PH liveblog: flat out with Jag

Today is all about speed. No bones about it - we're going flat out! And where else to celebrate this than Germany, where Jaguar is taking me today to show off the 'Speed' bit of the titular options pack on the XJ.

Sport Pack is something you can add to any XJ and gets you lightly tweaked aero and a few other bits and bobs. And on the Supercharged one you can go further with the Speed pack which, thanks to the greater stability (according to Jag), the regular 155mph limiter is raised to 174mph, or 280km/h. And we're off to try and hit that on the autobahn! Rude not to. Thence to the Nurburgring to prove it can also do corners and stuff too.

I'll be updating this blog as I go so keep checking by.


Friday: the autobahn somewhere, 0800h
So, on our way home now after a night combining old-school Nurburgring - steak on a stone at the Pistenklause - and the new school in the form of the Lindner hotel at the NuroDisney complex up the road.

Frank's limo awaits its first customers...
Frank's limo awaits its first customers...
I write this from the back seat of an XJ, wafting back to Frankfurt and our flight home. Fair play to Jaguar too - the launch has certainly been a pretty thorough demonstration of the car's abilities, from 175mph autobahn runs to banzai laps of the Nordschleife (following Dale into Adenauer Forst and watching an XJ enter a corner with its inside front wheel 10cm off the deck before adopting an exuberant, smoky slide is something I never thought I'd see!) and now the chauffeur detail too.

That Granada Scorpio-esque profile is still a little shocking I admit but the inside of an XJ is a very nice place to be and bursting with character. Not a bad place to crack on with the morning routine of checking emails and planning the day's content!

Probably more suited than the 'taxi' our man Frank Klaas was proudly showing off yesterday, this an old XJ Supersport press car converted into a kind of Nurburgring limo complete with a full roll cage and four harnessed up race seats. And sick bags in the door pockets. I didn't get a go in the end but Frank has promised us some access to it in the future and is full of crazy plans. He's certainly a character, the 'closing ceremony' of our day on track yesterday being a thanks from them for not crashing any of the cars followed by Queen's We Are The Champions blasting over the speakers and slighty stunned expressions from everyone else. And over dinner he apparently proved an uncommon ability to simulate the engine note of rally-spec Audi Quattro, complete with pops and bangs on the over-run. Like I say, a character!

Thursday: Jaguar Nurburgring Test Centre, 1815h
The fast hands have had their first outing! Not that they helped me any but a little bit of backstage manoeuvring contrived a group and instructor willing to press on a little more and we've had some fun, the fruits of which you'll seeing in video form in due course.

I lucked out and got into an XKR-S coupe while Dale luxed out in an XJ, the longer wheelbase and generally softer nature apparently not dimming his ability to go sideways in big clouds of tyre smoke. Unseemly behaviour in such a grand car but, hell, lots of fun.

What a car that XKR-S is too. The beauty of the Jaguar way of doing things is that these masses of clever gadgets in the chassis like the adaptive dampers and clever diffs only serve to compliment you as a driver rather than dictate the experience. It's the polar opposite of, say, Audi and a refreshingly smart application of tech rather than slavish worship thereof. The car is there to make the driver feel good, not like some redundant organism there to be controlled and patronised.

I'm nowhere near as confident as Dale round here but after a lap in Trac DSC I felt comfortable enough to switch it all off and indulge in some wee skids of my own, something I've never dared do round here before, especially in such a powerful, aggressively set up car. That you can nail the throttle in a 550hp rear-drive car and, even as a ham-fisted idiot like me, feel confident enough to hold a tentative little slide is massively rewarding and the Jag would have been an interesting addition to Chris's monster track coupes vid the other night. OK, it's no GT3 RS 4.0 but I reckon it'd be an interesting comparison with the C63 Black. Jag's trick is taking the raw ingredients - the hardware in the form of off-the-shelf gearboxes and steering gear from the likes of ZF - and then optimising them. The gearbox is a perfect example - it responds like a dual-clutch and shifts instantaneously from the paddles when you want it to but can do the properly wafty auto thing too. Brilliant car - hungry for more now!

Thursday: Nurburgring Test Centre, 1645h
So, time to go out on the Nordschleife and break in those virginal fast hands! But first a briefing from Frank Klaas and his team of racing drivers with the aid of a video lap of the 'ring and some slightly cringeworthy back and forth between Frank and his boys. And then the video, filmed "with a journalist from the UK in the car with me" says Frank. And hang on, who's that? Yes, it's our very own Riggers!

Riggers gatecrashes the briefing
Riggers gatecrashes the briefing
Frank clearly cherishes that video and the views it's had following its appearance on PH and, as I said before, always mentions it when I see him. But 10 minutes or so of Riggers' face being subjected to 'ring G-forces? Not something I was expecting to see today!

Anyway, briefing over and it's finally off to the track and the nature of the set-up - ducks and drakes behind an instructor in groups of wildly mixed ability - meant three fairly pedestrian laps in which I got to appreciate more of the XF's wafting abilities than I did this morning on the autobahn! So the fast hands remain untainted and never ventured out of the cupholder in which I'd placed them at the start.

Dale did get a ticking off for livening things up with some skidding though. Naughty boy.

Thursday: Jaguar Nurburgring Test Centre, 1330h
Third time lucky for the fast hands? Could be! After missing the boat for the EasterMonday sprint at Goodwood and being rained off from the second opportunity for a debut by the torrential rain on Sunday could it be that my poncey Alpinestars gloves finally get their first outing? It's looking hopeful!

Not that I need them of course. Not for this. But, well, I've got them now and I may as well.

I'm a total hypocrite here of course, being naturally inclined to sniggering at all the gear no idea types who swagger around at trackdays with such attire. And then at the aforementioned Goodwood day I found myself walking into a pub, race suit tied around my waist and all integrity was destroyed in a second.

There's no coming back from a humiliation like that. So I may as well embrace it. While wearing my fast hands, obviously.

(Dale has brought his too, it should be noted. His have been around a bit and are, er, dirtier than mine. He says.)

Thursday: Jaguar Nurburgring Test Centre, 1230h
Well, I did it! Or near enough, as you'll see from the photo with the speedo a whisker under the 280km/h limit. Honour satisfied, Speed Pack lives up to its name and the XJ has demonstrated it can do the fast lane ego demolition job on any unwitting local. Rule Britannia and all that!

The editor in essential ego massage photo op
The editor in essential ego massage photo op
The most amazing thing? Quite how easily speeds like this appear on the dial. I shouldn't be surprised really - there is a 510hp supercharged V8 under the bonnet of course - but in some fast cars it can take a while to build the big numbers. Not in the Jag. Wham, it's there, your vision point narrowing and focus suddenly way, way further up the road than usual. Is that a yellow numberplate on the back of that car half a mile ahead? Might be Dutch, will probably ... yes ... pull out for no apparent reason. Incredible the concentration and anticipation driving at this speed demands.

Incredible too that it's still legal. Still boggles the mind that something that would result in a jail sentence back home is totally legit here. And I fear it may have ruined any future drives in the UK in an XJ, knowing how easily it can do this.

XJ Ultimate at the 'ring test centre
XJ Ultimate at the 'ring test centre
Chatting with chassis man David Pook and Dale Lomas here at the 'ring test centre reveals quite how much tech there is underpinning all this. It's more than a big engine this car, indeed any car in this bracket. Pook was just explaining how the active diff measures every little input and at those big speeds has a lot to do with directional stability. On test cars he can switch it 'off' and he says heavy handed lane changes at speed require a lot of corrective input. With the diff in play it's a gentle roll of the wrists and you'd never even realise what's going on underneath.

And now we're here at the 'ring to see if it can do corners too. I'm sure it can. And comms chief Frank Klaas is gearing up for another appearance on PH! Seriously, I thought I was a teeny bit obsessive about this place but Frank's in another league! And every time I see him he lights up with pride about his starring role on PH in the XFR. He's even cooked something up especially for us too. More on this shortly...

Thursday: A5 autobahn, 1000h
There can a sombre side to our obsession with speed of course. And here in a little lay-by on the arrow-straight A5 autobahn south of Frankfurt airport is a small memorial to a man who sacrificed his life to it – Auto Union’s Bernd Rosemeyer.

Rosemeyer memorial is sobering
Rosemeyer memorial is sobering
You’ll have heard of him, no doubt, and probably of the story of his death in January 1938, somewhere north of 250mph right here on this piece of road, trying to match the incredible 272.5mph one-way speed set earlier the same day by his arch Mercedes rival Rudolf Caracciola in a 736hp streamlined W125. That record for a speed hit on a public road still stands, and most likely will for the foreseeable future no matter what variations are spun off the Veyron platform.

Riggers was going to seek this little shrine out when he was here the other week but I gave him slightly erroneous directions. Well, I didn’t, I just missed out one small detail. The lay-by IS on the western side of the autobahn but the one important detail I’d missed was that, of course, over here in Germany that’s the southbound carriageway, not the northbound. Oops. Riggers realised my mistake after pacing about the northbound lay-by but, strangely, didn’t fancy trying to leg it over eight lanes of (very) fast-moving traffic and requiring the building of a second memorial.

Carraciola's streamliner Merc
Carraciola's streamliner Merc
And this really has to be in with a shout as the fastest bit of road in the world, with or without that record link. I just hit an easy 130mph in the short squirt down from the airport.

No wonder the Nazis used it as a place to demonstrate the might of the technology developed by Auto Union and Mercedes under their sponsorship, this description of the fateful record attempts carrying some vivid quotes attributed to Rosemeyer (“…at about 240 mph the joints in the concrete road surface are felt like blows, setting up a corresponding resonance through the car … when you go under a bridge, for a split second the engine noise completely disappears and then returns like a thunderclap when you are through.”) and Caracciola ("The road seemed like a narrow white band, the bridges like tiny black holes ahead. It was a matter of threading the car through them...").

Rosemeyer and his Auto Union
Rosemeyer and his Auto Union
Scary stuff. And it’s like Frankfurt’s local drag-strip to this day, with even the middle lanes 90mph+ zones and, at the right time of day, the fast lane only for the big boys. Or, today at least, chancers in Jags with a 174mph limiter – all the better for annoying the locals bouncing off theirs at 155. There’s mischievous glee to be taken in this, I must confess, Herr AMG/BMW M/Audi S line having to eventually concede defeat and bow down to the Jag’s uberholprestige, further bolstered by a mean-looking black grille on this Sport pack. Jaguar hasn’t gone quite as far as tuning the exhausts to emit the Dambusters theme as you pass, but it’s there in spirit.

Thursday: Frankfurt airport, 0915h
Whisked straight off the plane and into some VIP area and here are our Jags, ready to roll. In red, white and blue. Nice touch and just the thing for rubbing the fact we’re not encumbered by 155mph limiters like the rest of the locals in their noses!

Time to go!

Thursday: M25, 0500h
This is not, I should point out, the view from a maxed out Jaguar XJ Supersport Speed pack. Rather a slightly - only slightly - more sedately driven Vauxhall Vectra en route to Heathrow for my 7am to Frankfurt.

Once there we'll drive to the 'ring via, hopefully, some limit-free autobahn (more on this from our Riggers in due course) where I'll follow in the tyre tracks of my esteemed predecessor Chris R, who already enjoyed the XJ around the Nordschleife, and also Riggers who was introduced to the track by Nurburgringobsessed Jaguar comms man Frank Klaas in an XFR. Once there I'll also be meeting Ringside Seat man Dale Lomas and his new mate Phil Talboys, Jaguar's 'ring test centre manager and man with the keys to a shed full of supercharged Jags. So we'll be nice to Phil! The fleet does include an XKR-S apparently, leading Stuart yesterday to question my need to go on the trip at all. "What, Germany's the one country you haven't driven that car in yet?" he asked in a meeting. "Or was it just that you haven't had a go in a red one?" Um, now you come to mention it...

Ah well, I'm here at Heathrow now. And if I don't get to max the XJ out on the autobahn hopefully there'll be a chance at the 'ring. One way or another I'll see 174mph before the day is through, dammit!

Time to swot up on Jags and autobahn speed records on the flight over though. I've got a plan...




Comments (133) Join the discussion on the forum

  • robinessex 03 May 2012

    Just to think that here in the UK, the opportunity to drive the Jag briskly is nil. Well, legally that is !!!!!!!!!

  • Contigo 03 May 2012

    Mate is a big Jag fan and he got an extended test drive in one of these, see if you can get 7MPG on the DIS biggrin

    Lovely motor.

  • ceriw 03 May 2012

    I read that right - never driven in Germany and first time on an autobahn and you're going to driving at 170mph ish.
    You're a fking idiot.

  • Tyre Tread 03 May 2012

    This does have the potential to be a disaster story so please, for your own sake and ours keep a little sanity check between you and the red mist.

  • St John Smythe 03 May 2012

    ceriw said:
    I read that right - never driven in Germany and first time on an autobahn and you're going to driving at 170mph ish.
    You're a fking idiot.

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