Le Mans is seen as one of the most prestigious motorsports events in the world. A race of attrition, skill, speed, and bravery. 24 hours of drivers and teams pushing themselves to the peak of their abilities.
For Jaguar it has been a race that holds fond memories and after a long time away from the track there has often been talk that the famous British marque will find its way back there soon enough.
At the end of 2021, the company openly spoke about motorsport and how it sees the future panning out in that world but for both the 2022 and 2023 Le Mans entries there was no Jaguar.
A new division of the TATA-owned company called Jaguar Land Rover Motorsport is now up and running so it could well be sooner rather than later that we see a Jaguar speed around the track once again.
How many times has Jaguar won Le Mans?
Le Mans has been a happy hunting ground for Jaguar, with the team picking up 7 wins in the 24hr endurance race since they first entered it in the 1950s.
Jaguar at Le Mans in the 1950s
The first of these came in 1951 with the XK120C and this was a win that put Jaguar on the map. Outside of Britain many people didn’t know Jaguar and had no reason to believe it was a car any more special than any other. After this win though, things changed, and Jaguar had established a reputation that would help carry them forward for many years.
Six more wins followed with the second coming in 1953. This race was won by Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt who only 24 hours earlier has been told they were excluded due to an infringement. As a result, they stayed up the entire evening only to have a sudden shock when they were told that the fine had been paid and they were racing, for 24 hours! Plenty of coffee and a visit to a Turkish bath followed and the drivers went on to claim the crown.
Win number three followed just two years later in 1955 with the iconic D-Type and for some, this victory is seen as both poignant and forgetful. In an event tinged with tragedy, John Lyons, the son of the Jaguar founder William was killed in a road accident on his way to the event. Ever the racer, William insisted Jaguar still compete, legendary driver, Mike Hawthorn was behind the wheel to lead the charge. Sadly, Mercedes, one of the leading challengers saw their driver Pierre Levegh killed in an accident that led to the deaths of 83 other people and injuries to over 100. The race continued but Mercedes withdrew leading to Jaguar being awarded the victory. Whilst victory is normally sweet, Jaguar chose not to publicly celebrate this win.
Customer teams win Le Mans with Jaguar D-Type
These wins had propelled Jaguar to a new level of popularity and the sales of road cars were increasing. This saw the start of the sale of the race car to private teams and a move away from the Jaguar factory-based team racing at Le Mans.
In the 1956 race, there were a host of Jaguars racing under private ownership. Unfortunately, 3 cars lasted only a handful of laps before retiring but a team set up by Scotsman David Muray pipped the Aston Martin of Stirling Moss and Peter Collins to claim the win. Not only was this win number four for a Jaguar car but it was the first from a non-factory Jaguar team showing that the car was strong enough whether run by the factory team or not.
Victory number 5 was the last for quite some time and can be seen by many as a race that truly showcased the dominance of Jaguar. It was expected that the flag would be waved for a Ferrari or Maserati but whilst fast, the cars just were not durable enough to withstand such a tough race. As a result, it was Jaguar’s race to lose. When the race did end, Jaguar not only took the win but filled the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th places. Each team being a Jaguar customer team further cemented the impression in people’s minds of just how good a Jaguar car was.
This was the last race for the all-conquering D-Type, and it would be over 30 years until the team were to win again.
Jaguar Le Mans 1988
For many of us, 1988 stands out in the mind as perhaps the first Le Mans we remember for Jaguar. After years of Porsche dominance, the 7Lt V12 XJR-9 crossed the line victorious. Hitting 242mph on the famous Mulsanne Straight, the team were on course to beat the 397 laps completed record set in 1971 but Mother Nature had other ideas. Rain fell leading to a slower pace meaning that the team settled on 394 laps, if the rain hadn’t fallen it is more than likely that the 17-year-old record would have been broken.
The seventh and final victory came in 1990 and finished in a way teams love to complete a race. Taking both 1st and 2nd places. Martin Brundle, who went on to have a great F1 career both on and off track was accompanied by John Nielsen and David Cobb in leading the car across the line first.
With the second-placed Jaguar finishing seven laps clear of the third-placed Porsche it was the perfect way to end the Le Mans story.
Jaguar at Le Mans after 1990
Not much has happened for Jaguar after that final Le Mans win in 1990, several entries using the Jaguar car have taken place albeit not with any form of Jaguar backing. In 1995 for example, four XJ220 cars were entered into the GT1 class of the race but were trounced by the McLaren F1
Two years previous, three works Jaguar XJ220s were entered into the GT race and won only to have the victory taken away after inspection found the car was not running catalytic converters. An appeal then ruled in favour of the team but as the appeal was not filed in time, the result was still a disqualification for the team.
It wasn’t until 2010 that another Le Mans entry took place and since then it has all been a little quiet.
Further forays into motorsport continued, including F1, but for sportscar racing it hasn’t yet made the return we hope for. With the introduction of the motorsport division at JLR, we may be able to celebrate victories like these again soon. That being said, the increase in electric vehicles and the entries Jaguar hold in E-motorsports could mean Le Mans remains a memory.
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