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Reims Weekend de L’Excellence Automobile

Jaguar Land Rover has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently. The Indian family-owned motor giant Tata Motors had pushed itself into the red after stepping in to rescue the struggling car manufacturer and closed one of its UK factories earlier in September, writes Antje Doel

However, Tata Motors managed to secure private funding and announced it no longer needs government support. It seems, for the time being at least, Jaguar can breathe a sigh of relief and go back to doing what it does best: making awesome cars.

Being a fan of cars and Jaguars in particular, it was with great pleasure that I accepted an invitation from Jaguar Heritage to attend the 3rd Weekend de L'Excellence Automobile at the historic racetrack in Reims.

The challenge: to drive a brand new five litre XKR convertible from London to Reims and then round the track, as well as being a passenger in some of the most beautiful and valuable old Jaguar racing cars ever built.

The journey from Calais took an hour and a half instead of the budgeted three. The acceleration on the XKR is phenomenal. The roar of the super-charged engine when you floor it gives you goose bumps, yet it is one of the safest cars I have ever driven – in fact it is effortless.

The only downside of all Jaguars appears to be their sat nav; instead of arriving at our rendez-vous of Domain Pommery, where the crew from Jaguar Heritage made the car ready for racing, we ended up on a council estate.

Those cars that did make it on time included a Long Nose D-Type that was built in 1956. That same year it entered and won the Reims 12-hour race, driven by Duncan Hamilton and Ivor Bueb, and has also raced at Le Mans. Now worth a staggering £4.7 million, it was an amazing feeling driving around at speed; the rawness of the ride, combined with a deafening engine made it a truly unforgettable experience.

I partnered Peter Mitchell OBE, the executive director and trustee of Jaguar Heritage for a spin in the 1953 C-Type. This very same car brought Jaguar its first victory in the Le Mans 24-hour race. Peter did well to manage the gearbox, which lacks synchromesh and needs a lot of skill to control. Once again the ride was thrilling, even though we nearly went to pieces in the chicane!

Later in the day it was my turn to drive. I lined up on the grid in my XKR with a slightly nervous best friend in the passenger seat. Although we were told it was not a race, once the green flag was waved, there was no holding back! Coming from the back, I picked off every car but for the red Ferrari to finish a creditable second, managing 135mph on the straights.

Next up is a test drive of Jaguar's "Rocket Car" at their proving grounds in Gaydon, England. This XFR Prototype is the fastest car they have ever made, recording over 225mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats with Paul Gentilozzi. It needs a parachute to stop it, and fans of the iconic brand can only hope that it will take an equal amount of effort to stop Jaguar from being in business.

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