As a Group 44 employee in the XJR-5/7 years I appreciated your story about our Le Mans efforts, but would take issue with the implication that XJR-5 was outclassed at Le Mans. In fact, the programme was better than its results indicate.
The 1984 results were looking quite good until 6am, which is when Tony Adamowicz crashed No40 while lying eighth. No44 was even better placed, in fifth at 7am, and on pace to finish on the podium, when it went out with a gearbox failure like that suffered by the Lancias, which used the same VGC ‘box. In terms of speeds, 44’s best lap was only 5sec off the winner’s fastest, and its top speed on the Mulsanne was third-best at 216mph.
In ’85, the chassis was considerably developed, utilising the new underbody and rear suspension from XJR-7 and not, as the author implies, the same old car with even less hope. Whereas in ’84 the emphasis had been on reliability, the plan in ’85 was to take a more aggressive approach, tuning the engine for more power, which included higher compression. Unfortunately, low-octane gas in the central pit fuel system caused both cars to suffer failed pistons in the first practice session. This debacle put the team behind and any chance of a good race result was lost.
The race results were nevertheless disappointing: No40 broke a CV joint and was stranded on course, while No44 finished 13th after a long delay.
No-one on the team felt the potential had been fulfilled, but proof of performance came in North America where XJR-5, and then XJR-7, both built by Group 44, posted wins in 1987 against some strong IMSA-spec Porsche 962s.
Ultimately, Tom Walkinshaw’s cars succeeded at Le Mans and in the world championship, but only after a considerable increase in funding over the Group 44 programme. Of the ‘what if’ Bob Tullius alludes to, we’ll never know. With additional funding and focus it would have been interesting to have seen Group 44’s results with the XJR-5/7 and its stillborn successor at La Sarthe.
I am, yours etc, Eric Kent, Winchester, Virginia, USA