The 30th anniversary of the Jaguar XJR-15 and the extraordinary Jaguar Intercontinental Challenge will be celebrated at Silverstone later this month with a special track tribute on all three days of The Classic (30 July – 1 August).
Hailed by some as the ultimate one-make race series and dismissed by others as an £8m banger race, the 1991 Jaguar Intercontinental Challenge was one of the most astonishing motor sport spectacles ever conceived.
Back in 1991, grids of 16 stunning Jaguar XJR-15s – each priced at a cool £500,000 – lined up for just three memorable showdowns supporting Grands Prix at Monaco, Silverstone and Spa, with the victor of the final round pocketing a whopping great £1m jackpot prize.
Silverstone, though, was always the spiritual home of the XJR-15. The supercars were produced locally in Bloxham by JaguarSport – the joint-venture established by Tom Walkinshaw Racing and Jaguar – and the official public launch was also staged at the circuit.
The sun-drenched Silverstone showdown was unforgettable, too. Coming immediately after Nigel Mansell’s crowd-rousing victory in the British Grand Prix, the Jaguars provided an astonishing end to an outstanding weekend.
It was a typically bruising encounter littered with thrills and spills – indeed, by the finish, only five of the 16 sparkling Mauritius Blue entries had escaped unscathed. After 20 incident-packed laps the spoils, fittingly, went to Juan Manuel Fangio II, precisely 45 years after his legendary uncle’s last Formula 1 win at the same venue.
Now, to honour that outstanding race, the top three XJR-15 finishers – as piloted by Fangio, Bob Wollek and local hero Ian Flux – will be back on track for evocative daily demonstration laps at The Classic.
Sunday 14 July 1991 was a day Flux certainly will never forget. “Being the only Brit on the podium, I was given a hero’s welcome from all the hundreds of Mansell fans who’d stayed on to watch the Jaguars race,” he savoured.
“Hearing them all singing ‘Fluxie’ will forever be one of my everlasting memories. So now, 30 years on, it will be very, very special for me to be back at Silverstone with those same three XJR-15s at The Classic.”
Adding to the occasion, the three cars from the podium will be joined by several other combatants from the triple-header Jaguar Intercontinental Challenge and the R9R project prototype as well as a number of road-registered XJR-15s. Members of the Walkinshaw family and original staff from the Bloxham facility will also be reunited at a special display in the International Paddock at Silverstone.
Although mostly remembered as a race car, the XJR-15 was originally conceived as a two-seater sports car – a road-going version of the 1988 Le Mans 24 Hour winning XJR-9 Group C prototype aimed at attracting super-rich enthusiasts excited by Jaguar’s first triumph in the French endurance classic for more than 30 years.
With its mid-mounted, normally-aspirated, 6-litre V12 engine, the monocoque chassis was designed by Tony Southgate while the bodywork was beautifully sculptured by the equally-eminent Peter Stevens. Both chassis and body were constructed from carbon fibre and Kevlar making the XJR-15 the world’s first road car built entirely from composite materials.
A limited production run of just 50 was planned, though a couple more are said to have left by Bloxham’s backdoor. With a top speed of close to 200mph and limited downforce, grip was never its strong point and explains why the races were action-packed.
Tiff Needell was one of the first to put an XJR-15 through its paces in early 1991 when testing the prototype at Silverstone for BBC Top Gear. He described the handling as ‘exciting, to say the least’ predicting, correctly, that there would be ‘plenty of slides when the 16 racers were let loose’ on the three Grand Prix tracks.
And Needell, who will be racing at The Classic as well as co-presenting the event’s ITV4 television coverage, was one of those intrepid racers, finishing seventh on the streets of Monte Carlo, sixth at Silverstone and a disappointed 13th in the big-buck Spa finale. His #5 XJR-15 is another of those revving up at The Classic.
“Those races were wild,” he recalls. “With a big V12 lump and very little aero, the cars were really iffy when on the limit in traffic. Even the very top drivers like Derek Warwick struggled. They weren’t for the faint-hearted that’s for sure.”
Source. The Classic/Photo. John Overton