“I thought: it’s just as easy – or just as difficult – to get a lot of money as it is to get a little.” With this profound objective, Alan Randall set out to find a major sponsor to fund his dream of breaking into the professional world of sports car racing. He found such a sponsor, lost him . . . and promptly found another!
Who is this Walter Mitty? The question was asked everywhere he went, and his enquiries for cars were met with incredulity. “We were treated very well at Lola, I must say, but we would have been the second-string team to Euro Racing,” said Randall when FISA confirmed the continuation of the Sportscar World Championship. “Then I read somewhere that Tom Walkinshaw would be selling Jaguars, so I contacted Ken Page, who I knew, and went up to see them.” It helped that Randall, as a small-time Jaguar tuning specialist based at Tenterden, in Kent, had been a customer for TWR’s Jaguar tuning parts for some years. He was taken seriously, but his eventual order for nine XJRs, conservatively valued at over £5 million, has caused a sensation in the industry.
Randall’s order is for three XJR-14s, two of which will be raced by Derek and Justin Bell, Raul Boesel and Tiff Needell in the World Championship series; three newly announced XJR-17s, two of which will compete in the FIA Cup series; and three V12-powered XJR-12s for Le Mans. Randall intends, in fact, to run six cars in the 24 Hours, three 12s and three 17s.
“We’ve all tried for years to find a mega sponsor, and Randall’s just lost one and found another,” said one slightly jealous rival team owner. “It’s like a fairy story,” said another.
The key to this unlikely story has been Randall’s son-in-law, John Reynolds, who works for a merchant bank. An American company, in computer software, was lined up for sponsorship but the deal was broken when the Sportscar World Championship was apparently cancelled at the infamous ‘Heathrow meeting’ on November 11.
“We had a few anxious days,” says Randall, “then another potential sponsor we’d been talking to before came back to us. It fitted his corporate plan, it seemed, and the contract followed. He was not concerned that the races might be non-championship, so we were very fortunate in that respect.” The identity of the sponsor was revealed midway through February; “Middle East” is as near as we could get in the meantime.
The Jaguars will be mainly white, with black, red and green markings, and will be central to the whole world championship. Randall says that the contract will last three years, and that he’ll order two new cars for each season. Dave Prewitt, formerly with John Fitzpatrick Racing and lately owner of GP Motorsport, has been appointed team director, and in the first part of February he and Randall were busy moving everything they had into a new factory unit at Banbury. Starting from scratch, the sheer scale of the venture is breathtaking. RM Motorsport (it means Randall Motorsport, so the M is superfluous!) will engage at least 40 engineers and mechanics, many of them ‘loaned’ by Tom Walkinshaw Racing for the first season which is scheduled to begin at Monza on April 26. Less than two months later comes ‘the big one’, Le Mans, for which most teams spend the best part of a year in preparation.
There are men like Alan John Randall in every small town, but normally they dream about running the Jaguar ‘works’ team at Le Mans and wake up with the alarm call! An engineer by training, specialising in steam generators installed in warships, Randall has spent the last 20 of his 48 years specialising in servicing, restoring and tuning Jaguars, “preferably V12s”. Until the move to Banbury he operated out of a modest lock-up in Tenterden, seemingly a galaxy away from World Championship motor racing. He has been right on the fringe, waving a Jaguar banner in the Tribune Jaguar at Le Mans, and in 1988 he prepared a Ford Sierra for Tony Lanfranchi in the Esso Production Car Championship.
A modest, some would say rather naive man, Randall has found it within his power to secure a sponsorship which must be valued at £10 million annually and is spending the bulk of it with Tom Walkinshaw, a man who would move a mountain to secure such a sum for his own racing enterprises! It is a richly ironic situation, and racing pundits will hold their breath as the season begins, imagining what may happen next. Much will depend on the engineering staff supplied by TWR for the first season, and on their ability to cope with an independent status. Randall asked Derek Bell to lead the team simply because he “thought it a pity” that he hadn’t driven a Jaguar at Le Mans, adding: “I think he’s ideal as a person and as a driver.” Bell was the world champion sports car driver in 1985 and 1986, and the second car will be driven by 1987 champion Raul Boesel, the first of Silk Cut Jaguar’s title-holders. Justin Bell, 23, and Tiff Needell will be their co-drivers, if all goes to plan, but no drivers have yet been nominated for the two XJR-17s which will take part in all the races, including Japan and Mexico. The Jaguar XJR-17s are based upon the turbocharged racing Jaguars XJR-11 (Group C. 3.5-litre twin-turbo), XJR-l0 (IMSA, 3.0-litre twin-turbo) and XJR16 (IMSA development of XJR-11). The V6 aluminium engines will be naturally aspirated, 3.0-litre for IMSA Camel Lights and 3.5-litre for FIA Cup. New bodywork will be fitted, to resemble the XJR-14. MLC