Up in Smoke

What if someone gave you the keys to a Jaguar and turned you loose on the track?

A dusting of asphalt particles wafted in the open window of the 2011 Jaguar XKR, coating the “warm charcoal” leather interior—with contrasting stitched accents—in a fine grit. Very uncivilized.

I was warned. The instructor riding in the passenger seat lectured me about object fixation, smooth inputs and the punch of the Jag’s 510-horsepower, supercharged V-8 when it’s freed from the electronic traction control, a sort of leash that won’t allow the Jag to spin a wheel no matter how bad the driver.

But I didn’t listen. He pushed a button, I nailed the gas and the rear tires went up in smoke. The rear of the 4,000-pound, grand-touring supercar spun, scattering orange safety cones all over the skid pad, grit and tire smoke filling the cabin like a cloud of suspicion. I wonder if the smell will ever come out of that plush suede headliner.

Of course no properly bred XKR owner would subject his or her $96,000 automobile to such treatment. And none will have to, because when you buy an XKR, or the equally beautiful four-door XFR ($79,600), Jaguar throws in a day at the track at one of the four R Performance Academy sessions it holds annually. Along with developing a healthy respect for the traction control feature, owners learn the art of throttle steering, apex clipping and braking from brand-name racing drivers including 1984 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Roberto Guerrero and 1990 24 Hours of Daytona winner Davy Jones.

For professionals accustomed to running with the best drivers in the world, our instructors proved remarkably patient. “Don’t try to impress us, because you can’t,” teacher Chris Munro counseled our March 29 class at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “Don’t try to frighten us, because we already are.”

After a brief run-through on the theory behind getting around a racetrack quickly, they turned us—a contingent of international media and one actual Jaguar owner from Atlanta—loose in a fleet of 24 pristine XKRs and XFRs lined-up door-to-door like the valet parking area at an investment banker’s wedding. And these are impressive cars. The XKR coupe has a sleek stance that oozes sophistication, the XKF manages to make four-doors look sexy. Both are sure-footed at triple-digit speeds, and equipped with brakes that don’t fade after repeatedly hauling them back to sanity.

Only about 20 percent of XKR and XFR owners take the course, which leads one to believe that most are satisfied with looking good on the way to the country club. But for those who want to explore what the cars can really do without risking handcuffs, the R Performance Academy provides the outlet. Besides, jail is so ordinary.

Be a Drifter

If you’re short of the $96,000 it will take to get on the track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as a guest of Jaguar’s R Performance Academy, there is a cheaper way to burn tire rubber: U-Drift, a new driving experience at LVMS.

Drifting is controlled sliding around a marked course. It’s kind of the opposite of traditional racing, in which breaking traction is a bad thing because it slows you down. But drifting is all about wheel smoke, spins and oversteer. It’s a big old bunch of hooligan fun.

U-Drift offers a basic package that includes a rental Nissan 240SX, instructions and six laps around their course for $75. After that, you can do the same six laps with the car, but without the instructor, for $50. Or bring your own car and drift all day for $40 on weekdays and $50 on weekends. Check U-Drift.com for hours, or call 425-4270.