Helicam: Gary Cogis
Whenever we're invited to drive the latest European performance cars, in this case a limited edition 2014 Jaguar XKR-S GT supercar, we're always faced with a dilemma. Do we simply go with the same formula as buff books like Motor Trend, Automobile, etc and conduct the most obvious comparison test, or do we try to give it an EC angle?
As a rule, we prefer to march to our own beat and, before leaving, Alex Bernstein suggested we treat Jaguar's latest $175K exotic as the muscle car it wanted to be. So that's what happened, to the bemusement of the regular attendees at Irwindale Speedway's weekly Thursday night Test 'n Tune session.
It's like an open mic night for local drag racers; most coming out with friends to either race one another, set up their cars or challenge one of the big boys. There's everything from Detroit iron to Euros, imports, drag bikes, '50s classics and even junior rails. The "run what you brung" events are very popular and frequently oversubscribed, but we managed to persuade the track officials to let us run first.
Although only an eighth-mile course - quarter-mile tracks are almost non-existent around LA (*Fontana had not yet reopened at the time of this head-to-head) - it would allow us to have some fun with the Jaguar XKRS-GT while testing its traction and acceleration. But what would we run against?
Opening the discussion to some of the import magazines in our office, they didn't seem to have anything to match the caliber of this very special Jag supercar, so finally we nominated a purpose-built FD Mazda RX-7 (details on next page) racecar as their best opportunity to beat the XKR-S GT...
1 of 25
One look at the carbon fiber splitter and dive planes on the front of this car, its huge carbon brakes and even bigger carbon fiber rear wing tells everybody what they need to know about the Jag: it's a potent supercar weapon, and a poke at the throttle pedal removes any remaining doubt.
Emblazoned across the sill plate as you open the door is the legend "XKR-S GT - 1 of 25". This hints at the rarity of the British sports car, with 25 coming to the US and five going to Canada.
The elongated name is a reference to its parentage, born form the humble Jaguar XK sports coupe that sired the XKR, which gave birth to the formidable XKR-S. The GT version is what Jaguar describes as a "track-ready" version of the XK and we certainly wouldn't contest that claim.
Developed by Jaguar's ETO division (Engineered To Order), they focused on aero and chassis upgrades, deeming the 550hp supercharged V8 from the XKR-S to be sufficient for this application. In fact, it already lights up the tires too easily under most circumstances, proving it didn't need any more grunt under its vented aluminum hood.
While being slightly impractical for daily driving, the new aerodynamic aids were shown to develop 320 lb of downforce at the car's 186mph top speed. With this understood, you can excuse the restricted rear vision from the carbon fiber wing on its machined aluminum support struts, and the incredibly vulnerable front splitter.
The jaguar XKR-S GT front-end received a significant update, with the XKR-S front bumper receiving the carbon fiber splitter that protrudes 2.4" beyond the front of the car, forcing you to park far away from curbs, and to approach every driveway like a crab. It's certainly awkward but nobody likes to hear the sound of carbon fiber cracking!
The splitter is mated to carbon fiber wheel arch extensions ahead of the front and behind the rear wheels. They work in conjunction with dive planes on the front spoiler and an aluminum undertray to increase aero efficiency.
The louvered hood helps evacuate hot air after it has forcefully entered through the nostrils on top of the bumper. The air passes over the intercooling before it's routed over the roof to the double-decker rear spoilers. These include a trunk lip and the elevated wing that work in concert with a carbon fiber diffuser to manage airflow around the rear-end.
Only available in Polaris White with distinctive black graphics and R-S GT badging, the Jaguar supercar cuts an intimidating figure on the road or racetrack. Interestingly, it didn't appear to attract the sort of attention you get while driving an Aston Martin, for example, which we can only assume was because other drivers were possibly deterred by the giant wing.
Chassis modifications were extensive, including new suspension arms, uprights, bearings, bushings and a rear subframe, all based on knowledge gained from the Jaguar F-Type program.
It has a wider front track for stability and re-valved dampers allow ride height adjustment with the race-style twin coil springs. These are 68% stiffer front, 25% rear than the XFR-S, and have been designed for track-focused handling and responsiveness. However, thanks to the Adaptive Dynamics damping system, the ride quality was remarkably good in its Normal Mode. In fact, the car felt like a comfortable grand tourer, but with virtual no body roll. Hit the Dynamic Mode button on the console and everything becomes more intense. The damping is instantly stiffer, finding more imperfections in the road surface while being responsive to direction changes.
In this mode, the electronic differential also allows extra leeway, allowing the rear-end to move around more, although keeping the back wheels in line was always a challenge, regardless of mode. If the steering is so much as 1 degree off center and you apply more than 30% throttle, the rear-end will start to come around. It's quickly caught and the XKR-S GT is easily one of the most entertaining cars we've driven in a very long time. It's communicative and offers great acceleration, stopping and cornering force. Yet it doesn't seem to take itself too seriously, happily allowing the driver to play, whether the traction control is on or off.
We were surprised at how easily the Jaguar could overcome the grip of its incredibly wide Pirelli 305/30 rear tires, mounted on 20x10.5" forged wheels - not something that would help us at the drag strip, but a trait we hoped could be overcome.
The GT was the first production Jaguar fitted with carbon-ceramic brakes, housing massive 15.7" front and 15" rear rotors, clamped by six- and four-piston yellow calipers, respectively. Unlike some other supercar creations, the brakes didn't snatch, were perfectly linear, quiet and strong from cold. This can be partially attributed to the Pre-Fill system that works in conjunction with the DSC to pressurize the brakes every time the driver lifts off the throttle. It ensured they worked perfectly every time, providing phenomenal stopping power, and giving you the confidence to explore the power and handling limits more thoroughly.
The carbon brakes saved 46 lb from the unsprung weight but Jaguar claims an identical 3968 lb curb weight for the three XKR models, although we suspect this might be for homologation, since the GT should be lighter than the rest...
With all that said, we probably wouldn't care if the Jaguar looked and handled like a pig, because its greatest attribute is the exhaust note, making good use of flap technology to be quiet and drone-free under light throttle. Yet it roared like a startled tiger under full load. Unfortunately, our video doesn't do it full justice because it's competing against a barely-silenced Mazda RX-7.
The Jaguar XKR-S GT is possibly the ultimate tunnel car, filling any cavern with an F1 soundtrack that sent tingles down your spine. In Dynamic Mode it would also pop and splutter on lift-off, and blip the throttle on downchanges, adding to the aural excellence. So while we loved the F-Type V8S, the $175000 Jaguar XKR-S GT has taught the youngster how it's done.
The car we'd be competing against was a 1994 Mazda RX-7 (FD gen) from Jordan Innovations in Irwindale, CA. Owner Jeff Jordan had swapped in a Vortech-supercharged LSA V8 on AEM Infinity engine management. It was rated "in excess of" 1000whp and had a modified BRS Autodesign widebody to ensure it could accept 295/35 R18 Nitto NT-05 tires all the way round, providing ample traction.
Built as a Time Attack racer, check out its ridiculous spec list in the separate panel and you'll see Jeff brought a howitzer to a gunfight. We were hoping for a "chipped" Lexus ISF, or something... Maybe a Scion FR-S turbo... Not a bloody racecar!
With experienced driver Robert Baltazar at the wheel of the FD RX-7 "ringer," we decided to level the playing field by enlisting the help of multiple import drag racing champion and drift racer, Stephan Papadakis. He would know the best way to launch the Jaguar XKR-S GT and certainly give us a fighting chance.
After a couple of practice launches in the parking lot, experimenting with the traction control, Stephan was pretty confident. "Dude, we've got this in the bag!" he grinned. "Admittedly, I don't know what the Mazda RX-7 can do, but there's surely no way it can launch as hard as this..."
As it turns out, Steph's launch technique (a little bit of throttle to prime the transmission, while holding the brakes) and the car's Dynamic Mode traction control was enough to fire the XKR-S GT off the line like an aircraft carrier's steam catapult. It left Robert and the RX-7 in a cloud of wheelspin, made worse with each gear change as the car snaked up Irwindale's eighth-mile. One win for the Jag, which recorded a time of 8.413sec at 91.45mph - a respectable speed for such a short track.
As it transpires, the FD RX-7 had adjustable traction control, which was switched off for the first run. Crossing the line in 9.514sec at 72.06mph clearly wasn't close to the car's potential, although so much power would always cause traction problems - something we secretly hoped couldn't be completely resolved that night...
For the second run, Jeff activated the traction control, then encouraged Robert to warm the tires with a full burnout, and he duly obliged. Meanwhile, Steph avoided the water and snuck through the burnout box to wait for Robert at the start line. With all its electronics, he saw little need to warm the Jaguar's tires and risk the transmission.
As the lights went green, both drivers were already on the power. Steph's incredible timing - he claims to see when each filament in the starting tree bulbs are going out - combined with the Jaguar's Dynamic Mode traction control and shift patterns, saw it again launch hardest and fastest. Steph's reaction time was an impressive 0.218sec, compared to Robert's 0.574, but this time the RX-7 had hooked up.
It was ahead by the 60ft mark, and at 330ft, and crossed the finish line first with a time of 8.03sec at 92.51mph, compared to 8.863 at 88.9mph for the Jaguar.
Despite a good launch, the GT was significantly slower than its previous run, so Steph decided to try a manual launch on his third attempt. He extinguished the traction control altogether and would shift with the paddles himself.
So as the cars lined up, with one win apiece, this was the decider. Would power beat finesse? Could Steph uphold Euro honor?
The amber light sequence flashed and engine revs reached a crescendo as the green illuminated. The rear wheels on both cars were already spinning and again Steph got the jump. His reaction time was just 0.181sec and, for the third time of asking, the Jaguar was out of the blocks first.
By the 60ft mark, they were still close, but the RX-7 had pulled level, gaining a 0.5sec advantage by the 330ft mark. With minimal wheelspin, the Mazda dispatched the eighth-mile track in 7.783sec at 90.79mph, pulling out a couple of car lengths over our plucky Brit.
With a time of 8.421sec at 92.8mph, it was a similar run to the Jaguar's first attempt, but this time it had been convincingly beaten.
Away from the track, Stephan suggested, "I might be able to improve the time by a couple of tenths, but so can the RX-7. I'm sure there's no way I could find the 0.6sec I'd need to have beaten him this time, and that's assuming he doesn't get any faster."
At this point, we realized we should have requested a "best of five" runs contest because the race officials excluded the Mazda for exceeding the noise restrictions with what could best be described as a painful exhaust note. We'd have happily won by default!
So in the end, our 1-of-25, $175000, 550hp Jaguar XKR-S GT succumbed to what was, in reality, a one-sided fight. It put up a valiant effort but couldn't overcome the RX-7's power and weight advantage. However, it proved that the Jag is anything but a high-strung exotic. It's capable of being down 'n dirty, and we could have run all night against modern Detroit iron that would have been closer competitors. However, we decided to save the Jaguar's time slips as a memento of what will surely be the only drag racing exploits ever attempted by the XKR-S GT; happy to have both taken part in a historic occasion and to have caught it all on camera and video.
2014 Jaguar XKR-S GT
5.0-liter AJ133 Gen III aluminum V8 DOHC 32v, direct injection, dual independent variable cam timing, Eaton twin-vortex supercharger, dual intercoolers
Sequential Shift six-speed automatic transmission
six-piston monoblock calipers, 15.7" carbon-ceramic rotors f, four-piston, 15" r
Adaptive Dynamics active and height-adjustable dampers, stiffened twin-coil springs, wider front track, increased camber, uprated bushings, new steering system, faster steering ratio
Wheels & Tires
20x 9" f, 20x10.5" r forged wheels, 255/35 R20 f, 305/30 R20 r Pirelli Corsa tires
carbon fiber splitter, twin dive planes, diffuser and rear wing, louvered hood, wheel arch extensions, front undertray, trunk spoiler, GT graphics
16-way electric Performance seats in leather and suedecloth with R-S GT embroidery, black suedecloth headliner and steering wheel
550hp at 6000-6500rpm
502 lb-ft 2500-5500rpm
$174895 (inc D&D)
As an electronics specialist, Jeff Jordan created Jordan Innovations to cater to the import tuner crowd, with a number of products crossing over into other markets. His '94 FD3S Mazda RX-7 originally had a 450whp LS6 V8 swap in 2010, but was upgraded to its current 1000whp LSA V8 for SEMA 2013. The powertrain swap and upgrades were designed by Jeff, who shared the machine work and assembly with Millennium Motorsports.
The car was designed specifically for Time Attack events, where the original bodyshell, suspension mounting points, etc must be retained but powertrain and aero mods were unrestricted.
1994 Mazda RX-7
LSA aluminum block bored to 4.065", doweled billet main caps, Callies Magnum 4" crank and 6.125" Ultra Billet rods, asymmetric JE FSR -5cc pistons, ACL race bearings, ARP Pro Series studs and bolts, GM MLS gaskets, Comp Cams boost cam, double-roller billet timing set, short-travel race lifters, trunnion bearing rocker upgrade and front cover, Improved Racing oil pump baffle, Jordan Innovations oil filter relocation, Accusump and oil cooler, West Coast Cylinder Heads CNC ported heads, 10.25:1 compression 75cc chambers, hollow-stem stainless steel valves, double valve springs, titanium retainers, Manton pushrods, GM LS3 intake manifold and DBW throttle body, Vortech V7-YSi supercharger with Camaro bracket and 50mm cog drive, 80-tooth crank sprocket, 28-tooth blower sprocket, Turbosmart Big Bubba 50mm BOV, PowerGate 60mm wastegate, Jordan Innovations intercooler and piping, AEM Infinity engine management, Injector Dynamics ID2000 injectors, FAST fuel rails, Bosch 044 pump, Jordan Innovations surge tank, Fuelab 424 pump, filters and 529 digital regulator, 10an/8an feed/return hard lines, Jordan Innovations mil-spec harnesses and gauges
RPM Transmissions Level VII TR6060 transmission, cryo-treated, micro-polished with billet shafts, ACT twin-plate clutch, Driveshaft Shop aluminum CV shaft, Ronin Speedworks Explorer 8.8:1 IRS diff and axles
stock with Hawk Blue pads
custom-valved Ohlins DFV coilovers, Swift springs, Jordan Innovations tubular sway bars, Samberg bump steer spacers
Wheels & Tires
18x10" ET +0 f, 18x11" ET -19 r Work VS-XX wheels, 295/35 R18 Nitto NT-05 tires
modified BRS Autodesign body kit with Andrew Brilliant/AMB Aero front splitter and diffuser, APR rear wing
The Irwindale Speedway and Event Center are at the heart of motorsport activities for the greater Los Angeles area, providing everything from short-track oval racing to eighth-mile drag racing, karting and driving school activities. It's also the spiritual home of drifting, with the national finals held here every year.
A number of major shows are held at Irwindale each year, including hot rod and air-cooled VW events. There used to be some Euro gatherings as well, but these seem to have faded away. Unfortunately, the track website doesn't list the events but its Facebook page usually has details. Visit irwindalespeedway.com for more info.
With racing in his blood, Robert started karting aged 8, continuing for six years before getting into drag racing with a '66 Barracuda. After college he joined the US Navy as a Firefighter before attending the Skip Barber School in Laguna Seca when he got out. That led to his involvement in Time Attack road-racing, which he continues to compete in, as well as SCCA autocross and time trials.
Growing up racing on the streets and tracks of Southern California in a modified Civic hatchback, Steph was part of the underground subculture that developed into the import tuner scene. He legitimized Papadakis Racing (and the new sport compact drag racing scene) by developing the first tube-chassis FWD drag car in the US. His AEM Drag Civic set the standard, winning Pro and Outlaw class championships with what became the world's fastest FWD racer.
In '03, Steph again made history in the AEM/DriverFX.com Civic, setting records as the world's fastest sport compact and quickest Honda with a best ET of 6.71sec at 207.8mph. He would subsequently build other cars and continue to improve his time, racking up more wins and honors. This would open the door to the professional Formula D drifting series, where he won "co-rookie of the year" in '05.
The following year, Papadakis would manage the team and oversee Tanner Foust when he took FD championship titles in '07 and '08. The drift team continues and Steph was awarded 2012 Formula Drift team manager of the year but he also climbed behind the wheel of a Pro Lite Unlimited Class off-road truck in 2010, competing in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series where he hopes to create another dynasty for Papadakis Racing.
Unfortunately, we don't have space here to list all Stephan's achievements, so visit papadakisracing.com for the full breakdown.