Jaguar XJR-8 track test: The art of noise

Having previously put a Porsche 962C through its paces, Andrew Frankel finally gets to drive the sports racer that gave the Germans a mauling in 1987 – the Jaguar XJR-8. And this chassis was the wildest of all

Jaguar XJR-8 on track at Thruxton

Coventry-born engineer and designer Tony Southgate masterminded the XJR-8, which was based around a lightweight carbon-composite moulded chassis tub

Jayson Fong

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We’re out the back now, the chicanes behind us. The oil is warm, the slicks are hot. I can feel the V12 chuntering behind me. It is demanding its release. Third gear, 4000rpm and go. The thrust is almost overwhelming – 750bhp in less than 900kg of car tends to do that for you. No time to listen. Fourth and the madness resumes. Can a single engine really be doing all this? Despite being protected behind plugs, balaclava and helmet, my inner ears start to itch. Fifth, and the whole crazy show begins again, an insane shrieking symphony blasted out by a 12-cylinder orchestra. And the craziest thing of all? Today I am its conductor.

Famously Jaguar won Le Mans five times in the 1950s. But how many times in that period did it also claim the World Sportscar Championship after its inauguration in 1953? Trick question: the answer is none. Indeed it would not be until 30 years after the retirement of the 1950s works Jaguar racing team that Jaguar would have a proper crack not just at Le Mans, but the championship itself.

The year was 1987 and the car the Jaguar XJR-8. And for the first time since Porsche entered Group C racing in its 1982 inaugural year, the Stuttgart machines were beaten. Actually, they were routed. There were 10 championship rounds that season and Jaguars won eight. Of those eight races, four were won by a single car, chassis XJR-8 287. This car. So not only did it do the lion’s share of the work in delivering to Jaguar its first ever world championship in motor racing, it made the Brazilian Raul Boesel the first man to win a drivers’ championship in a Jaguar, for he was at the wheel every time it won, usually sharing with Eddie Cheever, but once with John Nielsen.