IMSA 1990 retrospective: Jags punish the Sunbank 24 field

Image courtesy Daytona International Speedway

IMSA 1990 retrospective: Jags punish the Sunbank 24 field

Vintage Motorsport / Historic

IMSA 1990 retrospective: Jags punish the Sunbank 24 field

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Although they didn’t know it at the time, the TWR Jags were making history with their speed. Ignoring what the turbo GTP cars could do over a single lap in qualifying, their race pace either proved to be reckless while attempting to keep tabs on the XJR-12D drivers, or were simply insufficient to stay in touch with the big cats.

“When you take Jan Lammers and Andy Wallace and myself, you know all three of us, we could do the exact same lap time, lap, after lap, after lap,” Jones said. “We all three of us pretty much sat in the same seating position, so it didn’t take long to do a driver change; and we all looked after the car. We always said to ourselves, any time one of us gets into that car, we want that car to think it’s the same driver. Making the same moves. The three of us — I think it was just a stellar team.”

Jones also took pride in eliminating big swings in speed throughout the race.

Well out in the lead and on route to a spectacular victory … Image courtesy Daytona International Speedway

“I always look at these long endurance races … You get a car that’s super-fast in the beginning and it’s setting its own pace, and everybody’s trying to catch up with it. And you think the first couple hours (that) nobody’s going to beat this car; they’re way out front,” he continued. “And then you get through the middle of the night, get the next morning, and they’re nowhere to be seen. All of a sudden the car that started the race at mid-pack is up front and setting the pace, and everybody’s trying to hang with them.

Being part of the trend-setting team that turned the Daytona 24 Hours into a non-stop sprint race is another area where Jones finds immense gratification.

“Back in 1990, that’s when it was starting to make the turn from ‘let’s just cruise around and get into the morning Sunday, then we can start setting our pace,’” he said. “Well, 1990 it started to come together where each hour was almost like a sprint race, which it is today. I mean, the 24 Hours of Daytona and Le Mans today, it’s just every lap is like a qualifying lap, and the cars are reliable now, they’re finishing within seconds of each other after 24 hours of running.”

It’s a good thing the TWR cars were so fast. By amassing such a large lead over the depleted GTP field, the leading No. 60 Jag and the No. 61 running in lockstep were able to weather mechanical and engine hiccups of their own. The No. 60 was the first to blink after 20 of the 24 hours were recorded when braking issues forced the car to pit lane for a lengthy brake system fix.

Handed the lead, the No. 61 was soon hit with overheating woes as the V12 motor consumed its coolant, handing the lead back to the No. 60.

“They knew that if we had any overheating issues, that they had a system that they could depressurize and add water to the hot engine within just seconds, which we had ended up using towards the end of the race,” Jones said. “It was well thought out, well planned. Tony Dowe, he’s a mastermind at that. And Ian Reed, I think the two of them just gave us a really, really capable team that just did what they had to do.”

The No. 60 also dealt with rising temperatures in the engine bay that put Jaguar’s anticipated win at risk.

“The truth is, we were racing each other,” Martin Brundle said of his No. 60. “I do remember when they came in for their water issues, I’m thinking we got this one covered, (but then) the car appeared to be running hot, hot, hot … and a little bit hotter. But then it came back, the temperature gauge came back. It was an analog gauge and at that point you think, ‘Okay yes, we’re going to be okay.’

“Well, that was (actually) the signal that there was no water passing the (temperature) sensor at that point! Basically, you’d run out of water. You’re getting a bit from this crazy little gauge, thinking, ‘Yeah, yeah, we got this under control.’ And that was actually the beginning of your problems…”

With the Jags topped up with water, and the No. 61 leading the No. 60 in the final charge to the checkered flag, Dowe had to implement team orders to keep his chief engineer from turning the contest into a XJR-12D drag race. Down a couple of laps, there was more to lose than gain by having Brundle’s car take the fight to Jones’ entry.

“We actually had to cool it for the last two and a half hours because the cars were out of water, both of them,” he explained. “I had to really get uppity with Ian Reed. (His car) was in second place and he was trying to win it, and he was totally dehydrated and trying to gain time in pit stops and stuff like that. And I had to step in and say, ‘Well, that’s the finishing order. That’s the way we’re going to be.’ Because if there had been a Porsche there to push us, we would’ve been in trouble.”

At the finish line, Jones completed the 761st lap, which was a new distance record of 2709.16 miles for the 23 editions of the Daytona 24 Hours. The average speed of 112.857mph set by Jones, Lammers, and Wallace over 24 hours was another record.

Considering all of the time and technology that has gone into the latest IMSA DPi prototypes, it’s rather impressive to know the current distance record, set in 2018, only moved the lap count up to 808 and the distance record to 2876.48 miles.

Another legacy from the 1990 race was the destruction that took place behind the Jags. GTP teams attempting to match their stride paid for the costly effort as the 15 GTP cars that started the race were reduced to four at the top of the results. After the TWR 1-2, the Bayside Porsche held on the capture third, another 962 was fourth (albeit 57 laps behind the winning No. 61 XJR-12D), and in fifth, the IMSA GTO class-winning Lincoln Mercury XR7 from Jack Roush Racing chased home the quartet of GTP finishers.

Image by Marshall Pruett

For Jones, the 1990 overall Daytona victory would stand as his greatest achievement in North American racing. In 1996, the Chicago native would add another 24-hour win at Le Mans. Decades later, Jones stands as the last American to visit the top step of the podium at the world’s most famous endurance race.

“You tell people about the 24 Hours of Daytona and their eyes light up,” he says. “It’s because it is quite an achievement to win this race, and I think most important is to win the Rolex watch. That’s a trophy that’s with you all the time; that’s not something that you just put on a shelf somewhere. It is a very special race, as well as Le Mans. Le Mans, it was gratifying to win that. I didn’t really realize, it doesn’t set in that you won a race like Daytona or Le Mans until weeks after, to tell you the truth. Because you are so focused and you’re just there to do a job, and when you do your job and you do it the best you can and you win it’s like you’ve achieved it.

“But when you look back, you say, ‘Man that was a big deal. That was quite something.’”

Dowe took a workmanlike approach to TWR’s best day at Daytona.

“I might sound arrogant, but I would’ve been disappointed if we hadn’t got 1-2, because we’d done the hard yards the previous year and we had really good people, and we had good planning, and we executed,” he said. “So from that point of view, it wasn’t a surprise that we achieved.”

Owing to the high heat and humidity, and the ragged, unrelenting attack on time and speed over 24 hours, Jones and his co-drivers rewarded themselves after the podium ceremonies were complete.

“We had one of these strict diets where you can only consume water and electrolytes, and back then, we’re eating pasta and buckwheat rolls and stuff like that, fig bars,” Jones said. “And after you win a race like that you just want to just have a beer and a pizza and cheeseburger with onions — just make up for being healthy for a few weeks.”

The pint-size Dutchman Lammers also wanted something sweet to close the event. We’ll let Jones finish the story of TWR Jaguar’s amazing Daytona win on its 30th anniversary.

“One of the stories that’s funny is Lammers — he always seeked out the ice cream shops wherever we were racing,” he said. “And I wasn’t sure if it was because he liked the scoops of ice cream, or because he liked the girls that were scooping it up…”

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