Jaguar XJR-9LM 1988 Le Mans

Jaguar XJR-9LM car number 1

When the XJR-9LM went to Le Mans in 1988 it was to be the first time in over 30 years that Jaguar had won the classic 24-hour race. The 7.0 litre V12 XJR-9LM’s power, handling and strength brought it victory at 137.5 mph.

Jaguar XKR-6 introduced

In mid-1985 the first Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) Jaguar XJR-6 made its race debut in the Group C sports car events, and it was this car which was developed to run in a full programme of races the following year. Powered by a six-litre V12 derived from the production 5.3 litre engine from the XJ-S, the Jaguars set new standards of chassis engineering and aerodynamic performance.

Nevertheless, a succession of minor technical snags hampered the Jaguars’ progress, most of which were simply a reflection of the TWR’s inexperience in Group C endurance racing. The team scored 12 finishes from 10 starts in 1986 and, whilst they did achieve victory in the six-hour BRDC Silverstone race, the team might well have also won at Monza, Brands Hatch, Jerez and Nurburgring had it not been for minor mechanical problems. At Le Mans, however, the performance of all three Jaguars fell short of the front-running pace and none of them made it to the finish.

1987 and the XJR-8

In 1987, Jaguar were back in action with the XJR-8s, designed by Tony Southgate. Eight victories and sixteen finishes from twenty three starts earned them top place in the FIA Sports Prototype World Championship that year. Le Mans however still eluded them. Although the team had been the fastest during testing at Le Mans, and at one point had a stranglehold on the top three places during the race, a brief rain shower was to see the Porsche 962C take a lead it never relinquished. Shortly afterwards, Win Percy was involved in a huge accident on the Mulsanne Straight in one of the XJR-8s, and technical problems struck the other two cars. In the end fifth place was all they could manage.

1988 and success with the XJR-9

1988 was the team’s third attempt at Le Mans. For this, Tony Southgate prepared a special variant, the XJR-9LM, which had a special low-drag areodynamic package especially developed for the requirements of the 24 hour race with its high speed Mulsanne Straight.

Before the race had begun, Sauber Mercedes withdrew following a high-speed tyre failure during practice, however there still remained the very competitive Porsches to be beaten. Martin Brundle’s chances in car number 1 were compromised early on when Nielsen spun off into the sand trap at the Inidianapolis corner, losing two laps. Thus it fell to car number 2, driven by Johnny Dumfries, Andy Wallace, and Jan Lammers to restore Jaguar to the winners rostrum for the first time in 31 years. Derek Daly, Larry Perkins and Kevin Cogan brought the next-placed Jaguar home in fourth, with the all-American crew of Danny Sullivan, Price Cobb and Davy Hones finishing in 16th, despite several problems along the way.

Overall, the XJR-9 was the most efficient machine competing throughout 1988. Although the Mercedes turbo-engined Sauber had more power, the Southgate-designed Jaguar chassis more the made up the difference in terms of handling and aerodynamic downforce. Coupled with superb build quality and meticulous organisation from the TWR team, and complemented by a correspondingly high standard of driving talent, the Jaguars were unquestionably quicker than the Sauber or Porsche teams that year.

Jaguar were to win six victories and the World Sports Car championship in 1988, however the Le Mans victory was to be the most revered of these by Jaguar enthusiasts.

Car number 2 - winner of the 1988 Le Mans 24 hour
XJR-9LM number 2 at Goodwood