Remembering the 1990 Daytona 24 - Jaguar domination

To coincide with this weekend’s Daytona 24 Hours we’ve turned the clocks back to 1990 to relive when Jaguar ruled America’s race-around-the-clock sportscar classic.

The Daytona 24 Hours has become the annual circuit racing curtain raiser for the motorsport year, an event to shake off the slumber of the off-season.

And it was back in 1990 when Jaguar gave the sportscar world another rude awakening at Daytona.

Courtesy of we’ve dipped into the Duke video archive to revive a classic.

The documentary itself warrants a mention for its unconventional approach of having then Jaguar drivers Martin Brundle and Andy Wallace narrate the race, offering fascinating insights - a kind of director’s commentary before they were popular.

Jaguar had already conquered Daytona in 1988 with its awesome Tony Southgate designed XJR-9 driven by Brundle, Raul Boesel, John Nielsen and Jan Lammers taking the victory on the car’s debut.

That victory was the start of a dominant year that saw the car win Le Mans and the World Sportscar Championship.

The XJR-9 was defeated by Porsche in the 1989 Daytona 24 Hours, and after a largely unsuccessful season with the twin-turbo V6 XJR-10s in the U.S. and XJR-11 in Europe, for 1990 the Tom Walkinshaw Racing-run factory Jaguar program had developed the XJR-12. This reverted to a normally aspirated V12 that was deemed more suitable for long distance races.

Two Castrol-backed GTP class entries were fielded, one for Brundle, Nielsen and Price Cobb, while Lammers, Wallace and then IndyCar part-timer Davy Jones piloted the sister #61 entry.

The pair had competition from factory-backed Nissans and a host of Porsche 962s, qualifying ninth and 10th behind their turbocharged opposition, who had almost a 300 horsepower advantage in qualifying trim.

The demands of Daytona were not lost on the TWR crew after winning in 1988, with Brundle stating in the documentary that the race is “easily the most physically demanding race for any driver in the world.”

This being down to the famous 18 degree banking which would see drivers pull 2.5G and the fact that the Florida night is 13 hours, meaning much of the race was run in the dark.

Wallace added: ”The first 24 hour race I did was Le Mans and I thought that was fairly physical, but my first visit to Daytona was 50 percent more so because of the banking and the amount of slow cars you have to pass, day and night.

“On the first banking there is a period of two to three seconds where you just can’t see and are blinded by the sun and that lasts for two or three hours.”

The Jaguars started the race with Cobb and Jones holding position while the pole-winning Texaco Havoline Porsche 962 of Bob Wollek led the early period of the race.

Walkinshaw had told his drivers to drive to a pace early on, before reassessing mid-race, although Wallace claimed, “As a general rule of thumb you drive absolutely flat out without hitting anybody and that is about a good pace, providing you don’t bounce over any curbs.”

While many of their rivals had written the Jaguars off saying “they wouldn’t see midnight”, as twilight fell the pair were in command of the race as the rate of attrition on the rest of the field grew.

Brundle jumped in the leading #60 car in the evening, and despite admitting he was driving it like it was a Formula 1 car in a Grand Prix and suffering a spin after collecting a back-marker, he handed the car over in the lead.

However, it was soon after that the #61 car took command with Wallace at the helm, its advantage made comfortable after a slow stop to change brake pads on the sister entry.

The race was not without incident as sportscar legend Derek Bell suffered one of the biggest crashes of his career in the Momo-backed Porsche 962 he shared with Giampiero Moretti and Stanley Dickens.

The car collapsed on the right rear corner and flipped before landing on its roof, skidding to halt on the asphalt with fuel pouring from the stricken machine.

Bell, who was lucky to emerge unscathed, recounts: “I just remember sailing through the air and then it just came down so quietly on the road and just skidded on and on and on down the road.

“I realized I was just sliding and I didn’t hit anything so I put the fire extinguisher on because I was terrified of fire.

“I then realized the engine was still running while I was upside down, so I switched the engine off and then I started to get soaked in fuel, and I then started to pass out from the fumes.

“I thought any minute somebody will come but I seemed to lay there for an eternity looking up the road and just hearing cars go by and nobody coming. It was quite unbelievable.

“The next thing, I passed out and I remember having a nightmare of a bad dream about having an accident and then you wake up. I thought maybe I’m having a dream and then I woke up and heard voices and then they pulled me out.”

Once racing resumed after a lengthy caution, Jaguar maintained its stranglehold on the race but had its own issues to worry about. As day broke and the ambient temperature rose, it began taking its toll on the XJR-12s' radiators, while head gasket problems also began to haunt the team.

In addition to that, a health issue forced Cobb out of the race, leaving Brundle and Nielsen to divide up the remainder of the driving duties in the #60.

Despite engines surviving on “oil alone” according to Brundle, Jaguar completed its domination of the event with the #61 car of Wallace, Lammers and Jones taking the checkered flag, some four laps ahead of Brundle and Nielsen, to score a famous 1-2.

The Wollek, Sarel van de Merwe and Dominic Dobson Porsche completed the podium a further two last adrift.

Wallace summed up what the victory meant succinctly.

“For me the 1990 Daytona 24 Hours was absolutely fantastic,” he said. “To come here as part of the Jaguar team and win the race and be part of a 1-2 is absolutely amazing. The team during the whole race did a fantastic job and I think it was a just reward for their efforts.”

Brundle added: “Obviously as a highly motivated racing driver I enjoyed 1988 more but having said that and reflecting back on the race, to win for Jaguar and to be part of a Jaguar 1-2 in such a classic motor race is a very special privilege.”

Jaguar is yet to triumph for a third time at the Daytona 24 Hours.

Join to access over 800 episodes of Duke Classics including the full 1990 Daytona 24 Hours review.


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