Does Le Mans owe a debt of gratitude to Jaguar?
Obviously after countless years of going to Le Mans, I have so many special memories, but nothing compares to the Jaguar wins in 88 and in 1990. It would be fantastic if Jaguar returned to Sportscar Racing but 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 1960s the figures for UK fans 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 race, 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 simply incredible! The patriotic news of their wins even filtered back home to the UK with TV and newspapers carrying a least one report on the race.
When group C suddenly ended, it was almost like the fans were in a kind of 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 mid 1990s and 2000s attendance at the race fell dramatically, but Le mans could always rely on an influx of at least 30,000 to 40,000 British fans.
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 changed the rules and they obstinately went their own way. This did not attract many new manufactures.
So what was it about Jaguar?....... Bentley, McLaren and Aston Martin all raced at Le Mans but they have never achieved the same kind of draw! I wonder if Jaguar returned as a works team today, whether there would be the same kind of support. Lets face it the scenes were unbelievable the first time around.
I kind of wonder whether the ACO should be chasing them to return, and not us just wishing! 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.
The album below is a collection of mostly professional pictures and our man on the inside Ken Wells. It spans all the great Jaguar years. with still many more pictures to be added! Other high quality photographs of the Jaguars are in other albums across the site. use search above.