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Jaguar Formula One Races On

by Larry Roberts

January 22, 2001

When the U.S. Grand Prix was in its final preparation stages last September, we commented that as a company, Jaguar had a lot at stake in the race, and not just in the dash for the winner's circle. A Jaguar spokesperson somewhat nervously alluded to the fact that name recognition and brand reinforcement were important considerations in the stratified world of big-ticket "niche" cars like the various Jaguar models. In effect, the message was that if Jaguar's name was on the podium at an event like our Formula One race at Indianapolis, dealers could look forward to an influx of carriage-trade patrons coming in to buy their small S-Type four-seaters, XK8 sports cars and big XJ sedans.

Unfortunately, Jaguar's seventh-place finish may be OK to Formula One aficionados who understand these things but to the average patron of a Jaguar dealership it meant only one thing - Jaguar lost. But at least it didn't detract from sales.

Since its glamorous and well publicized entry into Formula One, things have not gone well for the Leaping Cat. When it was Stewart Racing and the personal property of the popular Jackie "Wee Scot" Stewart, a world champion many times decades ago, the team was an underdog and therefore a sentimental favorite. But Stewart is gone and it's hard to consider Jaguar Racing an "underdog" since it has the might and money of Ford behind it.

Now going into its second year, the Jaguar Formula One team has undergone a plethora of changes. The old corporate-type management is out and in its place is the benevolent dictatorship of our own Bobbie Rahal who's last job was running the organizationally-plagued CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams). Rahal is upbeat (or at least pragmatic) about the future of Jaguar Racing. "We have experienced a challenging first year in the sport," he said, "but implemented changes that we feel are necessary to deliver our objectives."

Among those changes is a change in the "office" of one of the race cars. Veteran driver Johnny Herbert is gone, having opted to go racing here with CART. In his place is former second-banana Eddie Irvine who in turn surrenders this position to 25-year-old Luciano Burti, a driver who steps up from being "developmental driver" for Jaguar Racing.

New too are the cars themselves. Last year's mount, the R1, has been replaced by the R2 which has a number of differences from its predecessor. Unfortunately, it hasn't proven to have any better luck than the R1 in early testing at Valencia, Spain. After only a few laps, Irvine slid off the track so violently into a gravel trap that the car had to be sent back to be rebuilt. Cause of the mishap is "unknown" according to another Jaguar spokesperson.

But the unflappable Rahal is calmly pressing on and is still going forward with determination, secure in the notion that Jaguar Racing will "...deliver our objectives."

But in a candid moment chronicled in the magazine "Jaguar Racing," Rahal commented that he'd come to turn the fortunes of the team around 180-degrees. "If not," he says, "they'll have my head.