TVR T400R – Half A Decade Up Against The Rest
With the 2006 Le Mans 24 Hours entry list already featuring Spyker and Panoz (as well as Ferrari) challengers to the seven year winning streak of the Porsche 911 GT3 R/RS/RSR story there is one name missing (so far) which has added passion, drama (and not a few spectators) to the great race for the past three years.
The TVR T400R has always added a certain something to GT2 racing, a car that has succeeded almost despite the sum of its parts: an in-house engine programme combined with the definite air that the project reflected the finest traditions of British specialist sportscar construction.
With just one of the TVR T400R (nee Tuscan R) racers now active and with that team as eager as ever to attract the attention of the ACO, and by the by campaigning a full season of Le Mans Series racing once again too, it is perhaps apt to look back on the career so far of the T400R.
A total of seven racing chassis were built over the period 2001 – 2004, with the British GT Championship as the launch pad for the project and the Le Mans 24 Hours as a prime objective.
The car grew out of the factory’s success with the Tuscan Challenge and it was through this route that the teams and the drivers that would form the core of the TVR move into GT racing would come.
The first Tuscan R found its way into the hands of Richard Stanton and Race Sports Salisbury, a link which carried on through to 2005, with Stanton still very much involved with the car.
The Tuscan R was a success on two fronts in its debut season: it was an immediate hit with the fans, the straight six adding a special something in the aural stakes, and it was a success on track too, taking a class win at Castle Combe (Stanton and Steve Hyde) in its debut season.
The next car to see the light of day was Rollcentre Racing’s version, the Tuscan R replacing the much loved and admired Cerbera Speed 6, which had marked Martin Short’s team’s debut in GT racing. Rollcentre seemed to revel in the Cerbera’s ability to humble the new Tuscan R whilst their own car was still in build, but all too soon it was clear that the new car was the thing to have, the Cerbera was retired and Shorty and his sidekick Rob Barff chalked up another pair of wins in the 2001 season – making a trio of race wins in the T400R’s debut season.
Major Results – 2001
British GT Championship
Barclays DeWalt – 1 win, 2 second places, 2 third places and 1 pole position
Rollcentre Racing – 2 wins, 1 second place, 3 pole positions
2002 saw a third car join in the fun. It was first seen in public at the British GT Championship Media Day, being towed down the pitlane behind a quadbike. It had been delivered direct from the Blackpool factory and it was the most orange car on the face of the planet! Eclipse Motor sport’s TVR had entered the building!
This car was to prove a very significant piece in the dsc jigsaw in our first full year (2002) when it became apparent at that very same event, at a cold and wind Silverstone circuit, that Eclipse had just lost a significant sponsor.
The solution was obvious – a new Orange Car and a new Orange website. It was a match made in heaven and the car raced for almost the entire season with all-over dailysportscar branding.
The car was immediately on the pace but suffered appalling luck, never worse than when the team posted its first ever overall win, at Knockhill, only to be disqualified for a technical infringement, one that had given them no advantage whatsoever. The best of the (then) trio though was still the Rollcentre car: four wins and three second places were to take the Short / Pullan pair to the brink of the title at the last round at Donington Park, before mechanical woes brought an emotional end to a quite stunning season.
Into the bargain meanwhile, the Rollcentre car took in the T400R’s first ever international race start with a popular (with Japanese fans) and successful run in the Suzuka 1000kms, producing a class podium.
There was however another infamous T400R / dsc ‘happening’ during the 2002 season. The opening round took place at Brands Hatch’s Grand Prix circuit on 1 April. dsc (and its predecessors) enjoy the opportunity every year to use the excuse of All Fools Day to poke a bit of well intentioned fun at some of our favourite (and sometimes not so favourite) teams and drivers.
The debuting Simon Pullan was a shy but stunningly quick young man back then, and the dsc team just couldn’t resist pulling his leg. A David Lord shot at Dingle Dell caught the young man ‘getting air’ and a bit of skilful Marcus Potts photoshopping created what has become something of an internet legend, entirely believable and absolutely incredible. Martin Short’s first sight of it elicited a furious response, which almost saw his new young charge leave the team before he started a race!
Meanwhile, John Hartshorne was now the owner of the first chassis, and he and Piers Johnson started out very sensibly, with a couple of early fourth places in class.
Major Results 2002
British GT Championship
Rollcentre – 4 wins, 3 second places, 1 third place, 2 pole positions
Eclipse 1 win (but dsq), 1 third place
Race Sports 3 third places
Rollcentre – second in class
2003 saw another step forward and two more cars taking to the track. With Richard Stanton’s original car running under John Hartshorne’s Peninsula TVR banner, Stanton was back with a renewed attack, this time with a pair of brand new T400Rs – target Le Mans!
The opening task was to take one of the new DeWalt liveried cars to Sebring – and impress the ACO and finish the race. Oh how the seasoned observers laughed! Sebring’s combination of a punishingly bumpy surface, high temperatures and a grid full of world class GT2 teams would surely leave the quaint ‘Brits’ in their wake: this was serious, this was a car breaker. The TVR was going to fail!
Only it didn’t. Despite suffering huge cockpit temperatures (a result of a misjudged decision to leave the car’s fixed windows in place on a very steamy day) the car had just one problem, a faulty battery at the very end of the race, and it finished a hugely impressive sixth in class, with a very red faced driving squad of Stanton, Steve Hyde and Rob Barff scarcely able to believe the scale of the achievement.
Back in the British Championship It was Eclipse’s turn to shine. The Rollcentre car had been sold to another ex-Tuscan Challenge racer, Gareth Evans, and was now in the care of Burt Taylor’s Countdown Developments.
Eclipse was up against a Mosler MT900R double whammy from Rollcentre and Balfe Motorsport and the start of the season saw the scoresheet swing dramatically in favour of the pair of big V8 supercars. Mid-season though and the Piers Johnson / Shane Lynch pairing was beginning to come good. They scored a famous win at Silverstone (along with Ben McLoughlin) to win the historic British Empire Trophy. That race also produced a result which is now unlikely ever to be matched, with the Peninsula and CDL cars following the Eclipse T400R home for a TVR clean sweep of the podium.
There was another 1-2 for TVR though, this time at Castle Combe, a race which saw all five cars then in existence start the race. The 1-2 was a clean sweep for the DeWalt pair, returning home after a disappointing Le Mans which saw one car eliminated early in the race as the result of an errant WR, and the second finally succumbing after a huge effort by Michael Caine, to bring the broken car back to the pits, finally failed.
By now there was another significant T400R fact to note. Richard Stanton had piloted all five cars so far built in race action – starting out with the first chassis, sampling the Rollcentre car at Suzuka and completing the 2002 season aboard the Eclipse car, before coming back with his De Walt liveried pair.
Back to the race action though and with a further race win at Oulton Park and a host of podiums for Eclipse, the scene was about to be set for an epic finale to the British season. The final round of the 2003 championship was at Brands Hatch and there were three cars still in with the chance of a championship win. The Eclipse TVR was the outsider: both Moslers would have to fall by the wayside if the Blackpool rocket was to score a famous win.
There was however another factor at play – the DeWalt cars were back, now passed from Richard Stanton to Bob Berridge, and it was Berridge who played the first decisive role. Lap two, Turn One, Paddock Hill Bend and there was decisive contact. When the dust settled it was game over for the Balfe Mosler.
Eclipse meanwhile was flying high and looked set to make life exceedingly difficult for the Rollcentre Mosler. It was not to be however. A spinning Marcos Mantis backmarker (ironically only racing because Eclipse had lent the team the engine) looked set to roll one way, but instead went the other. Shane Lynch chose the wrong gap to go for and the subsequent tap sent the T400R into the barriers, hard. It was the end of the race and a fine championship run for the Eclipse Motorsport car: Tom Herridge would power to the title in the Mosler.
Major Results 2003
British GT Championship
Eclipse – 2 wins, 1 second place and 4 third places
De Walt Racing Race Sports – 1 win, 1 second place and 2 third places
Peninsula – 1 second place
CDL 1 third place
Sebring 12 hours
Dewalt 6th in class
Le Mans 24 Hours
De Walt 2 x DNF
2004 would see TVRs racing both at home and away once more. Eclipse’s car scored a win at Oulton Park but was unable to mount a serious title challenge. (The car did win a second time however in a Britcar GT Open race at Donington Park with John Griffiths and Chris Ryan taking charge in the car’s last competitive outing to date).
There was however a new chapter to add to the T400R story, and it was copper coloured!
RSR Racing arrived with first one and then a pair of brand new, copper-painted T400Rs funded by Lawrence Tomlinson and pedaled by the team owner and the evergreen Nigel Greensall. The first car almost took a race win on its debut at a greasy Donington Park but thereafter luck rather deserted the squad.
There was though by now a real movement towards taking the T400R into international competition. The DeWalt cars were now in the hands of Gareth Evans, under the banner of Chamberlain Synergy Racing – the Chamberlain part of that equation presenting itself in the not insubstantial shape of Hugh Chamberlain.
The cars appeared at Sebring once again in a beautiful purple livery and in a new ‘wide-track’ guise – a work of engineering art from Dave Lampitt. Despite a troubled Sebring, both cars drove to the finish and in June, with one car effectively being run by the RSR squad, the feat was repeated at the Le Mans 24 Hours too. 8th and 9th in class and a full 72 hours of racing across the two endurance classics and two cars.
In the Donington Park FIA GT round we saw one car each from the Chamberlain Synergy and RSR squads. The TVRs also made their presence felt in the LMES with both the purple cars and the (now once again yellow and black) Racesports car both scoring good finishes. There was the potential for more however, but a wildly spinning Pierre Kaffer in an Audi R8 all but destroyed one of the purple cars at the Bus Stop at Spa, on a weekend when the cars had been showing true class leading pace.
Major Results 2004
British GT Championship
Eclipse – 1 win, 2 third places
RSR – 2 second places
Sebring 12 Hours
Chamberlain Synergy – 12th and 16th in class
Le Mans 24 Hours
Chamberlain Synergy – 8th and 9th in class
Donington Park FIA GT
RSR 6th in class
Synergy 11th in class
6th – Chamberlain Synergy
7th – Racesports
The close season saw the now traditional shuffling of the T400R pack. This time though one team would be grabbing all the aces.
Lawrence Tomlinson had bought the two purple cars and these, plus his two ex RSR cars, would form the rolling stock for the ‘new for 2005’ Team LNT – all in narrow track guise.
It would be a joint British GT and LMES season for the newly purple and orange liveried TVRs
The season started with a two car entry for Sebring which sadly saw a catalogue of misfortune ruin the team’s opening weekend, despite a star studded driver lineup and an equally able engineering staff.
Team LNT’s programme was punishing – four cars, Sebring, LMES, British GT Championship and the Tourist Trophy FIA GT race at Silverstone – oh and a double application to Le Mans too of course.
In the British Championship the cars were super quick, but the Scuderia Ecosse Ferraris were just a wee bit quicker and it was with a sense of frustration that the team withdrew from the series mid season, after falling foul of the notoriously tough (especially for cars with a side exhaust outlet) noise restrictions at Castle Combe.
By then though the team’s season had hit its highest high, with an impressive and historic 1-2 finish in the opening 1000km race of the European season at Spa Francorchamps. They followed this up with a podium finish in the GT2 class at the Tourist Trophy meeting of the FIA GT Championship at Silverstone.
Meanwhile though came the lowest low – a quite unfathomable decision not to invite either of the Team LNT cars to join the entry for the Le Mans 24 Hours.
The Peninsula TVR squad meanwhile was pressing on, in the very first of the T400R chassis, with a full LMES season of its own and it was the Peninsula / racesports name that came out when the ACO opened the golden envelope containing the entry list for the 24 Hours.
John Hartshorne and his merry men were surprised and delighted and their solo representation of the marque did not disappoint the TVR faithful. Despite a troubled race the Hartshorne / Stanton / Piers Johnson trio finished the race and only failed to post a classified finish by just a couple of laps. In the LMES, they raced steadily and efficiently and posted a pair of sixth places plus a pair of sevenths, in a season of model consistency.
Major Results 2005
British GT Championship
Team LNT 2 second places, 1 third place
Team LNT 9th and 10th in class (Unclassifed)
Team LNT – First and second
Le Mans 24 hours
Race Sports 7th in class (Unclassified)
Silverstone FIA GT
LNT Third in class
Race Sports 2 sixth places, 2 seventh places
So where are the T400Rs now?
The ex Rollcentre car is still with Bert Taylor and has not been seen in public for almost two years.
Eclipse Motorsport’s car is still with the team but a reasonable offer to John Griffiths would likely persuade the team to part with the car!
The ex-DeWalt, ex-Chamberlain Synergy, ex Bob Berridge / Gareth Evans cars now reside with Team LNT, alongside the ex RSR pair.
That leaves just one – ironically chassis no.1, which remains in the ownership of John Hartshorne – determined to return to Le Mans to post another race finish for the car, perhaps the last hurrah for a marque which undoubtedly has played a massive part in rejuvenating the class – and without which it would have held far less appeal for lovers of the plucky underdog. Go on ACO – the crowds love it!