TVR Tuscan T400R: Blackpool's GT Underdog
The car tasked with taking TVR to Le Mans.
Throughout the 1990s, TVR was quite heavily involved in motorsport on a national level. The TVR Tuscan Challenge, started in 1989, had grown to become one of the most popular one-make championships in the UK by the turn of the millennium. Fields of over 30 cars at the height of its popularity were not uncommon and strong TV coverage helped enhance the popularity of the series. Several high-profile drivers took part in guest drives, such as Colin McRae, Anthony Reid, Tim Harvey and John Cleland. Following on from the success of the championship, TVR set its sights on the international GT racing scene, with one goal in particular: to take on Le Mans.
Production of TVR’s GT challenger began in 2000, under the TuscanR name. The name was intended as a reference to the Tuscan Challenge car, also known as the Tuscan Racer. Following the launch of the T350 road car the name was changed to T400R, and the remaining four of the seven-car run were built under this name in 2003 and 2004. Along with the name change there were slight changes to the car, mostly regarding the lights in the front and rear, but these were only cosmetic.
The T400R was powered by a variation of the famous ‘Speed Six’ 4.0 litre naturally-aspirated straight-six, which produced 400HP. TVR utilised carbon fibre to a large extent in the production of the T400R, having experimented with it in the earlier Speed 12 project. The entire body was built of the material; this contributed to the T400R weighing in at 1100kg. This also helped TVR achieve its goal of the T400R becoming the most rigid car the brand had ever produced. The T400R also saw TVR make extensive use of CAD in its design, rather than the traditional clay modelling the brand tended to use, with the intent being for it to be capable of remaining stable at speeds exceeding 200mph.
The British GT Championship was the series chosen for the T400R to debut in when the first chassis was ready in 2001. The #99 Barclays/DeWalt Racing entry would contest every round of the 13-race championship, achieving the first class win for the T400R in the seventh round at Castle Combe. In addition to this, the team would also score 2nd places at Oulton Park and Rockingham, as well as 3rd places at Brands Hatch, Thruxton and Silverstone to round off a highly promising first season. An additional T400R was entered from the fifth round onwards by the #55 Rollcentre Racing with Mole Valley/Xavex team, who switched from their older Cerbera Speed Six. They also had a solid first year, with two class victories at Brands Hatch and Donington and a 2nd place in the second visit to Brands Hatch.
For 2002 there were three T400Rs entered into the British GT Championship: the #55 Rollcentre Racing, #51 Racesport Harmon Kardon/OPC/Mobil and #69 (changed to #99 for rounds 10-12) Eclipse Motorsport. Of these cars, the #55 was by far the most successful. Four victories, a trio of 2nd places and a 3rd place put the team in with a real shot at the title, only for an unfortunate mechanical fault to force a retirement in the last round. It was a real season of highs and lows: bizarrely, in every race the #55 either finished on the podium or didn’t make the finish at all (although it did complete enough distance to be classified at Knockhill, despite not finishing). The other two cars both had strong results of their own, with four 3rd places between them and a win at Knockhill for the #69 that was taken away after a technical infringement. The Rollcentre Racing team also entered their car in the Suzuka 1000km and achieved a podium finish in their class, marking the T400R’s first international podium on its international debut.
2003 saw three T400Rs enter the British GT Championship initially, with two further cars joining mid-season. This season it was the turn of the #69 Eclipse Motorsport car to have a title challenge, picking up a highly respectable two wins, a 2nd place and three 3rd places. Once again, the title challenge was ended at the final round, this time following a heavy crash with a back-marker Marcos. The new #91 and #92 DeWalt Racesports Salisbury cars were the late entrants for the season, and picked up a 1-2 at Castle Combe and a further 3rd place each. The #92 car’s 3rd place came in the Spa 1000km joint race with the FIA Sportscar Championship; another noteworthy accomplishment. However, the unquestionable highlight of the season was the podium lockout at Silverstone: the #69 led home the #23 Peninsula TVR Team Racesport and #27 CDL Racing cars, who picked up their only podiums of the season.
Outside of British GT, the DeWalt Racesports Salisbury team also ran a single-car entry for the 12 Hours of Sebring. Facing off against an incredibly talented field, the team picked up a strong 7th place to add to the T400R’s growing international reputation. 2003 was also the first time the T400R was entered at Le Mans, however it was not a particularly great debut with both of the DeWalt Racesport Salisbury cars failing to finish.
TVR’s presence in the British GT Championship continued for 2004, though focus was somewhat shifting towards international competition. The #40 RSR Motorsport, #60 Eclipse Motorsport and #36 Peninsula TVR/JCB cars were all entered for British GT, though success at home was rather limited in comparison to previous campaigns. The RSR Motorsport entry picked up a pair of 2nd places, while the Eclipse Motorsport car achieved a win at Oulton Park along with a couple of 3rd places. The #36 car meanwhile never quite reached the podium, rounding off a somewhat underwhelming year at home.
2004 did at least see the T400R put on a commendable display at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with the #89 Chamberlain-Synergy Motorsport car finishing 8th in class (21st overall) and the sister #96 following it home in 9th in class (22nd overall). The same team’s attempt at the 12 Hours of Sebring was less impressive, with only one of the two cars making the finish in 12th in class. In addition to these events, there were four T400Rs that made appearances in the European Le Mans Series. None of the cars achieved particularly spectacular results, with the peak being a 6th place for the #89 Chamberlain-Synergy Motorsport entry and a 7th place for the #91 Racesport Salisbury car, both at the Silverstone 1000km. While there weren’t any podiums to speak of, the T400Rs were consistently near the pace at least.
Finally for 2004, there was also a one-off entry in the FIA GT Championship for the Donington 500km round. However, due to the T400R not being homologated for the NGT regulations the two cars entered had to run in their own special class. Only the #153 RSR car completed the race, recording an 18th place finish, with the other #154 Chamberlain-Synergy Motorsport car failing to finish.
As was to be expected at this point, there were once again T400Rs racing in the British GT Championship. This time around it was Team LNT with their #42 and #43 cars, though this season was largely frustrating for the team. The T400R still had good pace, with the #43 picking up a pair of 2nd places and the #42 a 3rd place over the season, but could not quite keep up with the absolute front-runners. This played a part in the team withdrawing from the series mid-season, and would mark the end of the car’s career in the championship.
The T400R was again raced frequently in other championships, with Team LNT also running in the European Le Mans Series alongside Racesport Peninsula TVR. It was in this series that the T400R achieved perhaps its greatest result: a 1-2 for Team LNT at the Spa 1000km. Unfortunately for the team, the rest of the season was nowhere near as successful, with DNFs a constant occurrence. The Racesport Peninsula TVR consistently picked up respectable results, with a 6th in the Nürburgring 1000km and 7th places at the Spa 1000km and Silverstone 1000km. An opportunity for a personal best of 5th in the Istanbul 1000km was unfortunately missed when the car failed to complete the final lap, and thus was not classified.
Team LNT were not content with only contesting two championships however, and also entered the 12 Hours of Sebring (with both cars failing to finish), as well as rounds two and three of the FIA GT Championship. Round two at Magny-Cours produced a respectable result, with the two T400Rs finishing 6th and 7th in class. For round three at Silverstone Team LNT only entered one car, however it managed to achieve an impressive 3rd in class. Finally for 2005, Racesport Peninsula TVR entered their car into the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the T400R’s last appearance in the historic event. The car missed out on being classified as a finisher by only a few laps, but still ended up 8th in class and 26th overall.
By the time the 2006 season came around the T400R’s career was pretty much complete. Only one was raced during the year; the Racesport Peninsula TVR example. The team competed in the European Le Mans Series, with the hope being there would be one last invite to the 24 Hours of Le Mans waiting for the TVR. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. During the ELMS season the team secured a pair of 9th positions at the Spa 1000km and Jarama 1000km as their best results, but didn’t score any championship points.
With the 2006 season finished, the T400R was retired from competition. The GT2 regulations in which it had competed were starting to struggle for numbers (especially in British GT), so it was an appropriate point to call time on its career. While never quite on the level of the heavy hitters from Porsche and Ferrari, the TVR Tuscan T400R was a plucky, and often competitive, underdog. Right from its initial launch it was always a popular car with fans, and is a great example of a left-field entry actually managing to put in impressive performances. Perhaps with the recently rejuvenated company we might one day see the new Griffith take on Le Mans to continue TVR's motorsport story.