JAGMAN. Polish mechanic at Le Mans Classic

Tomek “Tom Jagman” Zieliński is 26 and comes from Łódź, Poland. We met 6 years ago during Santa Taxi – one of the first events organized by Tejsted.

We used to pick up people and take them in the Camaro to Christmas pizza. One such trip, won by our follower, was supposed to be a surprise “for a friend who moved to the UK and was visiting his family for Christmas.” This person was Tomek. Since then we have been in touch, and just recently we had the opportunity to experience the emotions together at Le Mans Classic 2022.

The controversial Hawthorn

Tomek has been associated with the collection of cars owned by Nigel Webb for nearly 10 years. At first, his dad came to England and he started working at Nigel’s estate as a gardener. Later, Tom joined his father and initially performed basic workshop tasks. Today he recalls: “You know, I got it all on my own. First, I swept the workshop, then handed over tools and stayed overtime to learn something. Today I am responsible for the cars and the racing team. I achieved this myself with hard work and determination!” It is worth mentioning that 74-year-old Nigel Webb is a well-known and respected Jaguar collector. He created a small museum devoted to the British racing driver Mike Hawthorn. In 1955, Hawthorn won the Le Mans 24 Hours driving a Jaguar D-Type. However, that success was overshadowed by accusations of Hawthorn being directly responsible for causing a tragic accident involving Mercedes 300 SLR driven by Pierre Levegh. 86 spectators and the French driver were killed in the accident.

The Webb collection showcases a Jaguar D-Type reconstructed based on the original body in which Mike Hawthorn won the tragic Le Mans ’55. Interestingly, the same car won Le Mans Classic 2016, and during this year’s edition of the event it was lent to one of Nigel’s friends to compete. Three years after success in Le Mans, Mike Hawthorn won Formula One World Championship – again under quite controversial circumstances by winning just one race in a whole season. Right after the end of the season, Mike decided to end his career, mainly because of the tragic death of his friend Peter Collins who died on the track. Mike was not given opportunity to enjoy his life – on January 22, 1959 29-year-old died in a car accident. The circumstances of the accident are unclear to this day. It is known that on the ill-fated day he fell out of the road on the Guildford Bypass, the weather was terrible. Paradoxically, he followed the Mercedes 300 SL.

How fast?!

Tom invites me to sit in their racing C-Type, which is just getting ready for the next qualifying session. In this car Nigel Webb will be racing at this year’s Le Mans Classic. Tight and raw, but truly magical! A brass plate on the dashboard informs that it’s the oldest C-Type in the world (first registration on May 23, 1952). The first owner of the car was Duncan Hamilton, who  won the Le Mans ’53 driving with Tony Rolt. What a piece of automotive history!

“There are a lot of prototype solutions in this car, such as disc brakes, which often cause problems. I am about to bleed the entire brake system and it must be done with the engine running. After each ride, I check the entire car, there will always be a screw that needs to be tightened. “ – Tom explains. The car is in perfect condition, but it cannot be denied that it is old. Without bringing up the age, I wondered if it deserved some  lenience in the race. Tomek quickly corrected me by saying that Nigel is making a maximum use of the car and regularly, during each classification session, he achieves a top speed of well over 200 km / h.

When life becomes a race

Whenever men say they are on the track just for fun and it’s not about the result, they are lying. Even with the best entertainment, if there’s an element of competition, it’s always about the top place! That is why racing mechanic job is difficult. You have to chase the bunny constantly. “Obviously I had moments of doubt. Up to a point when I wanted to slam the door and drop everything. Sometimes it’s just too much. We are about to get back from Le Mans and I’ll have to prep the car for the next racing weekend. I will not sleep it off and I have to go on. Unpacking everything, preparing the car, repacking, another trip – it’s really tiring. But then I think about the chance I got from life and the place in which I am now. I know I have to take advantage of this and keep going! You drink strong coffee, go back to the workshop, and push yourself further! “ – Tom  admits honestly . There are many trips each season. The team competes in Motor Racing Legends, Mike Hawthorn Jaguar Challenge, Goodwood Revival, Le Mans Classic, and many others.

Paddock does not sleep

I visit Tomek in the paddock after the evening qualifying session. I ask right away – “Tomek, what’s the result?!” Droplets of sweat cover his face. Despite the late hour, Le Mans is very stuffy tonight. Jagman wipes sweat off his brow, tiredly leans against the side of the C-Type, and catches a breath. “We won the third place, it’s really good. But something fell through the front grille and damaged the radiator. Take a look here – one rib is missing. Probably a stone, because a bird would leave a mark… I’m soldering it and I hope it will stand.” There is a night qualifying session and the next day of racing ahead of the team. While shaking Tom’s hand goodbye, I’m already thinking about my comfortable hotel bed. The all-day heat and 26-kilometer walk  around the de la Sarthe track were not unnoticed. Tom looks at his watch and says – “Alright! Now I have two hours of rest and we’re back on track. May the radiator last!”

I’ve always admired the mechanics of the long-distance races. They are the first to get up and the last ones to go to bed if only they can afford it. They stand in the shadow, sometimes completely namelessly supporting the powerful names of famous drivers. Such is their fate. While I think about it, looking at the mechanics of various teams bustling in the sweat of their brows, a few gentlemen approach Tomek, holding a leaky oil pan in their hands. Desperate, they are looking for a welder. We stop the conversation. Tomek waves his hand at them understandingly, and explains to me – “Just  before leaving I packed a small welder. I‘ll help them, let the race continue!”

The Jaguar No 6 Racing Team achieved an excellent third place in its category – out of 74 teams at the Le Mans Classic 2022. At the last moment before the awards ceremony, Nigel Webb was fined a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane, relegating him to fourth place.

I got in and felt it was the right place

Tomek, what is your daily car? – I asked. I was prepared for several different answers, but I really did not expect the one I got: “I love Mazda, there is something special about them. They’ve always been up to something and creating interesting cars. Check out this 787B that came to Le Mans this year – isn’t it divine? Or the first generation of MX-5 which has 50:50 weight distribution – perfect for the track. The story of my Mazda is that I went on vacation to Poland and I rented a “six”. I got in and fell in love right away. One year later I bought it. Interestingly, I was planning to get a gasoline engine, but in the end I bought a diesel 2.2 SkyAcitve from 2017 and I don’t regret it. It’s a very strong car, fast and economic enough, and I do a lot of long distance routes. You often have to pick up some car parts or take something to repair. Perfect daily for me!”

Text: Sławomir Poros
Photo: Maciej Jasiński