The first thing you notice about Carl Hansen’s TVR Tuscan is just how small it is. Of course if you’ve ever been near to a Tuscan racer of any sort this won’t come as a surprise but when it’s standing next to a Chevrolet Camaro and down the pit lane from a Holden CV8 Monaro, the TVR looks like it’s been shrunk in the wash!
The second thing that strikes you about this car is just how beautiful it is. I don’t think I’ve seen a better Tuscan and some of this can be put down to the smoother lines that the hardtop configuration and body modifications give this machine. The hardtop and the body were constructed here in New Zealand by Lawrence Brock-Smith from moulds taken of the original body. The whole shell is constructed from a carbon fibre / kevlar honeycomb giving a much lighter and yet stronger body. The hardtop is beautifully executed with the ‘B’ pillar curving down to the top of the door in a similar fashion to that of the Cerbera. It makes this Tuscan racer look like it was always intended to be a coupe and the UK Challenge cars look like they’ve had a crude chop-top conversion.
Despite the additional hardtop this car still weighs in at around 900kgs wet which means that this Tuscan racer enjoys a 604bhp-to-the-ton power to weight ratio!
Which brings us nicely to the powerplant...
Despite TVR switching to the glorious AJP8 flat-plane-crank V8 in the Tuscan Challenge Series, Carl has stayed true to the original design and kept a Rover V8 (which is equally as glorious). Any decent tuner will tell you that getting more than 400bhp out of a Rover V8 is a difficult and expensive task mainly due to the restrictive cylinder head design.
This is where Ian Richardson of Wildcat engineering in Wales comes in as they produce alternative castings allowing huge valves to be fitted and much improved gas flow which enables Carl’s 4.8litre Rover to produce over 535bhp at 8,000rpm! Of course to do this it also employs all the other tricks of the trade : steel carillo rods, forged pistons, steel crank, four twin-barrel down-draft throttle bodies, Motec engine management expertly tuned by Mike Healey at Turbo Vehicles (with ADL dash), 13.8:1 compression ratio and gallons of lovely avgas (aviation fuel!).
Unlike most Rover V8s this engine looks the business with much of the untidy clutter found under the bonnet of a TVR Chimaera or Griffith absent. A lot of the engine work has been undertaken by Carl and his team led by Peter ‘Dimo’ Dimoc with any specialist engine machining performed by Northland Automotive Engineering; they’ve done a great job. There are future plans (an engine is in build) to utilize Wildcat’s alternative cylinder block which would yield a capacity of 5.7litres and a conservative estimate of 600bhp+ with torque to match. Lovely.
The immense power of the V8 is fed through a virtually indestructible, lightning quick Hollinger 6 speed sequential gearbox and 5.5” Tilton clutch to the Ford 9” IRS diff’ and out via the 300mm wide rear slicks (fronts are 280mm wide). Stopping this beast are 356mm discs with AP 6-pots up front (as per the current Tuscan Challenge cars) and 295mm AP-4pots on the rear (from the older Rover engined Tuscan Challenge cars - the newer cars use smaller rear discs).
Suspension is taken care of by fully adjustable Ohlins shocks and Eibach springs. Unlike the Challenge cars which were always designed to be a bit of a handful for more spectacular racing, this Tuscan sticks to the road like glue and gets better the faster it goes thanks to that huge rear wing, flat underside and rear diffuser.
Carl’s Tuscan races in the Super GT category here in New Zealand. It’s a very open category and you’ll find all sorts of machinery competing from highly tuned Datsun 240Zs through big-power Subarus to full-blown Porsche LeMans Turbos. In the past the Porsches (there are several) have dominated the specialist Porsche races and Super GT categories and are akin to smashing a walnut with a sledgehammer such is the gulf in performance between them and their ‘rivals’. That dominance however, is being increasingly threatened by the little racecar from Blackpool!
I caught up with Carl at the Pukekohe round of the V8 Supercars (Holden Commodore V8s and Ford Falcon V8s – like BTCC on steroids) – the biggest single motorsport event in New Zealand by far. Despite putting the Tuscan on pole with a time only a second adrift of what the V8 supercars managed (not bad for the first meeting of the season!), the weekend didn’t end with the results Carl wanted. In the race he got off to a great start but then lost all power.
Rumours in the pit lane were that someone had forgotten to fuel the Tuscan but the truth lay at the door of the man himself, for Carl hadn’t fitted the crank angle sensor on the motor correctly and it had worked loose after a couple of laps. Fortunately, Carl’s expected main rival for the title, Owen Evans in the Lighting Direct Porsche LeMans, didn’t finish either and victory was taken in both races by the powerful Subaru WRX of Ross Rutherford. Carl was very philosophical about the whole thing and took it in his stride. You get the impression that it would take a great deal to fluster the man such is his laid-back attitude and friendly demeanor.
After a break of three weeks including a boozy weekend in Bathurst watching the Mosler and Morgans storm the mountain (not to mention England reducing all the locals to tears in the rugby world cup final!), I found myself watching Carl start from pole position again in the first of three Super GT races back at Pukekohe.
In the first race he got off to a great start and quickly pulled out an impressive lead on the much more powerful Porsche LeMans of Owen Evans. Carl later told me he had backed off towards the end of the race but not before he set a fastest lap marginally quicker than his own pole time here three weeks ago!
The next two races were started in reverse order according to the pole position times. This meant that Carl started from the pit lane in last spot and despite having a great run had to settle for third behind the Evans Porsche and the powerful but underdeveloped Chevrolet Camaro of John Rae. The last race of the day was started in the same fashion with Carl exploding from the pit lane and chasing down the opposition, some of which had already been given over a laps lead. Just as he was carving his way through the field and locking onto the back of the Evans Porsche, a stricken racer stuck in the kitty litter brought out the safety car.
When you are competing in an eight lap sprint race this is the last thing you need but at least it gave Carl and Evans a chance to storm the remainder of the field in the last two laps. Unfortunately for Carl, Owen Evans got a great start and read the traffic well keeping Carl behind much of the field for a couple of turns. Evans managed to overtake the entire field before he’d got around three quarters of the lap and Carl wasn’t far behind. In the end though, Carl really needed another lap to take victory and had to settle for a well deserved second place. So a 1st, a 3rd and a 2nd wasn’t too bad for a weekend's work.
Despite the gulf in performance between the front runners and the rest of the field the Super GT series offers some great racing. If the championship carries on like this for the rest of the season we’re all in for a treat and certainly from my point of view the prospect of a TVR as the outright winner is something to relish!