Twenty years ago, this US Air Force base would be hyperactive with Thanksgiving activities. But then late November and La Nina wouldn't have been a sweeter date. Cloudy all day but without a drop of rain, the cool, slightly humid breeze kept the ambient temperature at Clark Speedway 28 Celsius, 6 degrees cooler than the Metro, a pleasant NLEx-SCTEx journey away. The day could well be Thanksgiving for Jaguar's young fans and the Press for this was the first time Jaguar Philippines unleashed half a dozen brand new high powered Jaguars for a day of track driving.
For the day's event, there was to be no pussyfooting. Marc Soong, Jaguar-LR Phils. MD hired the racing Ramirez family of Georges, Menchie and Stefan to plot courses and exercises that would maximize a Jaguar's braking, cornering, accelerating and drag racing potential. With half a day of track time our hands, we can appreciate the typical Jaguar luxury appointments, ambient lighting, red lit "heart beat" start/stop button, swiveling air vents and ergonomic theater in between hot laps.
A new V-6?
There was no shortage of cars. There was a lovely bronze XF piloted by Stefan, while uncle Georges had a British racing green XF. Both cars came with a new kind of 3.0-liter V-6 engine developing 240PS and 0-100km/h times of 8.3 seconds. A white XF had parallel sequential twin turbo V-6 with 275PS and 0-100km/h in 6.4 seconds was parked beside a big Jaguar hoarding. The next white XFiR was V-8 powered 510PS monster with 0-100km/h times of 4.9 seconds. What was exciting to see and hear was the XK-iR coupe, equipped with the same V-8 as the XF-iR. And there were 2 other XF's with the 238PS petrol 3.0-liter V-6, one of which was assigned to Menchie who took charge of the drag strip. All had 6-speed automatic transmission shifted by a pleasant looking, blue back-lit knob on the console.
Was Lucas still around?
To the gathered, Jaguar's race track abilities were not in doubt. After all, Jaguar became famous by winning races and transferring that expertise to personal motoring. What needed reinforcing was Jaguar's reputation for durability, a doubt that bedeviled the brand from the days of Sir William Lyons, thru foster parents British Leyland, Ford PAG and now TATA.
For a Jaguar event, all that was lacking was the Union Jack. Steve Davis, a Brit Jaguar-lifer was on hand to chuckle at the Press antics. He was curiously relaxed, confident that today's Jaguars are no longer bedeviled by electrical and components failures when LUCAS, the "Prince of Darkness" reigned. There was a big white tent, probably air conditioned by Mr. Willie Soong's newfangled screw type induction air cons. It could have been a vignette of a Polo match as a game ready purple Range Rover was even parked nearby, under many of Clark's spread leaf Acacia trees. A glance up the road, barely 100meters away was the modern hulk of a huge Samsung factory on Clark Expo grounds, built in just over 5 months.
Instead of clotted cream and scones, or daal and chapati, with due respect to the Mr. Ratan Tata, we had Pampanga's finest cuisine not only for lunch but also for afternoon tea. We weaned ourselves from partaking too much of each of the twenty plus speciality courses as we were in for a lot of gut wrenching g's braking and cornering. We wouldn't want to ruin any of the Jag's Wilton carpets.
Snug fit, but comfy
Getting in and out of the leather seats of each of the test cars, we got engrossed in learning how to deal with 238, 240, 275 and 510 horsepower. Too engrossed to appreciate the tender leather, the electronic remote controls on the chunky steering wheel. But not too engrossed to enjoy learning the perfect timing for booting the gas pedal through the apex and squeezing the brake the way one would crush an annoying cockroach. Georges kept correcting my bad habits with the throttle on approach to a corner, a bad habit that his late brother, Kookie, valiantly but vainly tried to reform. In all the hard pressed race car simulated driving we did, not once did we lose sight of the caressing care of that signature Jaguar soft ride. Not even on the allegedly hard sprung XF-iR and XK-R models.
Racing with the "new" engine reveals...
We even had a surprise race where the lighter and younger of us did a short drag-slalom-U-turn-drag-hard braking lap in less than 20 seconds in the XF diesel. Did I say diesel? All through the day, the supreme quiet and smokeless/odorless bronze and green XF's we were using were Jaguar's latest V-6 diesel. Yes, even the white XF with 275PS twin turbo was a diesel. The power simply misled all of us to think they were small V-8's. As for the lack of odor and smoke, TOTAL of France, the event's fuel sponsor cited their Biodiesel mix but gave the British engine engineers credit for keeping us car enthusiasts clueless.
R is the word
Without a doubt, Jaguar is reminding luxury sports sedan fans out there that there is an alternative to the default German brands. Jaguar's uniqueness stands on its supreme ride refinement, even when it makes hard core autobahn stumping hyper tuned versions like the "R". There's always the modern take of English luxury. But Jaguar now comes with reliability and durability that means no more pussyfooting for hard drivers. And that is what was spell binding about Jaguars: the ability to match all that performance, without losing grip and sharp steering turn-in while being cosseted in silence and ride comfort.
PS: Jaguars repave EDSA?
Jaguars for the Philippines? The world class NLEx and SCTEx are there for the taking. The bonus is when taking busy and slab-jointed EDSA. Coming into the City from the Clark Speedway, a Jaguar's refined suspension makes EDSA feel like the NLEx.