Lime Rock Raceway, Conn. – Just how different the current lineup of Jaguars is from its days as a Ford, can’t be demonstrated more clearly than adding an “R” to the letters on the car’s boot (trunk in American cars)
That means the performance has been made the center of this already luxurious car and you can add it to an XF or the two-seat XK. And when you buy one of these you also get a day at the Jaguar Performance School.
One of the problems of buying an expensive and powerful performance car such as this is never being able to drive it to its fullest capability. Do it so on a public street could land you in jail, not just in traffic court, because that’s how capable these cars are.
Secondly, having the money to afford this kind of car doesn’t mean being able to actually drive it quickly, effectively and well. In fact, as fast as most people think they are, when they ride with a professional racer, they’re quickly humbled. That’s why almost all the manufacturers of high-performance models have programs to teach owners how to take advantage of their car’s capabilities.
That’s why dealers want their “R” model buyers to attend the Jaguar Performance School. This is a one-day course that runs in several locations throughout the country, and was recently conducted at Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park. If you want to bring someone else, you can, for $2000. The programs are so popular that Jaguar now runs advanced courses, again for a fee.
Most of this full day of training takes place in the car with a racing driver instructing you. The idea is to learn in a controlled and reasonably safe environment. The course is closed to other users, and when on the track, everyone wears a helmet. Having said that, it’s still possible to get hurt, which is the reason for those helmets.
Instructors are racing professionals, including Indy Car champions Davy Jones and Roberto Guerrero, who also ran 29 Formula One races. Several other racing instructors with specialties from drifting to ice racing join them in helping owners learn what else their Jaguars can do in addition to sounding stunningly aggressive.
The roar of these engines comes from their being supercharged V8 powerplants delivering more than 500 hp. to the road. The exhaust tuning keeps the sound modulated under normal driving, but plant your foot and this car’s sound seriously reflects its name.
In the morning, every driver is evaluated, then taught how to improve their driving through a series of exercises. To start off, you put the car in its most dynamic mode, and turn the suspension assists to their track settings. Interestingly, what you learn here actually makes these Jaguar owners safer and more skilled road drivers, particularly in bad and slippery conditions.
That’s because what they’re being taught is how the weight and balance of the car affects the car’s handling and how to use that to their advantage. At speed on a racetrack, the level of grip can be much like that in rain or snow on a highway. The second factor that improves on-road driving is learning to evaluate circumstances and make quick decisions; if you can’t do that on a racetrack, you aren’t on the racetrack for long.
Learning about the car’s weight and balance is particularly helped by spending some time driving around on the skid pad, a broad section of concrete soaked with water. With all the electronic driving assists off, the idea is to get the car to slide sideways and then to control it. Once you can do that, then drivers learn to slide sideways and keep going in the slide as long as possible.
It’s seriously tough to violate the rules by letting the car slide, and this exercise often results in a spin. But that’s how you learn — and also feel — what the car does in a slide. You’ll then recognize it when it happens in the future, and you’ll know just what to do.
A second exercise used an oval, much like a small NASCAR track. Here, drivers learned to brake hard in a straight line, turn into the corner at exactly the same place, and then accelerate out of the corner, and how to do it over and over again. This sounds boring, but was the best training tool of the day. Fast driving is all about precision and consistency.
And after a bit of Lime Rock’s small autocross track to teach the importance of smoothness, the class spent the rest of the day on the racetrack. Students started out by following an instructor nose to tail around the race track, taking turns being directly behind the instructor. The idea is following the instructor is the fastest way of learning how to drive the proper racing line. With each session the lap speeds go up.
Then you could choose to have an instructor jump in with you in either the XK-R or XF-R, and head out of individual instruction at your speed of choice and capability. At the end of the day, each student got in with either Davy or Roberto and was shown what a real hot lap was like.
There was a consistency to how the participants reacted. First, all enjoyed it, naturally. Most of them — even the guys who thought they knew what they were doing — admitted to learning a lot. Most were surprised at how important exacting discipline and control was to going fast. It’s more about the value of having some skill and knowledge and being more prepared for the unexpected than it is about bravery.
Most owners were better at driving on the track than they expected to be. Several discovered it was a lot harder than they expected to go fast, and that what they thought was going fast, wasn’t at all. All were more capable drivers than they’d been at the day’s start. And it seemed all were really, really glad they’d bought a Jaguar.
Jaguar dealers probably are glad about that.