"Finnish rally maestro Hannu Mikkola was one of the legendary flying Finns who powered their way into motorsport lore during the Group B era at the wheel of the monstrous Audi Quattro S1 Sport. But as World Champion in 1983 and "
Think Jags are just for cruising around in comfort?
It makes no odds whether you know loads about Jaguar’s rallying history or not; just a glimpse of an F-Type perched on rally rubbers should be enough to make you do a double take. And when you see the lamp pod stuck on the snoop, you’ll be thinking you’ve been slipped a Mickey Finn.
You see, any rally history is just that for Jaguar – the past. But the British brand’s cars were seriously admired by the rallying community back in the day.
Indeed, as far back as the 1950s, an XK120, raced by Ian Appleyard, triumphed more than once at the Alpine and RAC rallies.
In 2018, the model celebrated its 70th anniversary, which was an ambiguous enough reason for Jaguar to produce a rally variant of the XK120’s closest contemporary heir – the above-mentioned F-Type. And as with Ian Appleyard’s machine, the born-again Jag is a white open-topped affair, with proper rally-ready kit.
The different F-Type model has mainly been put together by Jaguar, with a smidgeon of support from a rally specialist. Furthermore, it’s manufactured to Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) standards. However, it won’t ever participate in a rally, although the car will, in all probability, run in public as a course vehicle.
So, what goes into the mix when it comes to transforming a two-seater rag-top into a roughty toughty rally car capable of being ragged along gravel and through mud?
16-inch gravel tyres for starters, followed by wads of protection underneath. The F-Type also sits 40mm higher than usual on special springs and dampers. The folding roof apparatus has been torn from the car for weight-saving purposes. However, the bulky roll cage has added back as much, if not more, heft. Carbon fibre door skins have been cannibalised from the F-Type GT4, while the rest of the rally car has been fitted with competition brakes, harnesses and seats. An intercom and a hydraulic handbrake have also been put in for good measure.
The donor Jag is a standard F-Type fitted with a four-cylinder turbo unit. It was selected purely because it’s the most up to date edition. The rear-wheel drive car uses the model’s stock eight-speed auto transmission, though the limited-slip differential has been harvested from the V6 version to replace the factory-fitted open differential. Additionally, all the road-going F-Type’s electronically controlled driver aids have been deactivated.
It’s all well and good telling you about this car, but what’s it like to drive? “Awesome” is the short answer. Jaguar didn’t entirely trust me enough to let me out on my own, though. The British based automotive firm decided I might stand less of a chance going off-piste if a professional rally driver accompanied me. So, fortune would have it that Finnish rally driver Minna Sillankorva was available to jump into the passenger seat to give me some guidance.
During her remarkable career, Minna triumphed at the Ladies’ Finnish Championship nine times and was the victor of the FIA Cup Ladies of World Rally Championship back in ‘91. Since stepping down from competing, Minna has carried on driving for pleasure and now operates the ‘Land Rover Experience’ in Finland.
I wasn’t in Finland for this rally adventure, though. I was at Jaguar Land Rover Fen End in Kenilworth, Warwickshire. Sure, it’s not the most exciting of locations, but who cares when you’re in a roofless gravel rally car? It’s a few and far between experience at the best of times, not least because you get insects in your mouth and dust in your eyes at every twist and turn. Then there’s the mud splattering into the cabin and the wind in your face. Apart from all that, the Jaguar F-Type felt like it was meant to feel: an authentic rally car.
During my attempt at rally driving, the Jag produced far more grip than I believed could be achievable off tarmac, due to those out-of-the-ordinary gravel tyres. Indeed, the customised F-Type’s traction was good all the way through my run, regardless of 300+bhp being divided between just two wheels. I figured the car would surely do a 360 or at least a 180 at some point, but Minna assured me only a rash pedal to the metal movement would cause that.
It was the Jag’s suspension that staggered me, though. The body control over the harsh terrain was gobsmacking. The only thing missing from this F-Type is the inexhaustible suspension travel of a high-end rally rig, so it thuds over the larger crests and craters that a state-of-the-art World Rally car would skate across.
So, how passionate should we be about this Jaguar F-Type that will never take part in a proper rally? “Very” is the blunt response. We should be fired-up over it – because, well, it exists; it’s fun – and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The pictures say it all really.
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