Prior to this year’s classic, the car had raced at le Mans twice in recent years – the first 24 hour Le Mans Classic in 2002 and and the 2003 one hour Legends race held just prior to the “real” 24 hour event. Both of these events proved that the car needed improved power and better cooling so in late 2003 a full engine rebuild together with modifying the exhaust system and installing a larger fuel tank was undertaken to bring the car up to a competitive level. The TVRCC assisted with some not insignificant sponsorship which paid for a much larger aluminum radiator to be fitted prior to our departure for Le Mans.Around 370 entrants were due to appear in six different plateaus divided by years in this year’s 24 hour Le Mans Classic. In our plateau we were up against seven Ford GT 40s, six AC Cobras, one Ferrari 250 LM, six Ferrari 275 GTBs plus Bizzarinis, Jaguar E-Types, Alfa Romeo TZs, Alpine M63 and M64s, Porsche 904/6s and 911s, Sunbeam Tigers, Lola GT, etc. Our real competitors were few and far between – Sunbeam Alpine, MGBs, Deep Sanderson and a couple of CD Panhards. The Index of Performance however was our real chance of competing with the big boys and it was with this thought that we started practice on the Friday night with a positive frame of mind.
Sadly our optimism was short lived. Phil went out first and was going great guns on the first lap until he experienced loss of power at the end of the Mulsanne straight. It wasn’t overheating as the temperature was low and oil pressure was excellent and therefore we suspected an electrical, carburetion or rev-limiter problem. We eventually discovered that the problem was dirt and residue in the new fuel tank but by then it was too late to avoid a slow practice time. It meant that we had to start each race from near the back of the grid.
After changing filters and partially draining the fuel tank the first race started well with Phil catching and passing several of our competitors with ease in the first few laps as it was starting to get dark. The result of this first race saw us finishing 44th in outright classification ahead of two Ferrari 275 GTBs, an AC Cobra, a Porsche 911, the Deep Sanderson and the CD. Our position on Index of Performance was an encouraging 28th behind two Ford GT 40s but ahead of Barry Sidery-Smith’s and Rod Longton’s MGBs and Keith Hampson’s Sunbeam Alpine.
Our second race started late – around 4.45 a.m. – and needless to say dawn was still some way off. I took the wheel for the first stint and managed to pass several of our competitors when on the third lap fuel starvation gremlins struck again just prior to our pit stop to change driver. Phil started his first lap quickly but experienced loss of power half way down Mulsanne. He managed to creep back to the pits with his heart in his mouth trying to keep out of the way of fast approaching GT 40s and the like. It was decided that it was too dangerous to continue and it was with disappointment and frustration that we headed back to the paddock with two laps uncompleted. As a result we dropped down to 50th in outright classification and 49th on the Index of Performance.
Around 11 a.m. on the Sunday we were all ready to go with the tank fully flushed. Phil took the first stint and it was obvious that the Grantura was performing as it should even though we were limiting the revs to around 6,800. Our lap times were now improving and when Phil came in to hand over to me he reported that the car was running fantastically. I then set off enthusiastically hoping that our troubles were behind us and was following an Alpine through the first Mulsanne chicane when I lost the rear end and spun off into the gravel. I really thought that I’d blown it but the marshals quickly towed me out onto the grass verge and after a few anxious moments trying to restart the engine, I was once again back in the race. Although a good result was out of the question, we did manage to finish this last race 39th in outright classification and 34th on the Index of Performance.
The overall result for our beleaguered team was 41st on scratch and 34th on index – not too bad out of the 70 cars on our plateau. The most encouraging aspect though was that when the car was running properly our speed has greatly improved since the 2003 Legends race. On the last lap of the last race the Grantura was lapping 25 seconds a lap faster than our fastest lap of last year.
Our heartfelt thanks must go to our main sponsors BCR Yachts of Antibes, France, without whose support we could not have competed at this prestigious event since 2002. The TVR Car Club also supported us in this year’s event and we convey our thanks to them also.
Antibes August 2004
The TVR Car Club