Might Jaguar return to Le Mans?

With just over two weeks to go before Le Mans, our deputy editor wonders whether we actually see Volvo or Jaguar join the World Endurance Championship ranks?

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With renewed interest from manufacturers, regulation changes promoting hybrid longevity and reduced running costs, higher than anticipated grid numbers already in 2015, and increased interest in worldwide media promotion, next season could be a great year for the World Endurance Championship. And with Nissan the latest to throw its hat in the ring with the GT-R LM Nismo, we wonder whether two other manufacturers will be joining the WEC ranks soon…

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As a seven-time winner at Le Mans, a three-time World Sportscar Championship winner and possibly the only premium brand without an active motorsport campaign (Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, Bentley, Lexus, hell, even Infiniti), this seems inevitable, and would be a fanboy wet dream. A burgeoning road car division have left many wondering what Jaguar’s next step will be, and with an F-TYPE GT3 – seemingly – already in the works to take on the road-going Porsche 911 GT3, a track-going model could make an appearance within the next two years. Not the biggest of steps to a full GT3 racing program.

It’s a solid – and popular – thought, but seems unlikely. The company’s last GT3 program with the XK after all didn’t go particularly well, and millions of dollars of investment in its Formula 1 team heralded just two podiums from five seasons. Moreover, with the F-TYPE already producing record sales and the new F-PACE SUV set to become one of its best-selling models worldwide, could Jaguar realistically pull together a race outfit AND provide the full-time commitment required to hit the top? It seems unlikely, and that’s before we consider the sheer cost involved: strong road car sales may help balance the books, but it almost certainly would not be enough to cover a full race program, particularly given the company’s already on-going technical partnership with the Bloodhound SSC land speed record project.

Awesome as it would be, we’re unlikely to see a Jaguar LMP1 prototype competing for Le Mans honours anytime soon. Which brings us neatly to…

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Before you start laughing, there is a small sense of rational involved here.

True, Volvo recently suggested that its time in motorsport could be coming to an end. The brand has basically won everything it needs to in the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship (a series in which it has competed off and on since 1996), and though it’s first season in International V8 Supercars in Australia proved an eye-opener to critics, success since then has been more difficult to come by. There are suggestions Volvo could mount a World or British Touring Car Championship assault, but with the steamroller that is Citroën ruling the waves in the former and the enormous competitiveness in the latter, both seem unlikely returns on investment. And does anybody remember the last time a works Volvo hit the World Rally Championship stages? It’s no real wonder that International Marketing Director Alain Visser considers that motorsport “does not conform to the brand, where we stand for smaller engines and safety” Hold on one minute though Mister Visser, since there is one other arena that might be worth considering: sports cars.

For a company wishing to promote smaller and more efficient engines, a series specialising in hybrid four-stroke engines not exceeding 5500cc seems ideal. For a company looking to push its presence in North America, eight flyaway races and a new worldwide media rights deal locked in place for at least the next two years, it’s a good opportunity. For a company who’s promotion of road safety betters possibly anyone else, ever more-stringent regulations for renewed driver safety (following insane high speed crashed for Anthony Davidson and Allan McNish) would surely fit like the proverbial racing glove.

Of course, like any racing programs, there will be costs to consider. And chuffing enormous they’re be too for the top of the bill LMP1 Hybrid class. However, take one step back, and the lower tier LMP2 might herald the answer. With changes set to take place for the first time since 2007 to lower running costs and increase media promotion, LMP2 could be THE place for newcomers. True, the team would be unable to compete as ‘Volvo’, given the ineligibility of manufacturer entries, but an engine deal or even a race entry with long time performance partners Polestar Racing (or even Garry Rogers Motorsport) could bridge that loophole nicely.

Are we likely to see either Volvo or Jaguar competing for Le Mans honours in 2016? Almost certainly not. Still, intriguing prospect, isn’t it…?

Source – Lights Are On But No One’s Home. And if you wanted to see what Ferrari would look like back at Le Mans…


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