In 1990, Jaguar was at the center of the racing world. With its 7.0 liter V12-powered XJR-12, it dominated at the 24 hours of Le Mans, taking first and second place. But by the mid-’90s, factory cars had all but disappeared from competition, and when then-owner Ford purchased Sir Jackie Stewart’s Formula 1 team in 1999, it tapped Jaguar to run the show. To put it mildly, it was an unmitigated disaster.
From 2000 to 2004, Jaguar’s team was one of the worst-performing teams in Formula 1. With just two podium finishes in five seasons, its most memorable moment came when it mounted a $300,000 diamond in the nose of one of its cars to promote the movie Ocean’s-12, and lost it in a crash at the 2004 Monaco Grand Prix. After that season, Ford scrapped the racing program and sold it off. It went on to become Red Bull Racing, which won four consecutive constructor’s titles between 2010 and 2013.
But that’s all ancient history now. Jaguar was bought by Tata Motors in 2008 and is in the midst of a renaissance, and with upcoming models like the compact XE sedan and F-Pace SUV, it could soon have the most formidable lineup in company history. It’s also at a crossroads: How can it celebrate its storied past while also moving forward? One move is to make a return to racing. The other is to embrace electric powertrain technology. In a smart move that combines both, Jaguar has announced that for the 2016-’17 season, it’ll be competing in the all-electric Formula-E series.
For a company looking for a relatively low-stakes/high-profile way to get back into racing, Formula E is the perfect choice for Jaguar. In its first season (2014-’15), the sole manufacturer involved was Renault. For the current ’15-’16 season, Citroën, McLaren, Audi, and Mahindra have joined the fray, along with several smaller constructors. In a significantly smaller pool – and one with lower startup costs – than Formula 1, it’s likely the Jaguar cars will make a bigger splash in Formula E than anywhere else.
But this is no vanity project. In its press statement, Jaguar’s Group Engineering Director Nick Rogers said:
“I am proud to announce Jaguar’s return to racing with an entry into the innovative FIA Formula E championship. Electric vehicles will absolutely play a role in Jaguar Land Rover’s future product portfolio and Formula E will give us a unique opportunity to further our development of electrification technologies. The Championship will enable us to engineer and test our advanced technologies under extreme performance conditions.”
So in an even more direct link to its past, for the first time in decades, Jaguar will take the lessons learned on the track and apply them to future cars. And if the XK140, XKSS, E-Type and XJ220 are any indication of a pattern, the company is at its best when it’s bringing tech from the track to the street.
Jaguar’s partner in its Formula E campaign will be Williams Advanced Engineering, a major engineering firm in the racing world, and the company that helped develop Jaguar’s 2010 C-X75 concept. Billed as “The Most Advanced Jaguar Ever Created,” the closest the C-X75 ever came to production was appearing in the James Bond film Spectre. Now that it’s back in the racing game, Jag’s next race-bred supercar has no reason to not be green-lit from day one. Sure, it’s return to racing is a cause to celebrate in and of itself, but why not dream a little too?
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.
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