Editorial, June 2002

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While Ford tries to sway a ‘new Jag generation’ with arthouse adverts, those of a less trendy persuasion, i.e. older, know that the bulk of the gloss on Jaguar’s brand was applied via seven wins at Le Mans, even though only two of them, 1988 and ’90, were scored after 1957.

Jaguar have since changed Motorsport tack: Formula One is the ‘only’ place to be these days. Millions upon millions tune in every other weekend to watch Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari prance to victory and Jaguar make a horse’s arse of it.

Jaguar are not alone. Only Ferrari of the le Mans marques’ have made a sizeable impact in F1: Bentley have never bothered; Aston Martin’s front-engined effort was too little too late as the Cooper era dawned; Porsche scored just one world championship Grand Prix victory, Dan Gurney’s Rouen success 40 years ago this month.

But that hasn’t stopped these four marques from becoming global brands. This just might have something to do with the fact that, between them, they have accrued 29 Le Mans wins.

The famous all-day enduro is the only motor-racing event this side of the Atlantic able to stand up to the Formula One steam roller. Audi and Bentley, the leading lights of the 2002 event, will no doubt disagree, but Les Vingt-Qratre Hewes du Mans is in one of its periodic slumps. Generally speaking, the big-hitting premier marques go F1; the rest go rallying.

Of course, not everyone fits these bills. As the highest echelons of the sport become increasingly homogenised — the ‘new Jag generation’ would call it slick — Le Mans becomes more appealingly anachronistic as each day passes. Like the Indianapolis 500, it has marched to the beat of its own drum, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest often butting heads with the sport’s governing body. Praise the Lord!

It will survive this downturn and, when manufacturers decide that spending billions to make Schumacher and Ferrari look good no longer makes financial hone sense, Le Mans will thrive again.

It’s vital that this happens, for the marketing men are strangling our sport. Yes, they have made what’s left very shiny and beguiling, but this is merely a thin veneer.

Not so long ago, you could watch non-championship F1 and world championship sportscars at Silverstone and Brands Hatch. You could then top this up with the European Touring Car Championship and, when winter descended, the RAC Rally would roar past your doorstep — even if you didn’t live in South Wales.

Of course, we will never return to the days when Stirling or Jimmy would win three races in a day in three different types of car, but for the manufacturer’s sake as well as ours, what diversity remains should be nurtured.

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