JAGUAR SHOULD BE AT LE MANS
Talking to the once head of the London Jaguar showroom, I asked did it make a difference the Le Mans wins "Oh yes for sure! On the Monday after the race we had customers straight in the door." He also went on to say that the sports car racers were so much more accessible "It was not uncommon for Johnny Dumfries or Martin Brundle to pop into the showroom and be accessible to the potential clients."
It kind of makes you feel they are yet again missing out on the real market place Le Mans. Have the new owners bought a company and not even looked at the massive crowds supporting those cars in the 1980s and wondered "What the hell was going on there, lets have some more of that!"
Does Le Mans owe a debt of gratitude to Jaguar?
Obviously after years of going to Le Mans I have many special memories but nothing compares to the Jaguar wins in 88 and in 1990. It would be fantastic if they returned but I wonder what would have happened to Le Mans if they had not raced?
In the 1950s a remarkable large contingent followed the race from the UK through radio and papers and some adventurers attended. In the 60S the figures were not amazing with only a small increase in the 1970s. I believe in the early 1980s about 20,000 Brits attended the race as travel became easier. But as soon as Group 44 Jaguar entered the numbers spiralled until the amazing heights of between 50,000 and 70,000+ in the works Jaguar years 1987 to 1991. The scenes and atmosphere were incredible and even spread the patriotic news back home to the UK with TV and newspapers carrying a least one report on the race.
When group C ended it was almost like the fans were in limbo with no great reason to attend the race apart from the fact that it was a great weekend away. Gradually this has become more the norm. Its a fantastic week that is a cross between a car festival and a stag do. I am not in anyway condemning this as I am the first to act like a child and drink to much. In the 1990s and 2000s attendance at the race fell dramatically but Le mans could all ways rely on an influx of at least 30,000 to 40,000 Brits.
If Jaguar had not entered in the 80s and shown the way would we have pretty empty camp-sites dotted around the circuit and there would have been minuscule crowds in the late 90s making the ACO finances rocky? In the new millennium Le Mans rules changed and they obstinately went their own way and did not attract new manufactures.
So what was it about Jaguar? Bentley, McLaren and Aston Martin all raced but have never been the same kind of draw! I wonder if Jaguar returned as a works team there would be the same kind of support. Lets face it the scenes were unbelievable the first time around. I just wonder whether the ACO should be chasing them to return and not us! We can only hope. The way I see it Jaguar created the British race in France, because with out them it would still be a few coach tours like in the 1970s and a much smaller party.