Jaguar RSR Ups Driver Quotient for 2011

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Jaguar RSR team competes in 2010 Petit Le Mans
Photo: Anne Proffit

After a season – plus two races – of teething pains and the reality of just not getting their car to perform the way they’d like, the RSR Jaguar American Le Mans Series GT team has decided to employ some superlative drivers to help the cause.  While the reason for many of the RSR team’s maladies has been from bringing a new car to competition quickly, having drivers who can give good feedback and knowledge always comes in handy.

Jaguar RSR has decided to hire two Brazilians and one American to anchor their efforts in ALMS competition in 2011.  The duo of Bruno Junqueira and Cristiano da Matta from Belo Horizonte, Brazil made their marks in the open wheel arena.  Junqueira was the F3000 champion who replaced Juan Pablo Montoya on Chip Ganassi’s Team Target IndyCar Squad.  Da Matta won the 2002 CART championship to go along with his 1998 Firestone Indy Lights title.  

A deer that rushed onto the track while the driver was testing at Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI struck down Da Matta’s IndyCar career.  It was only through the efforts of the CART safety team and a dedicated group of surgeons that he survived and thrived; the petite Brazilian’s ability to return from hideous head injuries is nothing short of miraculous and he’s been 100 percent for at least the last three years.

Both Junqueira and da Matta have been racing stock cars in their native Brazil the last year or so; Junqueira’s also raced at the Indianapolis 500 and has been, literally, trolling the paddocks for work he notably deserves.  Off the track, da Matta and Junqueira are great friends; they have been fierce competitors their entire racing lives.  

Now this duo will join to race together and are looking forward to working together for the first time.  “I am excited to be working with Cristiano,” Junqueira said.  “He is an extremely talented driver and it will be an honor to call him my teammate.  We have always been battling with each other on the track.”  In fact, in 2002, Junqueira finished second to da Matta in the championship fight.  “It will be nice to have him on my side, to work with him instead of trying to beat him!”

Da Matta acknowledged his greatest success has been in open-wheel cars.  “I feel it is not time to begin a new chapter in my life.  I have always admired GT racing, so I am excited to get started and to be part of the American Le Mans Series.  Driving for Jaguar is something big.  It is a big responsibility in one way and a big pleasure in another, because I will be working on developing the car and showing the true glamour of the XKR in its racing form,” he said.

Joining this illustrious duo is second-generation driver PJ Jones, who’s had a wide-ranging career.  He had his best IMSA results (IMSA is the ALMS’ sanctioning body) in the Toyota factory GTP team, driving for Dan Gurney’s All American Racers.  One of the highlights of that tenure was his factory in the Daytona 24-Hour race in 1993.  That year Jones was runner-up in the title fight and played a vital role in securing the GTP manufacturers’ title for Toyota.

Jones finished second in Indy Lights in 1991, earned the first PPG Cup points for a Toyota-powered Champ Car in 1996, finished second in the Chili Bowl midget race the same year and was a test driver for Toyota’s NASCAR program.  

“I’m really happy to be part of the team and to represent Jaguar,” Jones said.  “Previously I competed in the GTP category and now, to be in GT racing as part of the American Le Mans Series looks very competitive.  I think it adds a lot of excitement and thrill for the drivers.  From what I’ve seen of the Jaguar RSR team, they have made a lot of improvement from last year, so we will go down to Sebring to test things out (February 9-10) and prepare for the big event (Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring) in March.”

While da Matta and Junqueira are set to drive together in the No. 99 Jaguar RSR XKR GT, no teammate has yet been signed to work with Jones in the No. 98.  The team’s principal partner and owner, Paul Gentilozzi could easily fill that bill as he’s driven the car since it first came to compete at Petit Le Mans in 2009.  “We believe that 2011 holds a lot of promise,” Gentilozzi said.  “We have our ‘rookie’ season behind us and look forward to a more competitive sophomore season with all of the changes and development that we have made to the program.  We have such great talent in our driver lineup – all of these guys will bring a unique perspective and influence to the team.”

© 2011 Anne Proffit

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