Jaguar will return to British GT for the first time since 2007 this season after new outfit, Invictus Games Racing, confirmed it would enter a pair of all-new F-TYPE SVR GT4s for a select group of wounded, injured and sick (WIS) veterans of the British Armed Forces.
The team, which unveiled the latest addition to GT4’s ranks during today’s Autosport Show in Birmingham, is a collaboration between the Invictus Games Foundation and Superdry co-founder James Holder, who commissioned Jaguar’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division to develop and build two bespoke F-TYPE SVRs.
Indeed, it was during his debut British GT campaign as a driver in 2016 that Holder was inspired by watching the Invictus Games in Orlando. Thus, the project and car’s development has remained a closely guarded secret for over a year.
“Invictus Games Racing will enable ex-servicemen and women who have experienced physical or psychological trauma during service to compete against each other and the rest of the top-level racing field, in cars that are tailor-made for them,” said Holder, who has self-financed the project. “We wanted to give these men and women the chance to compete in a professional racing competition with the established teams.
“Motor racing is often seen as elitist and our vision is to open the sport up to all wounded, injured and sick service personnel supported by the Invictus Games Foundation – including their families – through the race team itself and with exclusive Invictus Games Racing ‘experience events’. These track days will be held at some of Britain’s most iconic racing circuits with the first event being held at Silverstone on 7 June 2018.
“We are not under any illusions. I know personally how difficult this level of racing is and we’re a brand-new team starting out. In the first season we will primarily be competing between each of our own cars but we will take every opportunity to finish as high up the pack as humanly possible in every race. Our shared desire and goal is to ultimately win races.
“This dream won’t happen overnight but during the journey I can promise fans that we will have inspirational drivers, great stories, innovative technology and the coolest looking and sounding cars on the circuit.”
The F-TYPE SVR GT4 will race exclusively in British GT this season and has been designed with its WIS veteran drivers in mind. Nevertheless, Jaguar’s fastest current road car – capable of 200mph in production trim – has retained its signature 5-litre supercharged V8 engine while reverting from all-wheel to rear-wheel drive.
On the driver front, Holder and Invictus Games Racing have spent the last six months working with leading experts, Mission Motorsport, to identify and train four drivers from the Armed Forces best suited and most likely to gain personally from the programme. Each will be joined by professional Pro drivers, as per British GT’s Pro/Am classification. But instead of fielding three drivers per car, the Ams will take it in turns to race throughout the season.
Matthew George, who previously partnered Holder in British GT, returns alongside Steve McCulley and Paul Vice, while 23-year-old American Jason Wolfe – a former two-time Pirelli World Challenge TCA champion – will mentor Ben Norfolk and Basil Rawlinson.
South African-born Rawlinson joined the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment in 2009, before serving on an operational tour of Afghanistan between 2010 and ‘11. A Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and several degenerative discs in his back saw him placed on medical leave before being fully discharged in August 2014. He now lives in Leamington Spa having secured an engineering role at Jaguar Land Rover.
Rawlinson said: “I am hugely grateful to Invictus Games Racing for giving me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to race in the British GT Championship. I am most looking forward to the thrill of competition and the opportunity to be part of a tight team – both things that were integral during my time in the Parachute Regiment. I hope to broaden my knowledge of motorsport and to achieve a podium finish, which would be incredible! I look forward to the year ahead and want to make memories that will last a lifetime.”
Norfolk, who lives in Hampshire, served on several operational tours to Iraq and Afghanistan as a Royal Air Force Sergeant. In 2008, he assisted with a multiple casualty recovery at Camp Bastion. The desperate scenes that Ben witnessed that day reshaped his life. The events culminated in complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), anxiety and depression. He was medically discharged from the RAF in November 2017.
Norfolk said: “I am so excited to be involved in such a big project. Racing has been a passion of mine for over 20 years and British GT is a real step up from the grassroots motorsport I am used to! I have been humbled by how many people have dedicated their time, energy and expertise into this journey as the Invictus Games Racing team – thank you; that support helps me to push further than I ever thought I could.”
By 2011 Royal Marines Commando Paul Vice MC was on his fourth tour of Afghanistan. On foot patrol in Helmand Province, he stepped on a command wire Improvised Explosive Device (IED) which detonated underneath his Section. He suffered a traumatic brain injury resulting in paralysis of his right arm. More than 400 pieces of shrapnel were removed from his body by surgeons before a below-knee amputation followed. Undeterred, Paul, who now lives in Exeter, went on to become the most successful male athlete at the 2016 Invictus Games winning seven medals, including two golds.
Vice said: “Over my fairly short existence I have been lucky enough to have experienced some of life’s ecstatic highs and devastating lows. Now – after a lot of hard work, dedication and travelling up a steep learning curve – the next step in my journey sees me join the Invictus Games Racing team. The upcoming British GT Championship will see me climb this curve even higher. With an amazing team around me, both at home and on the track, I can’t wait to see what the next year will bring. Joy, smiles, laughter, pain or tears – I am ready.”
In 2011, 14 years after first joining the Royal Marines, Major Steve McCulley was nearly killed by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) while leading 175 Royal Marines in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Miraculously, he survived. However, the resultant injuries were so serious that he lay in a coma for three weeks. A gruelling two-year physical rehabilitation programme followed but his military career was over. Steve, who lives in Portsmouth, was helped through his rehabilitation by his long-held love of motorsport.
McCulley said: “I am extremely excited to be joining the Invictus Games Racing Team and competing in the British GT Championship this year. It is an incredible opportunity to be part of a team that has brought together a number of personnel and organisations, the sum of which will make for a very interesting season. With a 70% podium finish rate in the 2017 Caterham 310R Championships, I am fully committed to translating that success into British GT for 2018.”
This season’s British GT Championship begins at Oulton Park on March 31 – April 2.
DID YOU KNOW?
Jaguar last contested a British GT round in September 2007 when Apex Motorsport entered Rockingham with a pair of XKR GT3s, one of which was driven by current Barwell ace Phil Keen. An XK8 also made sporadic appearances in 2003, but you have to go all the way back to British GT’s second-ever event in 1993 to find Jaguar’s only victory: a TWR-run XJ220 driven by Win Percy at Silverstone.