28 Feb 2013

The Great Race-Le Mans 1988

Last year I -inadvertantly- saw the final lap of an Australian V8 Supercar race on TV.The commentator was shouting and screaming as if his underpants were on fire.The race was a minor race and the action was obviously contrived and it bought it home to me how the "sport" has been taken out of motor sport and it is now "motor entertainment" - really just a vehicle for brand promotion through TV,
This relentless promotion has homogenised events.Once there were just 12 Grand Prix in the F1 World Championship.The races were big events in the countries where they were held .Indeed Grand Prix is Big Prize in French.Now there are approaching 20 Grand Prix and they have lost their significance.They are in fact Petit Prix .The same applies to the Indianapolis 500.Once it was The Great American Race.Now it is just another race full of promotional"opportunities".Yawn.
The iconic Bathurst 1000 in Australia is now just a staged for TV entertainment package - a rather long round in the V8 Supercar Championship.
Arguably the only motor sport events which have maintained their iconic status are the Isle of Man TT motor cycle races and the Le Mans 24 Hours Race and the reason they have done this is that they are still run by independent enthusiast clubs and by their nature the events are not suitable for packaging as instant gratification TV.

The 1988 Le Mans 24 hour race rates in my book as a really great race because it saw the return of Jaguar as a winner of the race after an absence of 31 years ( Ron Flockhart and Ivor Beub won the 1957 race in a D-type Jaguar) ,it broke Porsche's  iron grip on the race ( they had won the previous 8 races), it was a very exciting race right down to the chequered flag and the atmosphere generated by the very large number of very partisan British spectators was wonderful.

It's difficult today to appreciate the level of support for Jaguar at that time.Mrs Thatcher was the British Prime Minister and the head of Jaguar,John Egan, was one of her poster boys leading the "reinvigoration" of Britain.Jaguar had been pulled out of the appalling nationalised British Leyland in 1984 and was once again a public company.The Jaguar XJ40 launched in 1986 was apparently a major success - although this was illusionary- and Jaguar seemed destined for great things as a public company.
The bubble was soon to burst and in 1989 the company was a takeover target stalked by GM and then taken over by Ford who kept it until selling it to the Indian Tata Group-along with Land Rover-in 2008.
GM opted for second prize and bought Saab after losing out on Jaguar and then did absolutely nothing with it and running it into the ground over 20 years.And leaving it to go bankrupt.A very sad end to a great company. But that is another story.

Back to the 80's and Egan and his management team decided that winning Le Mans was an imperative to reestablishing Jaguar's sporting credentials.After a toe in the water dabble with the US Group 44 team in 1985 Tom Walkinshaw's TWR racing was commissioned to mount a full scale assault on the World Sports Car Chamionship with a particular emphasis on Le Mans.These were the days of fag money sponsorship and the Silk Cut  funded this very serious effort.
The first two attempts in 1986 and 1987 were unsucccesful and the Porsche juggernaut kept the prize.In 1988 Jaguar hit the jackpot and car No 2 the 7-litre V12 TWR XJR-9 of Jan Lammers,Johnny Dumfries, and Andy Wallace crossed the finishing line at 3.00pm on June 12th to take the chequered flag .But it was a very close call .The works Porsche of Stuck,Ludwig and Bell was on the same lap only 2mins and 36 seconds behind.A second Jaguar finished 5th but Porsches took the 8 other places in the top 10.
in the final 15 mins of the race the Jaguar had to make a "splash and dash" pit stop to take on a few litres of fuel to ensure that it made it home.Late pit stops at Le Mans are always fraught as there is the very real danger that the car will not restart as the engine is so hot and tired and the fuel system gets a vapour lock or as has happened many times a starter motor will jam.The atmosphere in the pit during this stop was beyond tense. Below is my photo of the final critical pitstop taken on my Leica from the grandstand using a 135mm lens and heavily cropped.
As it turned out the second placed Porsche was also very short of fuel and could not press the Jaguar harder but the Jaguar team did not know that at the time.
It was far from a David versus Goliath battle-more like a Goliath versus Goliath battle.TWR had enormous resources for the race.They fielded 5 cars and had a 14 drivers plus a team of 110 people plus a huge catering operation for the team.There was a TWR plane on standby in Kidlington in the UK ready to shuttle across any parts required during the practice days.Dunlop had 2500 tyres covering all eventualities just for the Jaguar team.And Jaguar had a mountain of champagne bottles ready to open after the race.And it tasted wonderful.
We all came back in 1989 but that year it was Sauber-Mercedes who took victory although Jaguar were back in the winner's circle in1990 but by then Ford were firmly in control.John Egan was gone, and the new management had no interest in going racing so that was the last victory for TWR Jaguar .Anyway dark forces were at work in the international administration of motor sport intent on nobbling Group C sports cars to ensure that F1 prospered.If you are at all familiar with motor sport you will be able to fill in the names of the personalities involved .
Photos of that great race by myself,Roger Putnam who was Sales and Marketing Director of Jaguar at the time and Peter de Rousset-Hall .
It would have been nice to adjust the colour cast of all the photos to a common base but as they come from slides and negatives which have aged at different rates via different scanners this would have just been a very time consuming exercise so please excuse the variations.
TWR paddock tent pre race day
Jan Lammers - Friday morning
Dusk falls
Goliath versus Goliath ,Esses du Tetre Rouge
Jaguar on pit straight dusk from the pit balcony
Winner making routine pitstop
From the main grandstand
The "splash and dash"stop.Tom Walkinshaw far right behind counter.
The three Jaguars cross the line in formation

5th placed Jaguar slowing down on pit lane

British cheer squad -about 80.000 strong in total
Winners are grinners.Tom Walkinshaw after the race

Winners are grinners 2.Roger Putnam centre,author on left.

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