Jaguar is set to return to the Le Mans 24 Hours next year with a XKR GT2 contender developed in the U.S. by Paul Gentilozzi's Rocketsports team.
Rocketsports announced today in Long Beach that it will join the ultra-competitive GT2 class of the American Le Mans Series in the middle of this season. That will be precursor to a full program in 2010 that should put a Jaguar back on the grid at Le Mans for the first time since 1995.
Gentilozzi, a former outright winner of the Daytona 24 Hours with Nissan, who also ran Jaguar's SCCA Trans-Am program explained that he was aiming to produce a car that was "competitive on the track, representative of Jaguar's racing history and economically viable for customers in GT2 around the world."
Le Mans is very much part of Rocketsports' plans, he insisted.
"I raced at Le Mans in 1994 and [competed in pre-qualifying] in 1996 and have been looking for a way back ever since," he said. "If you are racing a Jaguar in sports cars, it is the appropriate place to be.
"The plan for 2010 is definitely to compete at Le Mans. To get there you have to have a relationship with the Automobile Club de l'Ouest [the race organizers] and that is something we are already developing as we work towards joining the ALMS in the summer."
Rocketsports is entering the ALMS with technical and marketing support from Jaguar. Gentilozzi, whose company won four Trans-Am titles under the banner of the British sports car manufacturer, stressed that there was no commercial support.
"The economy doesn't allow that," he said, "but without the company's technical assistance we would never have been able to undertake this program."
Gentilozzi claims that the XKR road car "really lends itself well to becoming a racecar."
"We are happy with the torsional stiffness and we like the latest engine because it is light and small and because of its technological advancements, primarily the direct-injection," he said.
Asked if he believes the car can competitive in GT2 against Porsche, Ferrari and BMW, he replied: "I'm risking all of my history on that projection, although I know it will be difficult."
Gentilozzi, 59, expects to race the new Jaguar in what he is billing as a development year.
"We are developing the car this year," he said, "and I feel I'm best for that job."
The second, undisclosed driver was described by Gentilozzi as "very experienced and a world class guy."
"For 2010, we will only have drivers we know who can win," he said. "We expect to have at least one European, hopefully a British guy."
Gentilozzi said the first XKR would begin testing in June. It should race for the first time in either the Lime Rock ALMS round in July or at Mid-Ohio in August.