For most, this is an insane level of power being sent to the drive wheels of any vehicle. For owners of the Jaguar XFR and XKR, this is life. There is no test required to own a new, herculean Jaguar only a bundle of benjamins or a check from your favorite bank account. The price of a 2011 XFR is $80,000 and the 2011 XKR will set you back $96,000. Be it a stylish four-door or sleek two-door, both choices are powerful and beautiful luxury machines.
One who seeks to tame such a beast needs to know how to control it. Jaguar understands this and they have created the Jaguar R Performance Driving Academy. The price to attend this school? Actually, it’s included in the cost of the car…all you have to do is get your ass there and learn how to push your
Indian British rocket to its limit.
Jaguar has assembled a crew of some of the finest racing minds in the world, and their sole goal is to spend a day teaching R-car owners how to safely handle their vehicles. Each quarter in 2010, the crew and the cars travel to new tracks to destroy tires and cones while instilling confidence and understanding. Beginning in Las Vegas (Motor Speedway, then moving to Monticello (Monticello Motor Club), the team has now set up shop in Fontana at the Autoclub Speedway. After they are done here they will move on to Miami (Homestead Speedway).
My day begins in the classroom where I meet a few Jaguar owners, some other members of the media, and the staff of the driving school. Lead instructor Chris Munro (international racer and anti-terrorist driving instructor) begins the day by introducing his team which includes Davy Jones (Last US driver to win at Le Mans/places 2nd at Indy in ’96/winner of the ’90 24hrs of Daytona), Roberto Guerrero (CART and Indy 500 Rookie of the Year ’83), Morgan Kavanaugh (Former Trials bike racer, now runs an ice-driving course in Steamboat Springs, CO), Adam Andretti (yes of those Andrettis, nephew to Mario & son of Aldo, currently races in dirt track events), and Mike Finch (hilarious gent from New Zealand whose racing background I am still uncertain of). After the introductions, Munro explains the basic concepts we are going to address such as understeer, oversteer, and looking where we want to go not where we are heading. It’s stuff I’ve heard time and time again, but now I get to put it into practice…in a $100,000 Jaguar that I don’t own – Good times!
After the classroom, we all walk outside to a row of waiting Jaguars. Someone yells “Hop in any one and follow us to the autocross course,” and I am eager to comply. The first event of the day is an autocross course which we are all to run to establish a base time for each student. The goal is to run this course later in the day and see improvement in our times. Our times are not revealed right away but I feel I can take the course faster.
After the base times are set, we break into three groups: skidpad, handling oval, and one group to begin instruction on the autocross course. I am in the skidpad group and I find myself standing near a large figure eight of cones and two Jaguars, a coupe and a sedan. Chris Munro and Morgan Kavanaugh are my professors for this event. The point of the skidpad is to feel and understand the sensation of over and understeer. It becomes quickly apparent that I am entering the turns too hot (understeer) and not handling the power well on the exit (uncontrolled oversteer). After a few laps, I know I need to come in slower and meter the throttle on the exit. I get in a few solid drifts but I am still spinning the steering wheel like I am trying to unscrew it from the column.
From the skidpad, I move over to the handling oval. It sounds simple enough; I have to drive an oval within the oval…wait, what? The oval was interesting because I realized how much later the apex is than it appears. To drive as quickly as possible around this oval, I have to aim for an apex on the far side of the turn at the beginning of the opposite straight rather than the middle of the turn. I do a few laps with DSC turned on and I feel very slow due to the fact that the traction system is laughing in my face via a blinking light in the dash. My instructor, Mike Finch, turns the DSC system off and everything feels much better. I get slight controlled oversteer on the exits and the car is clearly moving quicker. Mr. Finch (one of my favorite guys from the team) remarks “Wow, ya quickah with the dahn traction ahf.” I was enjoying the car and his New Zealand accent seemed to add at least 10 hp to this XFR.
With my enhanced knowledge, it was time to head back to the autocross for some one-on-one instruction. My first time through, I sat with Morgan Kavanaugh in the passenger seat. His style is fast and aggressive – and a whole of fun. He attacks the course with the rear end barking and a smile on his face. Next up I did a few laps with Davy Jones and it was the complete opposite. He is so composed and smooth, it’s truly remarkable to be in a car with him. The styles are very different but the goals are the same; get the car to the finish line quickly.
All three groups joined back up and we headed to the large track located in the infield of the speedway. It was time to don helmets and do some lead-follow. We set off in two groups,with an instructor in the lead car setting the pace. Gradually we learned the course and brought the speed up and up. It was exciting, exhilarating, and I could have stayed out there all day. However, it was time for lunch.
After we ate, the entire group was in for a special treat. Jaguar had brought in two very unique cars for us to see. The 1988 Le Mans winning Silk Cut Jaguar, which is the same car Davy Jones drove to his 24hrs of Daytona victory and the sister car to one he drove in Le Mans. They also brought out the Jaguar XJ13, the car which was the development platform for Jaguar’s V12 engines. This wasn’t just a chance to stare at the cars and get my drool all over them. They fired both up and ran them down the front straight a few times. It was unreal.
Once I was done affixing my jaw back onto my skull, I and the rest of the drooling mass of attendees headed back to the autocross course. We would each get one timed lap to compare to our earlier lap. Once we had done this it was back again to the large course for some more hot laps, this time with individual instruction. I again hopped in a car with Mike Finch and the kiwi helped me get quicker and quicker around the large course. I pushed a Jaguar XFR down the main straight at around 115 mph before getting hard on the brakes and diving through a series of sharp rights and lefts. It was truly a joy that any hoon should experience.
The instructors were still not done with us at this point. It was time for what they refer to as “payback laps”. Quite simply, it was my turn to experience just how fast this course can be run. I did my first few laps with Davy Jones at the wheel and the man knows how punish Jaguars. I said I hit around 115 mph on that front straight meanwhile Mr. Jones and me were hitting between 125 and 130 before putting pad to disc. Next I did a run with Kavanaugh which was the right blend between drifting and racing. After Kavanaugh I hopped in with resident goofball and wonderfully friendly Adam Andretti. Apparently Adam has watched Tokyo Drift one too many times because he put on a show for anyone inside or outside of his car. All I could see was smoke and all I could hear was tire. It was amazing how well he could control that car around the track. He was far from the fastest, but he was damn fun to watch and ride with.
The event concluded in the air-conditioned classroom with the instructors thanking us for letting them teach us how to safely handle the Jaguar XKR and XFR. They are truly a friendly group who clearly love what they do. The times for the autocross course were announced at this point and all but one driver improved his time. The reason he went down during his second run is because he accidentally hit the paddle to put it in 1st around a turn. Personally, I improved my time by nearly 2 seconds (1.83) in the course and I felt I had far more control over the cars towards the end of the day.
It’s great to see a company like Jaguar extending a hand to their R-car customers. You can find schools like this for other powerful vehicles, but they cost thousands of dollars to attend. Here, any new XKR or XFR owner is invited once they make that wonderful purchase. Buying a beautiful and powerful machine is a great experience in life*, but learning how to control that machine might someday save your life.
A big thank you to Jaguar for inviting me to attend this school despite the fact that I did not spend thousands of dollars on a new XKR. Also, a huge thanks to all the instructors at the school – you are a friendly and skilled bunch.