out that the Jag was capable of lap times that would have qualified it on the back of an F1 grid. “You could work it out,” he says. “We were nearly 250 kilos heavier than an F1 car, and today that weight would equate to 10 seconds.”
The clever design solutions on the XJR-14 didn’t stop with the structure and the aero. Piper came up with a bespoke longitudinal transmission with the gears ahead of the rearaxle centre line. That brought the weight forward without the aerodynamic penalty of a transverse ‘box.
Piper also came up with a novel gear linkage. That’s something else the drivers still talk about today, though not in the same hushed tones as the car’s handling. The selector mechanism was taken off the top of the gearbox and through the vee of the engine and the fuel tank. The result was a left-hand gear change that wasn’t popular with the drivers.
“Using a left-hand gearstick ran contrary to everything I’d done through my career,” says Warwick. “None of us ever got used to it.”
Warwick, though, didn’t take much getting used to the XJR-14. Straight out of F1, he had no problems adapting. His full-season teammate Teo Fabi, by his own admission, struggled.
“It was not easy to understand that car, to comprehend the limits of the car,” says the Italian. “It required commitment and I was coming from a not very successful season in CART, where the cars had less downforce and reacted more slowly.”
Fabi had come into the Jaguar fold after finding himself without a CART ride in the US in the wake of Porsche’s withdrawal. He contacted TWR operations director Roger Silman, with whom he had worked at March in his Formula 2 days.
Yet Fabi’s inclusion in the team wasn’t universally supported, says his engineer that year, Steve Steve Farrell. Ironically, it was Farrell’s opposite number on Warwick’s car who argued Fabi’s case.
“It was Jock [the late John McLoughlin] who pushed for Teo,” he recalls. “We knew him from his Benetton days and Jock would spend his tea breaks telling us how good he was.”
Silk Cut Jaguar went into the 1991 season with the plan to use just three drivers for its two cars in the new-length 430km (267 miles) races. Warwick and Fabi would lead a car apiece, with a floating driver lending a hand to each.
John Nielsen had been the original choice until the change to the pedals rendered him too big to fit in the cockpit. Brundle, a full-time Jaguar driver in 1990, had a four-race deal with TWR in ’91 and ended up doing the first three SWC rounds. Then David Brabham, who’d impressed Walkinshaw in the opening round of the JaguarSport Intercontinental Challenge at Monaco, was brought in for the second half of the season. TWR’s decision to go for this three-driver line-up eventually decided the destination of the title. Warwick had returned to TWR after a difficult season in Grand Prix racing with Lotus – “I was losing my appetite for F1 a little” – because Jaguar needed a British driver to replace Brundle. And there was no doubt in Farrell’s mind that Warwick’s nationality made him a clear number one.
“We were absolutely the number two car,” he says. “There wasn’t much difference in the cars, but I remember discussions about instructing Teo to let Derek past if the need arose.”
The need never did arise, but the focus on Warwick did result in the championship going Fabi’s way. Brundle started Warwick’s Jag at Silverstone and should have handed over to his fellow Brit, but courtesy of the car’s early delay, it was Fabi’s car into which Warwick eventually climbed in order to maximise his points score. Or so TWR thought.
“I remember saying to Tom, ‘I don’t think this is legal’,” recalls Warwick. “He said to me, ‘You worry about the driving, laddie, you’re getting in the car.”
Warwick completed an easy victory, only to be relieved of his 20-point haul in the stewards’ room. He hadn’t been entered in Fabi’s car and therefore couldn’t score.
“That cost me the World Championship,” claims Warwick, who finished seven points behind his team-mate in the final reckoning. Yet he actually lost the title twice over. The points that disappeared at the penultimate round in Mexico City would also have been enough for him to pip Fabi.
Headed for second place on a drying Aut6dromo Hermanos Rodriguez, he pitted for slicks in the belief— the radio was malfunctioning — that he also needed fuel. That didn’t cost him the title, but the failure of the car to restart did. The starter motor problems of earlier in the season reared their head despite a re-design.
The other professional disappointment of 1991 for Warwick was not driving the XJR-14 at Le Mans. There was never an intention to race the car at the 24 Hours, the team instead relying on a quartet of updated XJR-12s.
“Cosworth wanted a lot of money to develop the engine for 24 hours and Tom wouldn’t pay,” says Brawn. “But he did want to go for pole with a high-profile qualifying run.”
That duty fell to Jaguar old boy Andy Wallace, who was loaned back to TWR by new employer Toyota. Despite minimal practice and a Monza set-up (sans front wing) and gear ratios, he came within tenths of beating JeanLouis Schlesser’s Mercedes-Benz C11 to the top of the time sheets.
“Our gearing was only good for 200mph,” recalls Wallace. “It seemed it sat forever on the limiter on the straights. We were doing 320km/h, when the Merc was doing 350. We shouldn’t have stood a chance, but the thing was so quick in the Porsche Curves.”
Ironically, it was one of Wallace’s team-mates who spoiled the lap that Wallace has absolutely no doubts would have leapfrogged him ahead of the Mercedes. “I caught Davy Jones in one of the V12 cars,” says the ’88 Jaguar Le Mans winner. “He tried to get out of the way, but I got bottled up behind him.”
The Jaguar would still have started from pole (the front of the grid was reserved for 3.5-litre cars), but Walkinshaw withdrew the car. There had never been any intention to run it beyond a stint or two.
When the SWC returned to its semi-sprint format after Le Mans, the game had changed. Peugeot gave a reworking of its 905, known as the Evo 1 bis, its debut at the Niirburgring, where it wasn’t far off the XJR-14’s pace. A month later Peugeot was on top, and the Jag wouldn’t win another race in the SWC. Brawn doesn’t mind admitting that Peugeot, aided by aggressive development programmes from suppliers Michelin and Esso, had caught up.
“We did hardly anything to the car development-wise from day one,” he says. “Tom would never spend money he didn’t have to. And the same goes for Goodyear.”
The Jaguar XJR-14’s star had shone brightly, but was now fading after barely six months. Silk Cut’s long-running sponsorship deal with Jaguar was coming to an end and so too was the SWC, at least if you believed the FIA — it cancelled the ’92 championship in the autumn.
It was revived following protestations led by Peugeot, but there would be no Jaguars on the grid. There were some on the entry list thanks to Alan Randall, a Jaguar restorer from Kent, whose promised money from the Middle East and then the US failed to materialise.
But the XJR-14 did race on. It appeared in the All-Japan Sports-Prototype Championship just a week after Fabi sealed the SWC title at the new Autopolis circuit. The Jag won at Sugo with Fabi and Brabham at the wheel, and would notch up a further two victories in the following year’s US IMSA GTP Championship with Davy Jones driving.
TWR Inc boss Tony Dowe admits today that he didn’t even want to run the car, at least in SWC specification. “We wanted to continue with the XJR-16, because we thought the turbo car would be the better bet against Nissan and Toyota,” he explains. “But we were told by Tom in no uncertain terms that the money was only available if we ran the XJR-14. What we really wanted to do was put the turbo engine in the 14, but we couldn’t make it work.”
Jones ultimately fell short in the championship race to All American Racers driver Juan Manuel Fangio II. The turning point of the season, says Dowe, was Dan Gurney’s arrival with a ‘twin-wing’ on the back of its ToyotaEagle two-thirds of the way through the season.
Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery, but the legacy of the car was much more than a few copy-cat rear wings, and that’s not counting the projects that it spawned.
It set Brabham on the road to sports car stardom by teaching him vital lessons about the discipline at an early stage. “Derek and Teo had such different setups and I had to jump between the two,” he says today. “I learned a lot about the compromises you have to make in sports car racing. And it’s still the best car I’ve driven.”
Brundle is adamant that his Silverstone comeback drive was pivotal in his landing a Benetton seat after TWR took a stake in the Fl team. “It got me the Benetton deal, no doubt about it,” he says. “I know it impressed Tom and Ross, and I was signed by the summer.” Brawn puts the successes of his short-lived foray in sports car racing up there with his achievements in Fl, and even suggests that some of his Fl glory can be attributed to the XJR-14 project.
“That project provided a clear lesson about taking opportunities with new rules,” he reveals. “It taught me that when new regulations come along you can’t start early enough on designing and developing a car. I think I can say it was probably significant in Brawn GP’s success in 2009.”
1992 MAZDA MX-R01
Tom Walkinshaw had helped run Mazdaspeed’s 1981 and 1982 Le Mans 24 Hours campaigns and the relationship was re-forged ahead of the 1992 season at short notice.The Jaguar XJR-14s were re-engineered to take the first sports car iteration of the long-serving Judd V10.The 14 design finally got to race at Le Mans, coming home fourth despite a gearbox change, and the project would have continued, remembers Mazdaspeed team manager Pierre Dieudonne.”All the planning was done for 1993 and beyond,” he says.”There would have been an update for ’93, including a gearbox more suitable for Le Mans, and an all-new car for the following year.” The death of the SWC put paid to that plan.
1992 JAGUAR XJR-17
This unraced car (at least in period) was a TWR parts-bin special conceived for the new FIA Cup category, effectively a rebirth of Group C2, introduced for the 1992 SWC. It was built around a design that raced variously as the XJR-10, 11 and 16 and its 3.5-litre twin-turbo ‘Metro’ engine, only in normally aspirated form. The aero loosely followed XJR-14 thinking, explains project leader Dave Fullerton. We took the radiators from the front and put them where the intercoolers would have been,” he recalls, and in that way we could have a 14-type front wing.” Alan Randall’s PM Motorsport squad and Dave Prewiff’s Gee Pee Motorsport squad were both touted to run the car, but their deals never materialised.
1995-98 PORSCHE WSC95
It seems strange to think that a double Le Mans-winning car should be born out of the remnants of a project from two years before. In July 1994, TWR Inc boss Tony Dowe was given six weeks to find a project to save the company he’d run since October 1987.I walked around the workshop and the only thing we had was a Jaguar XJR-14,” he says. “I thought that would make a lovely car for IMSA’s new World Sports Car class.” Dowe’s team mocked up a car out of chassis 791, sans roof, and persuaded Porsche that it had a bona fide WSC project on the go. How that car, the Jaguar in which Warwick and Brabham had won at the Nurburgring in 1991, ended up scoring two Le Mans victories is the stuff of legend.
1997-98 NISSAN R390
The Jaguar heritage can clearly be seen in the Nissan R390 TWR built for Le Mans in 1997. The chassis owed a lot to the XJR-9 through to 15, but time was so short that the suspension was produced from dusted off XJR-14 drawings. It was all so quick and dirty that the uprights were virtual carryover,” says former TWR engineer Steve Farrell. We also got out all the old wishbone drawings and just rubbed out dimensions and scribbled NTS (not to scale) on them.” A few months after Nissan and TWR’s unsuccessful Le Mans bid, it looked again to the 14. An open-top prototype based on the Jag, but with Nissan’s twin-turbo V8 in the back, was one option for ’98. In the end Nissan opted for a re-worked, long-tail R390.