For fans of British sportscar racing, a collection of TWR Jaguars sat waiting in the assembly area of Goodwood SpeedWeek presented by Mastercard must surely be one of the most rousing sights possible. Well, until the powerful V-12s fired up and the Group C missiles actually started blasting round the Motor Circuit that is….
This Jaguar XJR‑12 is the most successful Group C car
Harking back to those glorious years when Jaguar claimed outright wins in both the Le Mans and Daytona 24-hour races in 1988 and 1990, the TWR demonstration was one of those not-to-be-missed moments of nostalgia.
We caught up with a man who was responsible for bringing along a XJR-12 which we believe is the single most successful Group C chassis ever. And that man is none other than Goodwood ever-present Mr Gary Pearson.
“The TWR demonstration was really lovely to see. I asked Martin Brundle if he wanted to drive this car, because it was his 1988 Championship winning car. He and Eddie Cheever won five World Championship races in this to finally take the overall in ’88 when it was a XJR-9. It was a XJR-9 for ’89 too. For 1990 it was upgraded to the XJR-12 and it ran at Le Mans from ’88 through to ’91. It finished second in ’91 to the Mazda.”
The World Sportscar Championship win Brundle secured in 1988 was done so with a record points haul, which goes some way to showing the dominant pairing of man and machine before Brundle would take first place at the 1990 24 Hours of Le Mans alongside John Nielsen and Price Cobb.
Observing Brundle reunite with his TWR charge was a real moment for the veteran Goodwood personality Pearson, who incredibly has attended every single Goodwood Revival and was present at the second ever Festival of Speed in a Ferrari GTO.
“Martin wasn’t getting dewy-eyed I wouldn’t say, but he was definitely getting wrapped up in the moment for sure. The nostalgia of it all. I took a couple of pictures of all the cars lined up and he was desperate for me to send them to him.”
Mr Pearson, with his quietly spoken manner and vast historic racing experience, is not the sort to get easily excited, but it's clear to see how much this moment meant to him, and everyone involved.
"Even in the car, he got out afterwards and was waxing-lyrical. It was amazing to see him back in it. Call it force of habit, or muscle memory, but he went straight to a knob on the dash, just like a road car to adjust the mirrors. Which was quite important at Le Mans with different sized drivers etc. It was completely automatic after all these years. I think it actually surprised him. It was just nice. I couldn’t have wanted a better or more deserving bloke to drive the car.”
And what a car it is. Weighing 900kg and powered by a 7.0-litre 60-degree SOHC V12 engine, the XJR-12s were capable of developing 730PS at 7,000 rpm, and of hitting 229 mph.
It was a great overall package but when pressed to identify a real defining characteristic, Gary points to the rear of the machine.
“The way the rear end works with the full ground effect, I think the V engine gave itself to that a lot better than the Porsche did, which was the main contemporary at the time through ‘87, ‘88. Before Mercedes just steamrolled everything. With the flat-six engine on the Porsches, you couldn’t get the depth of the tunnels where they start at the rear of the main bulkhead. So with the shape of V engine with the ground effect of the Jaguar, it created much better downforce which gave it the edge”.
Using his experience to describe the sensation of piloting one of these monsters, Gary says: "It is quite bumpy. I’ve driven an XJR-9 here in the past. On these big radial slicks, when they are cold, it certainly darts and weaves around a bit. But once they start to warm up, it’s lovely. They are just such attractive cars to drive. They are properly designed long distance cars. You sit in it and everything is comfortable. Everything is where it should be. The ergonomics are correct. If you sit in any successful Le Mans car, that is the common theme where driver fatigue is obviously an important issue.”
Talking to Gary you can feel the enthusiasm he has for this TWR XJR-12, his friends who drive them, and the period in which they raced. His only regret is not being able to share it with more people.
“The stream and TV coverage here is absolutely phenomenal, but it will never be the same as being in the assembly area or stood at a picket fence with all these V12s and some of the turbos running at the same time. It’s one of those spine-tingly moments that I know a lot of the TWR fans would have loved. But even though there’s no crowd here, it’s still a special weekend. It’s a lovely atmosphere and I think it was a fantastic idea to come up with the event. It has given us all a chance to play with these cars. Something none of us thought would be possible in the middle of the year. I’ve absolutely loved it.”
We thank Gary and leave him to his busy schedule, as he seamlessly juggles responsibilities between a host of priceless historic cars. None, we’d wager, will mean more to him however than his TWR XJR-12.
Photography by Pete Summers, Jordan Butters and Tom Shaxson.
Missing motorsport? Sign up for 2021 event updates
Our email newsletters contain all the latest news, stories, and important event information about our motorsport events