RETRO: When Jaguar stunned Daytona

RETRO: When Jaguar stunned Daytona

IMSA

RETRO: When Jaguar stunned Daytona

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IMSA’s favorite teams and fastest drivers struggled to grasp the enormity of what had just taken place after 24 hours of frenzied racing.

Porsche’s streak of 11 consecutive wins at Daytona International Speedway, including back-to-back victories in 1986 and 1987 by Al Holbert Racing with its proven 962 prototype, had been broken.

The culprit, Tom Walkinshaw Racing USA’s upstart program, still in its infancy, stole the show in 1988. And to make matters worse for IMSA’s old guard, TWR’s high-tech Jaguar XJR-9 ended Porsche’s reign on its first try.

Although it wasn’t immediately known in Victory Lane, Porsche’s time as IMSA’s GTP powerhouse had come to an end. TWR’s big cats, Nissan’s GTP ZX-Turbos, and All American Racers’ Toyotas would take ownership of the series’ top class in the months and years ahead. Beyond the closure of the 962 era on January 31, 1988, the sheer intensity of the race also served as a turning point for IMSA.

A flat-out sprint had been waged on Daytona’s high banks as GTP’s version of cat-and-mouse tore around the 3.56-mile circuit near the limit. The turbocharged prototypes owned the banking and long straights, the naturally-aspirated GTPs like the Jags claimed the infield, and few survived without stops to repair the parts that could be replaced – provided outright failure didn’t bring an end to the day. What we have today – effectively a qualifying race spread across the last weekend in January – was spawned by XJR-9 and 962 drivers in 1988.

The best Porsche could muster was second with Busby Racing’s polesitting, BFGoodrich-shod 962, and behind the German machine, the podium was completed with another XJR-9.

First and third on its American debut, the British raiders stunned onlookers 30 years ago at Daytona. With the help of TWR USA team manager Tony Dowe and two of the three winning drivers – Martin Brundle and Raul Boesel, who were joined on the day by John Nielsen – take a trip back to one of the great editions of the 24 Hours of Daytona.

SOUNDS LIKE A CON JOB

“It was the hardest 16 weeks of my life,” Dowe said from his home in Australia.

As part of the Newman Haas Racing team in 1987, Dowe was in his native England to look at the new 1988 Lola Indy car chassis coming for Mario Andretti, but after an invitation to meet Walkinshaw at Brands Hatch was made, the resulting change in employment would turn Dowe’s life upside down.

“That was the 1st of October 1987, and I rushed back to the States, handed my notice in, I found a facility in Valparaiso in Indiana, which we bought – and there’s even a load of stories in that,” he said (below).

“I needed a $10,000 deposit to secure the building for the next day, otherwise it was going to someone else, so I found a lawyer in downtown Chicago that had a branch in London, and I went down and saw one of the head directors and convinced him to loan me $10,000 and that TWR would take $10,000 into their branch in London the next day. The guy’s name was Bert Ritchie, and he did it. What a star. I had the biggest pair of balls you’ve ever seen at that time, and we got the building.”

NOW GET BUSY

“We had to get the building set up for a race shop. We had to hire people,” Dowe continued. “We had to build cars, and we tested at Daytona; Big Spring, Texas, which had zero facilities, so that that highlighted if there was anything missing in the team structure and so on.”

TWR’s XJR-8 was coming off winning the 1987 World Sportscar Championship, and with its production-based 7.0-liter V12 engine in the back, the Jags were mighty on smooth European tracks. Capturing eight wins from 10 races, only the misses at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and a short race at the Norisring prevented a clean sweep of the season.

But how would TWR fare in America, on the rough circuits that comprised IMSA’s calendar, and with a de-stroked, IMSA-compliant 6.0-liter V12 in the new XJR-9?

BETTER THAN ANOTHER SEASON OF F1 WITH ZAKSPEED

Brundle’s 1987 season, spent with the lowly Zakspeed F1 team, was largely forgettable. Despite one points-scoring result, the underfunded team and its explosion-prone turbo four-cylinder engine left the Briton with little hope of attracting a better ride in 1988. An old association with TWR dating back to 1979 would help Brundle determine where his career was headed after F1.

“I’d made a very difficult decision, talked into it by Tom Walkinshaw, to leave Formula 1, which was a really painful thing to do as I’d spent so much of my life trying to get there, but [chose to] voluntarily leave because there wasn’t any really good drives around,” Brundle said (below).

“He said, ‘Look, I think your career will have an upturn if you go sports car racing,’ and he was right because I was lucky enough to be part of the winning team at Daytona straight away – race one. I’d raced a Jaguar before in Group C in ’85 and ’87, but this was full-time, and then I became World Sportscar Champion later that year with lots of victories.”

YOU SURE TALK FUNNY

Brundle’s American baptism in the XJR-9 came at the most American of tracks, the big and perilously fast NASCAR oval in Talladega, Alabama. What better way to prepare for the challenges of lapping Daytona at obscene speeds for 24 hours than to sample Talladega’s torture chamber?

“We popped over there, which was quite interesting, going around Talladega in a V12 Jag, and it literally all came together at the last minute with [Ian Reed] engineering it and the gang,” he said. “Pete Hodge was over there. He’s now with Mercedes-Benz in Formula 1, but so a really good gang. Really a can-do, will-do attitude, and it sort of all came together just in time for the race.”

After trading Monaco for the charms of the Deep South, Brundle was taken aback by the sky-high angles at play on the 2.5-mile stock car oval.

“I think it’s the banking that caught my attention,” he said. “I remember going around with [TWR driver] Jan Lammers, and we stopped a rent-a-car on the banking and it was pretty… Is that 39 degrees, at Talladega?”

Behind the scenes, possibly unaware of the lessons Talladega provided, Brundle’s team and the XJR-9’s designer were scrambling to address foreboding issues.


“We did another test at Talladega before Daytona,” Dowe said. “I have to tell you, it was like World War III. The [XJR-8] had just won the World Championship, and [then] Daytona sputtered out. The oil system in the engine; all the oil was going up the right-hand side of the engine in the banking, starving the left-hand side, and the front wheel bearings were, I want to say, [from] a production[-based] Renault. They were a nylon piece, and they kept melting. Tony Southgate was the designer, and he was very touchy about changing anything on his car.

“So we had to have a long session with Tom to explain we needed some proper roller bearings, some proper bearings in the front uprights, otherwise it wasn’t worth going. It got done, but obviously it was a new spindles and bearings and so on…”

As Dowe recalls, the Talladega test would, in a surprisingly direct manner, play a vital role in TWR’s win in June of 1988 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“The things that we pushed for to make the car reliable [for Daytona] were things that meant that it got home at Le Mans,” he said.

LOADING IN

TWR USA took on its maiden Daytona visit with a trio of Indiana-built XJR-9s. Getting the cars out of the Valparaiso shop and into the transporters for the haul to Florida was the first leg of Dowe’s logistical race, and once they loaded into the track, more revelations came.

“Well, I think Tom wanted to run three cars on the basis that we might get one home,” he deadpanned. “I don’t think he thought he could win it. We should have been first, second, and third, but one of the cars, I think, with [Davy Jones] and [Danny] Sullivan and [Lammers], dropped a valve after about 18 hours. Without that, I think we would’ve been first, second, and third instead of just first and third.

“That really did make Tom aware that we actually knew what we were doing, because obviously, everything was completely and utterly new. And then, what was good was the way all the guys came together and worked. Even loading the truck in Valparaiso, we were under two foot of snow, and to get trolleys and pit equipment and goodness-knows what else done, it was a mega effort.

“The hard bit – well, actually it wasn’t hard because the drivers; I don’t know what they expected. I mean, they certainly didn’t expect Daytona to be harder than Le Mans, which it was. You went from freezing in the middle of the night to 20-odd degrees [Celsius; 68 Fahrenheit] in the heat of the day, so some of the peripherals like team clothing and food and so on lwere really hard to deal with. We were blackmailed into going with the Daytona Speedway’s catering instead of our own, and that always turned up late and it wasn’t good quality, but [as] new boys on the block, that’s what we had to deal with.”

GREEN FLAG

With Mauro Baldi’s Busby 962 on pole, Brundle’s No. 60 XJR-9 on the outside of the front row, and the sister Jags in fourth and sixth, the three-car TWR assault looked like a Castrol-sponsored train as they raced to the green flag.

Meandering humidity and ambient temperatures, in concert with Southgate’s front-mounted radiators, meant the XJR-9 drivers fought wars on two fronts – inside the cockpit, and wheel to wheel at over 200mph – for hours on end. Lacking the brute power to live with the 962s, the Jags never relented, but also watched, somewhat helpless, as Porsche teams held a firm grip on the contest for most of the race.

Dyson Racing’s 962 was the first to charge into the distance until mechanical issues slowed their effort. More 962s from Busby’s team, Holbert’s team, A.J. Foyt Racing, Bruce Leven’s Bayside Racing, Hotchkis Racing, Walter Brun’s team and Kalagian Racing gave chase or led, and for the sports writers in attendance, “Porsche Wins A Dozen In A Row At Daytona” looked like the obvious headline well before the halfway mark.

Other less competitive GTP entries were also involved, and even Group 44, whose Jaguar XJR-7s served as the factory team through 1987, turned up and faced the long odds of getting between the Porsche vs TWR duel.

As the back-and-forth intensity continued up front, the No. 60 Jag eventually blinked and headed toward pit lane as the first of a few reliability hiccups struck in the darkness.

“We actually had a couple of guys from TWR in England,” Dowe said. “We got three or four guys given to us, and I think they were the renegades that they didn’t want in England. But we had an electrical fuel pump problem in the middle of the night and we lost three laps fixing an electrical short on the fuel pumps, and they did an absolutely mega job, in the dark, fixing the pumps – which fortunately were in the left-hand side pod – and we got [them swapped], and they ran.”

Facing a worrying deficit on the lap chart, Dowe let his stars drive with total abandon as the No. 60 sat third among TWR’s entries.

“I’ve still got some film of Brundle and Lammers racing each other and they were like – if Tom had seen what was going on…” he said. “They raced like [they were in] Formula 1. Maybe not quite as much, but really, really hard against each other, which was a good thing. It dragged us up the field.”

THE MAN WITH THE UNPRONOUNCEABLE NAME WAS IMPRESSED

Swedish racer Eje Elgh can testify to the heroics involved with the No. 60’s comeback performance.

“Eje Elgh was in the race and he still comes up to me at Grands Prix,” Brundle said. “He’s involved with Marcus Ericsson who drives for Sauber, but at one point we had to make a bit of a comeback through the field because we had some electrical glitches, and I think I hit the inside of the pit wall – we’ll talk about that in a minute – and we’d got a long way behind.


“We had to work the yellow [flags] hard, and I came up against some Porsches who were stuck behind a load of GT cars coming out of the final turn; what would be turn four and on the banked [part of the] circuit. I just went flat out down onto the apron, gathered it all up – I’m sure it kicked up a big plume of dust – and climbed back onto the banking, because I was such a new boy, too. It didn’t occur to me that that might not be a very smart thing to do. I passed six cars all in one go, including Eje Elgh who still comes up to me to this day,to say, ‘How did you do that? How did you get past this whole [group] – down on the apron?’ That’s the kind of downforce that Jaguar had.”

BAKED WITHOUT THE SUN

The challenge of living close to the limit, in difficult conditions, with XJR-9s that made prodigious speed, was compounded by the lack of lighting in most corners around the expansive Daytona facility. The Jaguars might have been capable of enduring all 24 hours, but that wasn’t the case for many within TWR USA’s driver rotation.

“First of all, they were driving, let’s say, 9/10ths the whole time,” Dowe said. “And secondly, they had driven these cars at Le Mans and other places in the heat. But they hadn’t had the extremes from the middle of the night, and you’ve got to remember those days, there was only the start/finish straight [that] was lit, so the rest of it was pitch dark, absolutely pitch dark. That was pretty stressful on the guys, when you’re threading your way through some of the [slower] GTUs and things like that were out there.

“The cars… you didn’t have power steering. You had pretty sticky tires. Dunlop were really good because we had different compounds for the heat of the day, getting cold and dark. And we didn’t run just softer tires, we had a different compound on left front, right front, left rear, right rear. The tire guys were absolutely flat-out the whole time. It was usually about 40 minutes for a tank of fuel, maybe 45, and by the time you’ve recovered, got the next set of tires set up at the wall, and then you’ve got the next set that’s going to go on ready and properly pressured… it’s fairly intense.”

SLIPPERY FAST

Florida’s ever-changing weather ensured rain and fog entered the race in the pre-dawn hours on Sunday. Brazil’s Boesel, adept at racing on slick surfaces, put the gummy Dunlops to work and clawed back more time in the No. 60.

“The rain was coming in my stint and a lot of cars stopped for wet tires, and they told me also to stop for them, but I said no,” Boesel recalled. “I wanted to keep going because the rain was not that bad for me, and I knew we could be a lot faster – a lot faster – if I go with very soft dry tires, This was one more way time came back to us; this drive in the rain was one of my best.”

VIKING TIME

John Nielsen (below), a Dane with the physique of a linebacker, would carry the No. 60 effort on his shoulders as Boesel and Brundle wilted after their exertions.

“The Jags were fearsome cars, and Daytona is the toughest motor race I’ve ever done because of the infield,” Brundle said. “It’s a little bit bumpy. You’ve got the banking. It’s hard. You’ve got, I think, 13 hours of darkness, at least. You’ve got the humidity in the daytime. Shifting in the Jag, you’ve got a V12 engine strapped to your shoulder like a rucksack, and everything in those [cars] just goes up. The whole thing was a heatsink that just got hotter and hotter through the race.

“If I remember, Raul Boesel flaked a little bit [and] physically struggled, so it was kind of ‘Super John’ and me carrying it all the way nearly to the end. They were incredibly physical cars, and it was a physical race. I’ve won a lot of races together with John Nielsen, and he was built very solidly, shall we say, so when things got tough, you could put Super John in the car, the Viking, and he could drive forever.”

SNEAKY DUTCHMAN

Even Nielsen had his limits.

After trailing for so long, mishaps and other dramas with most of the Porsche army had boiled the race down to a faceoff between the No. 60 Jag and Busby’s leading 962 with veteran Brian Redman behind the wheel. It was a collision between Redman and TWR’s Sullivan in the struggling No. 66 XJR-9 – the Cat with the unhappy engine – as the Porsche attempted to lap the Jag that set the finish in motion.

A blown tire, likely as a result of the contact with Sullivan, shredded the 962’s nose and cost the Busby team time it couldn’t afford in the pits as repairs were affected. Holding a modest one-lap lead over the Busby team as the final hours of the race drew near, keeping the Porsche at bay would require some lateral thinking by Walkinshaw.

If you’re wondering how Holland’s Lammers (below), who was entered in the No. 61 Jag, was mentioned by Dowe as one of the drivers who helped make up the lost laps in the No. 60, you aren’t alone. Brundle had the same question 30 years ago on pit lane.

“Towards the end, we were leading and Raul was exhausted,” he said. “John was even exhausted, and I got out of the car right near the very end, jumped out, helped the other driver get in, and as we did that and put seatbelts on, gave him a quick debrief, stepped back, shut the door and watched as the car drove out of the pit, and then I realized it was Jan Lammers I’d just put in the car! It wasn’t John Nielsen. What’s Jan Lammers doing in our car?


“I went to find Walkinshaw. I was pretty depleted of all necessary items to function well in terms of fluids and minerals, and just generally I was exhausted and I had a really… Tom was like a second father to me. He was my mentor. I wrote to him when I was 19 and asked him to give me a chance, and at that particular time, he did. I drove for Tom from 1979 through to the mid-90s, and we had a big shouting match and I demanded to know why I’d put Jan in the car.

“I said, ‘We got it this far. We can get it to the end,’ and he basically said, ‘You’re exhausted.’ I said, ‘I’m not exhausted.’ He said, ‘Look. Alright, sonny. It’s my team. I’ll do exactly what I want,’ so I spun around and stormed off in anger, at which point I realized I was no longer going to be in the car. My race was over. The adrenaline dropped, and I just keeled over and was slumped up against a truck wheel out the back of the pits, absolutely exhausted.

“And the first guy to come along and trip over me was Tom Walkinshaw, of course, who had made his point that I was exhausted. As I was saying, the car, I think they ran 55°C (131°F) inside pretty much the whole race. It was a three-driver race, and so we were pretty exhausted. The banking, I think, caused that because you get that vertical G-force on the banking, not the lateral, with a Jag that’s got a venturi underneath it that you could live in it’s so big, [there’s] so much downforce coming from underneath the thing. It just literally just pulled us apart inside the car.”

CRASH-TESTING THE XJR-9

The fuel pumps weren’t the only issue to stand in the way of victory for the No. 60. A failed electronic control unit needed to be replaced at one point – and then there was that incident between Brundle and an inanimate object.

“You will not believe what I’m about to tell you,” Dowe declared. “In those days, you didn’t have a pit lane speed limit, and the cars would come off the turn four banking and head down the pit lane and they’d be doing about 180 miles an hour in the fast lane.

“At three in the morning, you knew you were alive because the hairs stood up on the back of your neck. We always set up camp down where the Union 76 thing was so the drivers had something to aim for at 180 miles an hour. I would trade almost anything to go back to that now. That was racing, not coming down the pit lane at 45 miles an hour. We raced, and that’s what was amazing.

“That’s what I remember, and I think the drivers do. A great example is, Brundle came in and was staying in the car – we were double-stinting drivers to start with.

“There were no tire warmers in IMSA. We had a spool [in the gearbox]; we didn’t have a [differential], and he spooled up the rear tires, and he got driven into the barrier where you turn left to go back onto the track, and he smashed the nose. I had to talk him around the lap. You’ve never heard such a s***-scared driver as what Marty was, so I talked him around, came in, put in new nose on and said, ‘Be careful on your way out’.”

ONE OF TWO

Brundle’s crash was resolved with the installation of a replacement nosepiece. With the race still going, the tattered remains of the Jag’s meeting with pit wall were not relegated to the trash bin.

“Well, with how marginal everything was… we had a great composite guy called ‘Iggy’ – Ian Goldston. Iggy collected all the bits up and spent the rest of the race piecing it all back together, gluing it back together and shaping it into another spare nose,” Dower said.

“Tom Walkinshaw said to me, ‘Hey laddie, you’ve got a really good guy there. You see, he’s tried to repair that nose as a spare. That’s really impressive.’ And I said, ‘Yes, Tom, but that is the spare.’ Again, that’s all the stuff that goes on behind the curtain, but that was quite an impressive – just things like that.”

SNORING IN MY SOUP

Boesel, Brundle, and Nielsen survived the comeback attempt by Busby’s 962 and took the 1988 win by a single lap. The haggard looks on the faces of the TWR USA team and drivers after the checkered flag spoke to the physical and emotional toll that was paid along the way. Climbing in bed for a year was all Dowe was hoping for at that point.

“After the race at Daytona, Jaguar took us for dinner,” he said. “I’d been on my feet for 50 hours, easily, and I passed out in the food at the table. I mean, it was just like someone had pulled the pin and that was it. It was over. You didn’t even realize how special it was. That was the first 24-hour race win for TWR.”

THE TIPPING POINT

Daytona, including that initial test at Talladega, would ready TWR’s European team for its season in ways that ultimately proved invaluable. Brundle, an occasional guest in IMSA after his win, would return home and focus on winning the World Sportscar Championship as 1988 delivered TWR’s best year of racing.

“I went on to win the World Championship that year and Jaguar won Le Mans, and we started to win all over the world at that point,” he said. “For me, it was sort of a turning point really, where the Jaguar started to become dominant. So in that respect I don’t think it was such a surprise, and I think we all went there knowing we had a chance to win.

“First of all, the [IMSA] Porsches had great teams and great drivers and they had safety in numbers, so to beat them was pretty tough, to say the least, but it was – you know, and I started – I remember when I was part of the winning team at Le Mans with Price [Cobb] and John Nielsen [in 1990]. It was – you know, we were still fighting about how to beat the Porsches. It wasn’t like Jaguar took over the mantle and then just disappeared up the road, that’s for sure.”

BRUNDLE STILL NEEDS ANSWERS

Brundle would eventually get a second crack at F1 in 1991. He’d extend his Grand Prix career through 1996 before adding in more sports cars and other racing adventures—including a return to race at Daytona in Grand-Am—prior to making F1 commentary his key form of expression.

With all his success and the 30-year celebration of TWR’s finest day in America, Brundle is left with one lingering question that arose from the cockpit in 1988. And he’s still searching for the answer.

“I remember the beginning, a lot of cars in the race,” he said. “And still, 30 years later, I can remember – I believe it was a Corvette that had ‘Thanks Wendy’ written on the back of it. Back then there were a few more weekend warriors, so you were lapping some cars it seemed like every two or three laps because of the speed differential – and I don’t think I’m exaggerating too much of that.

“I do remember this car that always seem to catch in the kink or somewhere really uncomfortable with a closing speed of 100 miles an hour, that had ‘Thanks Wendy’ written on the back. To this day, I wonder who Wendy was…”

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