Jaguars record at Le Mans is unrivalled by British companies. Worldwide only Porsche and Ferrari have a better record here. The Jaguar D-Type won Le Mans in 1957 and although Jaguar built the beautiful but ill-fated XJ13 to compete in the 1960s, it was not until 1988 when Jaguar had a car on the grid again. The Jaguar XJR9 was tasked with the job of winning Le Mans, 31 years after the D-Type had done so. Johnny Dumfries, Jan Lammers and Andy Wallace were the drivers trusted to emulate the victory in 1957.
Jaguar entered an all-new car into the Group C Le Mans race in 1988. This car was the XJR9 LM. The distinctive purple and white colour and faired in rear arches hid a powerful and efficient racing car. The aerodynamic bodywork, lightweight design and normally aspirated 7L V12 (Based on the XJS V12) gave the car an astonishing turn of speed. Jaguars main rival at Le Mans was Porsche, with their powerful 962C. TWR boss Tom Walkinshaw had promised Jaguar a win at Le Mans, so there was huge pressure to succeed.
Jaguar vs Porsche
The Jaguar was well ahead of its time in both design and construction. The car had a carbon fibre monocoque chassis, the Porsche 962C had folded aluminium. A key feature of the Jaguar is the aerodynamics. Along with the faired in rear wheels, the car had another groundbreaking feature. The short, cut off design was unlike any other car at Le Mans, other cars had a long tail design designed to keep down force levels up without generating drag. Porsche had numerous stability problems with their notorious 917 “Short Tail” racecar and the newer 962C had a standard long tail in stark contrast to the abrupt form of the XJR9.
Porsche kept the long tail design after drivers complained of the old 917’s tendency to lose grip through lack of downforce at very high speeds. Some drivers deliberately over revved the engine of the 917 to force the car out of the race; such was its dangerous nature.
The Jaguar design used a cut off rear and low mounted aerofoil to allow the downforce and ground effects of the rear venturi system to act together.
The V12 started as the 5.3L V12 from the XJS. Rebored to 7L the V12 produced about 700bhp giving the car a top speed of 246mph.
“In a straight line it (Jaguar XJR9) makes modern Le Mans cars seem very tame indeed”
Andy Wallace – Jaguar works driver
The Rival Porsche 962C
The main rival of this Jaguar was the Porsche 962C, with a turbocharged flat six had over 800bhp, trumping the Jaguars 700bhp. Porsche increased the boost for qualifying enabling them to start in better positions than Jaguar. Once the race started and the Porsche cars had boost turned down, the Jaguars began to overtake.
The Porsche 962C was the closest rival the XJR9 had, but due to the turbocharged engine, used more fuel, so the race was even, with the cars overtaking one another constantly. The Jaguars superior down-force allowed quicker entry and exit speeds through a corner but slowed the car on the straights. The 962C was the opposite, meaning the cars were close throughout the race.
Victory for the Jaguar XJR9
Jaguars stunning victory ended a 7 year reign for Porsche at Le Mans, an incredible achievement that justified the evolution of the XJR series of racing cars.
Jaguar was also successful in sports car racing in 1988 taking the World Championship with wins in 6 out of 10 Group C races. The Le Mans victory was repeated in 1990 with the XJR-12 which came first and second. Another world championship went to Jaguar in 1991 with a second place finish at Le Mans. In 1993 an XJ220C also won the GT class at Le Mans, the most recent of Jaguar’s success at the Sarthe circuit.
Jaguar XJR9 From Race Car To Road Car
Tom Walkinshaw later used the carbon tub and chassis of the XJR9 as the basis of the XJ15 Road car. This used a new bodyshell, again made from Carbon fibre and featured a detuned version of the race V12.
Paul is an automotive aficionado with a passion for cars. His passion for automobiles has only grown over the years, and for the past 11 years, he has been blogging about British sports cars. Readers can expect irreverent content about classic models, interesting car stories and more!