On Track: the Jaguar Experience
WE were just like any other Jaguar owner. Invited to be part of a unique driver training experience that lets you hit the race track, in our case Sydney Motorsport Park, and push pedal to the metal, at the same time learning how to get the most out of your own car whenever you drive it.
For us of course, the difference was, we don’t actually own a Jaguar. But that aside, we were however given the opportunity to experience the marquee brand’s customer experience day, as if we were actually owners of one of Jaguar’s products.
At our disposal for some track time, that’s behind the wheel actually driving, were the 2017 Jaguar XE S, fitted with a supercharged V6, the aptly nicknamed gentlemen’s express, aka the 2017 Jaguar XJ R, powered by the same supercharged V8 hidden under the hood of an F-Type R, and of course the F-Type.
A few variants of the F-Type Coupe were on hand to sample, including supercharged V6 and V8 model options, in rear wheel drive and all wheel drive.
The Jaguar Experience day starts simply enough, coffee and registration, ahead of an introduction from Targa Tasmania driver and head of driver training organisation The Formula Company, Keith Wannop, offering a history of Jaguar, and details of its future plans.
With that came some poignant words too, about what the day was meant to be about, the importance of learning from the experience, and putting into practice the skills on offer to get the most from your car, long term.
“Today is not about flat out,” Kieth told the 20 or so eager participants. “It’s about a personal experience, at your own pace, without road rules.”
From there, things got a little more serious, as we joined our instructor, well known rally driver and founder of rallyschool.com.au, Ian Barratt, behind the wheel of the wickedly awesome 2017 Jaguar F-Type R AWD, powered by a 404kW supercharged V8 that pumps out a whopping 680Nm of torque.
If there was the perfect way to start a track day or a driver training session, this was it. Pick the loudest, most boisterous supercharged V8 in the entire Jaguar model range, fire it up, and pedal it out onto the tarmac at Sydney’s finest racing circuit (and its only one at the moment).
Or so we thought. And that’s not to take anything away from the incredible F-Type R AWD, but on reflection, this would have been the perfect car to end our three track sessions with – to put into place the skills we’d learnt over the day, in this machine, would have been incredible. That said, we did get a sneaky surprise with our last car.
That first session really is about learning the track, and how to drive on it, with talk of braking points, key driving tactics, handling tips and steering recommendations all coming together to get your head in the right frame of mind to get the most from the car.
A couple of laps around Sydney Motorsport Park, and we feel invincible and deflated all at the same time, invincible because the adrenalin is pumping at one thousand miles an hour, and deflated because quite frankly, we feel like we’ve been driving all wrong for quite some time.
You see, in reality, driving a car is like a ballroom dance, it’s all about subtle gestures, the right movements, and grace. Behind the wheel, those dance steps translate to braking at the right time, hard but elegant, easing of the brake pedal and onto the accelerator, leading the car in a stylish ballet, not forcing it to misbehave.
It’s not until you get on a race track with a high performance vehicle in your hands that you come to that realisation. So, with our Jaguar delivered reality check in place, it’s into the nimble and agile Jaguar XE S, complete with 280kW supercharged 3.0-litre V6, we climb.
Knowing what we learned in the F-Type R and with Ian still helping us around the circuit, giving us key insights into the track’s nuances and the best way to drive the XE, this beastly little saloon would be the most fun we’d have all day, save for a hot lap. It’s truly so much fun to drive – perfectly weighted and packed with go.
Just before the final session, Keith returns for a quick catch up, and a recap on what we’ve discovered about the way we’ve been driving, as well as how to move forward and get the most out of any driving experience. At the same time, we have a green light to step it up a gear (that’s why the F-Type would be great now).
Into the car we were least enthusiastic about, but got hands down the biggest surprise from, we go. The 2017 Jaguar XJ R is often described as big and lazy, a limousine or hire car if you will, often seen as the pinnacle of large luxury saloons, without much pizzazz, and it’s our final ride.
But in case no one noticed, this car has exactly the same performance specs as the 2017 F-Type R, powered by the very same 404kW supercharged V8 that when coupled to an 8-speed ZF gearbox also pushes that near 700Nm torque envelope, but is this time hooked to a solid rear wheel drive platform that makes it a genuine sleeper.
All we can say is wow! There are no other words to describe the XJ R. Sleeper is an understatement as we push it to the limits at every turn, and drive it hard down the straights around the track formerly known as Eastern Creek Raceway. It’s heavier than the F-Type, but at high speed feels surprisingly smaller than it actually is.
Grinning from ear to ear, it’s into the pits we head for the final time as a driver, before the trainers get their revenge and get to take the wheel for a hot lap in an F-Type (in our case the supercharged V6 rear wheel drive variant), with us smiling all the while as we hang on for dear life, learning how we should have driven along the way.
The day ends with lunch in one of the pit suites overlooking the circuit; a chance to unwind, talk to our fellow participants and debrief with the trainers who we’d spent the morning with. Some final advice from Kieth ends the event; “you’ll be on the couch asleep in a few hours as you come down from the adrenalin rush.”
Don’t laugh, it’s true, that’s exactly what happened. We also reckon Jaguar Australia has the customer experience day event bang on, there were 20 smiling participants at the end, and that’s a sure sign everyone enjoyed their day.