The history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and that of Jaguar are closely linked. After having led a victorious campaign throughout the 1950s, rewarded with five wins, the Coventry manufacturer made its big return to La Sarthe nearly 30 years later. For the most part, the British cat's adventure in Group C was predominately associated with Tom Walkinshaw Racing, however, it was in fact the American Bob Tullius who spearheaded the movement.
British sportscar enthusiasts, expecially relative to Jaguar, Tullius and Brian Feurstenau created the team Group 44 in the 1960s with as a goal to enter the cars in the U.S. Deeply involoved in the turbine Howmet TX, in 1968, Tullius always kept in mind the idea of rolling his precious Jaguars at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. To fulfill this challenge, the owner and driver convinced Mike Dale, President of the British manufacturer's North American division, to finance the design and fabrication of a prototype compliant with the IMSA GTP regulations.
The car, a Jaguar XJR-5 with a 3.5L V12 engine, debuted its career at the Road America 500 on August 22, 1982. After a 1983 campaign, carried out in the overseas IMSA GT Championship and peppered with four wins (Road Atlanta, Lime Rock, Mosport and Pocono), Tullius' Group 44 entered two cars in the 1984 24 Hours of Le Mans. Twenty-seven years after a first win in La Sathe, the spectators at that 52nd edition rediscovered the prestigious Jaguar marque on the starting grid.
The two XJR-5s, powered by a new 6L V12, and painted in the American team's usual colours, were entrusted to Tony Adamowicz, John Watson and Claude Ballot-Léna (No. 40) and Tullius, Brian Redman and Doc Bundy (No 44). Qualified in 14th and 19th places amidst an impressive delegation of Porsche 956s, unfortunately the two driver line-ups never saw the finish at the 1984 24 Hours, impeded by an incident and a broken gearbox.
The American-British cars returned to La Sarthe the following year, in 1985, with revamped driver line-ups. Hurley Haywood and Jim Adams joined Brian Redman in the No. 40 while Chip Robinson supported Tullius and Claude Ballot-Léna at the wheel of the No. 44. The latter line-up clinched the win in the GTP class for the Group 44 team and Jaguar reunited with victory in Le Mans. While the magnificent Group 44 XJR-5s evolved into the XJR-7 model for the end of its career at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1988, the new Jaguar XJR-6 LMs made their appearance on the world stage in 1986, developed and entered by Tom Walkinshaw Racing. Of this union would come an undeniable success story, born out of the overflowing passion of one man for the Jaguar marque.
Pierre-Yves Riom / ACO - Translation by Nikki Ehrhardt / ACO