Jaguar GT for Le Mans

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Jaguar is set to end its long absence from the Le Mans 24 Hours next season.

A Jag will grace the grid at La Sarthe for the first time since 1995 if the plans of Paul Gentilozzi’s Rocketsports squad come to fruition. The Michigan-based squad is building a GT2-spec XKR to race in the American Le Mans Series from later this year and has its sights set on Le Mans in 2010.

Gentilozzi said he was aiming to build a car that was “competitive on the track”, “representative of Jaguar’s racing history” and “economically viable for customers in GT2 around the world”. Le Mans, he added, is “the appropriate place to be if you are racing a Jaguar in sports cars”.

“The plan for 2010 is definitely to compete at Le Mans,” he said. “To get there you have to have a relationship with the Automobile Club de l’Ouest [the race organiser] and that is something we are already developing as we work towards joining the ALMS in the summer.”

Should Gentilozzi hit his target, the Rocketsports XKR would be the first Jaguar to race at Le Mans since the British PC Automotive team fielded two ex-works XJ220Cs in 1995. The carbon-bodied GT1 cars were returning to Le Mans two years after they were run under the factory banner by Tom Walkinshaw’s TWR squad.

Rocketsports is entering the ultra-competitive GT2 arena with technical and marketing support rather than overt factory backing from Indian-owned Jaguar Cars. Gentilozzi stressed that “without the company’s technical assistance we would never have been able to undertake this programme”.

The racing XKR is powered by a normally-aspirated version of Jaguar’s new AJ-133 V8 powerplant. Gentilozzi claims that the aluminium chassis road car “really lends itself well to becoming a race car”.

The first XKR racer should be up and running in June, and the first competitive outing for the car will be either at Lime Rock in July or Mid-Ohio in August. Gentilozzi expects to race the car himself in the first year because he believes he “is the best person to develop the car”.

The man behind the car

Paul Gentilozzi is a driver, team owner and series organiser with a 40-year involvement in motor sport. He is a multiple Trans-Am champion, whose CV as a driver also includes an outright victory in the Daytona 24 Hours.

Gentilozzi, 59, started competing in drag racing while still at high school. He switched to the circuits in the early ’80s and, after establishing his Rocketsports Racing squad in 1985, went on to work with manufacturers such as Oldsmobile, Ford and Jaguar.

As a driver he is best known for his exploits in Trans-Am. He first raced in the silhouette sports car category in 1987, claimed his first title in ’98 and went on to take the crown another three times.

Gentilozzi helped organise Trans-Am in the early part of this decade and then joined the team that took over CART ahead of the 2004 season.