Performance Academy VIEW VIDEO HERE
March 28-30, 2011
As the cool Spring wind blew on this crystal clear, sunny day, a gorgeous white Jaguar XKR came to a screeching stop. The door flew open and a helmeted Adam Andretti got out of the car smiling, his passenger shaking his head and wobbly. Burnt tire smoke billowed from the car. They had just taken a “hot lap” at Las Vegas International’s 2.5 mile track. Andretti specializes in “drifting”—the practice of massive throttle-induced oversteer in which the tail end of the car hangs luridly out. Over do it, and the tail will come around, most likely ending in an uncontrolled spin which could have serious consequences. Incredibly, Andretti was doing these power slides at more than 90mph! And the poor car -- most tires are meant to last about 2 or more years, however, the brand new rear tires on this XKR were shot, done in by just three laps under Andretti’s helm as the cords were already showing.
I was at the Jaguar R Performance Academy, a program that is included with the purchase of the 510hp/461lbs torque Jaguar XKR and XFR models. Jaguar offers this free program for two primary reasons. First, 510hp in a regular street car is a lot of power, and though these cars have exceptional and incredible safety overrides such as traction control and automated braking (ABS), when these features are turned off, the docile Jag turns into a snarling race car. Jag wants to make sure that owners know the responsibilities and capabilities associated with owning such a powerful beast. Secondly, Jag also believes that this track school is a sort of “second honeymoon” as owners become familiarized with the stunning capabilities of the car they may have not known existed.
I arrived at the Las Vegas airport and was warmly greeted in the “limo line” by a Jaguar representative. I was extremely nervous as I had never driven on the track and was petrified of what was to come. However, my nervousness was reduced as we went out to the awaiting XJL (stretched version of the XJ) and an assistant was in the expansive back seat. We hustled to THE Hotel at Mandalay Bay and, en route they demonstrated the navigation, seat massagers, and 1,200 watt Bowers and Wilkins sound system. I had a fantastic dinner with the Jaguar reps, professional drivers, and the rest of the 23 other press representatives who had come from Italy, Spain, Australia, the US, and England.
Day 1: Track Day
Bright and early, we drove out to the Las Vegas International Speedway in a fleet of XJLs. The race track was impressive with massive stands and we'd later see stock cars thundering through doing practice laps. We had an hour or so of instruction and were introduced to the nine professional drivers who would be our guides. These drivers included Davy Jones (placed second at the Indy 500 and won Lemans), Roberto Guerrero (placed second at the Indy 500 twice), and Adam Andretti (nephew of Mario and drifting savant).
We transferred from the XJs to the powerful XFR and XKRs, equipped with 510 thundering horsepower. Instruction began with a short autocross route, followed by a figure eight, then small oval course, and finished with laps on the high speed 2.5 mile course. The figure eight tested precise handling, acceleration, and braking. Initially, we drove the cars with the computerized safety settings turned on; they intervene when there is a loss of traction. In this mode, the XKR, though very powerful, was never uncontrolled. Once acquainted with the course, however, the instructor switched the traction control off. In an instant, the XKR was transformed into a beast. I was soon driving with the rear end sliding out, pouring smoke from the tires. I learned to (try) and control the oversteer by letting off the throttle and turning in to the slide. It was an absolute blast! Later, on the oval course, Adam Andretti was my guide as I shot toward the apex then hammered the throttle, tail out and grinning like an idiot as I became more familiar with the cars limits.
After lunch and some much needed down time, we headed back out to the high speed track. I settled in, turned the AC to 65 degrees and switched the seat coolers to max; amazing to have so much luxury in this performance car. We followed the lead car and spaced out three car lengths each. The lead car led us progressively faster, encouraging us to brake HARD before a turn, let the momentum carry toward the apex, and then hammer the throttle out. The goal was to take the shortest line. We had the XKR/XFRs in "track mode", which enabled the automatic transmission to consistently downshift to keep the engine at full boil. The traction control was also set at high limits which prevented dangerous oversteer-but just barely. I was able to keep up in the turns, but on the straight-aways, i was nervous as we hurtled up to 120 mph then slammed the brakes for the next turn. At one point, I entered a sweeping right turn too fast and slid out into the gravel. Needless to say, despite the A/C and seat coolers, I was sweating profusely at the end. The driving was incredibly intense, demanding both mental and physical attention while generating massive adrenalin. At the day's conclusion, we headed back to the hotel for yet another incredible meal and lively rehash of the days events.
2: Hoover Dam
We got a much needed rest and left at 9AM the following day. We drove in the XJLs, the new Jaguar flagship for luxury and performance. Unlike the previous day, we were encouraged to maintain the posted speed limit as a squadron of these cars might seek attention from the local police on the open road.
The XJL had an incredibly smooth ride but also plenty of power as we headed out to Hoover Dam. We toured the structure then headed back out to the Ravella Resort on Lake Mead, where once again we had an incredible meal and enjoyed the crystal clear, sunny day.
Unfortunately, the journey had to come to an end. I was chauffeured in the XJL to the airport, and flew home with memories to last a life time.
The session gave me a new found appreciation for the track, along with improved skills that transfer to daily driving. I was also blown away at the incredible combination of luxury and performance that Jaguar offers across their entire product line.