The celebration of Jaguar’s 75th anniversary will gain momentum this weekend as the marque returns to competition in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. JaguarRSR, an American-based cooperative effort between Jaguar and racecar driver Paul Gentilozzi, will campaign an XKR GT2 that the company has worked to refine during American Le Man Series races earlier this year. Competing in a class that includes an Aston Martin Vantage, a Spyker C8 Laviolette, and numerous Ferrari F430, Porsche 911 and BMW M3 entrants, the Jaguar XKR GT2 wearing #81 will need every bit of the 500+ horsepower developed by its supercharged 5.0 liter V-8 engine.
Jag’s return to Le Mans is a fitting commemoration of its anniversary, especially considering that it claims the most successful record of all the British manufacturers to enter the legendary endurance race over the years. Jaguar captured the first of seven eventual victories in 1951 with a C-Type racecar that won the event in its first attempt. The C-Type’s successor, appropriately named the D-Type, posted three consecutive wins between 1955 and 1957 while more recently an XJR-12 prevailed in the 1990 contest.
“Motorsport has always been important to Jaguar,” said Mike O’Driscoll, Managing Director of Jaguar Cars, in a prepared statement. “Our domination of Le Mans in the 1950s was a foundation stone in our history and our success in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s reinforced our reputation as one of the great sports car manufacturers. As we look to the future with our new range of high performance ‘R’-branded cars – the XKR and XFR – we aim to make the Jaguar brand synonymous with motorsports once again. It’s good to be back.”
This weekend’s Le Mans appearance continues a ramped-up level of activity that has characterized Jaguar as of late. Last month the manufacturer launched an aggressive multi-city marketing campaign for the new 2011 XJ that saw 500 billboards in Los Angeles alone, as well as a strategic branding event at Hollywood’s Sunset Marquis Hotel and the sponsoring of a new concert series at the Hollywood Bowl. Jaguar is also reportedly planning a strong presence at the Rodeo Drive Concours d’Elegance, a free car show that is held each Father’s Day on the renowned Beverly Hills shopping corridor.
Aficionados of classic Jags will probably be more intrigued by plans for this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, which is including Jaguar’s 75th anniversary among its featured spotlights. With planned displays of the C-Type campaigned by famed driver Phil Hill, as well as one of the Le-Mans-winning D-Types, the Pebble Beach Concours promises to offer an unparalleled presentation of wonderfully preserved and historically important Jaguars. Part of the Concours’ observance of the Jag anniversary lies in the strong traditional connection between the two brands. Jaguar models won three of the first five Pebble Beach Concours, while Phil Hill (pictured below) drove an XK 120 to victory at the inaugural 1950 Pebble Beach Road Race, a forerunner to today’s popular Monterey Historic Races.
One possibility for the Concours that is still under discussion is a reunion of the existing XKSS cars. Only sixteen examples of the roadgoing version of the D-Type were manufactured before a fire at Jaguar’s Coventry factory destroyed the tools and dyes utilized in the model’s construction. Now among the most collectible of postwar sports cars, XKSS examples rarely see the light of day, so the promise of a handful in one spot would in and of itself constitute an occasion worth celebrating.