The TVRCC Challenge season opened at Brands Hatch the weekend before last (16 April) and the Black Cat Racing team was there. Driver Graham Walden provides the lowdown.
We connected the new Tuscan's ECU and fired up the engine for the first time the week before the first race, the build timetable having not gone quite according to plan. A tip there is don’t move house a week after buying a new race car.
That gave us a week to sort out any little issues. The plan was for a rolling road test on Monday morning, chassis setup Monday afternoon and pick up tyres from Dunlop on the way home, to be followed by testing at Mallory Park on Wednesday morning and some fettling during the week.
Things started to go wrong first thing, when the Tuscan spat a water hose off. A few moments were lost sorting that out and getting the engine to idle before it was time for the power runs.
Not good, showing only 120bhp at the wheels and running very weak. A few more checks were made, but everything came back fine. The car was loaded back onto the trailer while we scratched our heads.
That evening was spent checking wiring, resistances and voltages, before dismantling the fuel injection system. We tested it on Tuesday and spent the evening putting everything back together. Wednesday we returned to the rolling road for a re-test but with the same result.
At this point we considered changing the blown engine in the Tasmin for a spare and taking that, but the Tasmin really needs a differential change as well so that idea was dropped. We decided to try changing the fuel regulator and fitting a lambda gauge to monitor the mixture, and take the Tuscan anyway.
Thursday night was spent once again in a cold unit sorting out a few loose ends and fitting the fuel regulator.
On Friday it was the long haul down to Brands, followed by a couple of beers in the Moore Racing Truck, before a cold night in the back of the Transit. The ice on the inside of the van the following morning confirmed it was cold.
We made an early start as we were in the first qualifying session, so we prepared the car for scrutineering, all the little jobs that we'd planned to do during the week.
As Pops took the car for scrutineering I took our spare wheels to Dunlop for tyres. By the time qualifying came they still hadn’t managed to get them on the rims, so we would have to use the old slicks that were on the car. I was really looking forward to that considering the track was cold and damp.
I took qualifying very gently, keeping off line and out of everyone’s way. Really just trying to get a feel for the car and make sure it felt ok, this was after all the first time I had driven the car and the first time it had been in this configuration.
We hadn’t even had time to drive it around the paddock and see if the gears and clutch worked. I gave the loud pedal a few stabs on the start straight, before coming in after four laps to check the plugs. We pulled a spark plug and it looked fine -- not too weak -- and I trundled out for a few more laps, still taking it gently but starting to have a little play.
As expected we qualified right at the back 28th out of 30, but we were happy enough. The car felt basically sound, even at deliberately slow speeds (about 10 seconds off the pace) the car felt alive to my inputs and very easy to place on the track.
We then decided that if we could fit the lambda gauge then we would run in the first race. The sensor had already been fitted on Friday, so it was just a case of wiring up the gauge and finding somewhere to put it. This gauge has a very simple display showing if the engine is running weak or rich. Running the engine very weak, as the rolling roads had shown, risked serious engine damage such as burning a valve or melting a piston. That kind of engine damage could put us out for a few rounds and blow the season.
Just before the race, our tyres were finally ready so they were bolted on and we headed off for the track. The portable compressors that Dunlop were using struggled to get the tyres seated on our rims. They had to stop doing everything else to get enough air to get them on.
I took the first few laps quite easy watching the gauges, making sure everything looked fine, as well as scrubbing in the brand new tyres. The gauge was showing the car now running rich if anything, but under full throttle the engine was cutting and stuttering at about 4,500rpm. So with the readings fine I started to press on a bit, short shifting to avoid hitting the stuttering.
Even with the power disadvantage I managed to make up about seven places, with a few reasonably daring overtaking moves. On the last lap I caught Tim Broughton having a good run in his Class A Tasmin. With a good run around the last bend I almost managed to overtake him on the line, Tim managing to maintain second-placed TVR by about 12 inches. Overall not a bad run, with some good overtaking, I even managed the fastest TVR lap. [Graham finished fourth and got 20 points. Ed.]
With the car handling nicely, the gauges showed we weren’t damaging the engine even under power, the second race was looking interesting. Even from a starting position of 21, a TVR win and a good top 10 finish were looking possible.
Right from the start we battled through the traffic giving the crowd some entertainment in the hunt for the lead TVR. The track was much dirtier off line now it was later in the afternoon, and running round the outside of a few cars I could feel it there was less grip than in the morning. As I was pushing harder I also managed to overheat the outside front tyre, not surprising as we had not had time to get any pressure data, and had set the tyres at a base line pressure.
Pushing harder the car was also a bit of a handful to balance into paddock hill bend, possibly due to the brake balance not being quite right, but still nice and quick when I did get the balance.
After about six laps I’d made up about seven places and was closing in on the lead TVR at about a second a lap. Coming into Paddock, I ran a little wide on entry trying to settle the car, as I started to turn in I got a bit of understeer which pushed me wider still and onto the dirty outside of the track. From there the game was up, I could see how dirty the track was and with the speed I was carrying there was no way I could make the corner, instead I slid gracefully into the gravel trap.
You can guess at the comment I made to myself as I made a futile attempt to drive the car back onto the track. The car was well and truly beached.
Back at the paddock after the race a quick check of the car showed everything was fine, just covered in gravel. So overall a successful weekend that could have been brilliant -- but that’s racing.
It was great to be back in the saddle after the winter layoff and I’m now really looking forward to the season. Provided we get the time to sort the engine and do some testing it should be a good year.
There were quite a few people suffering first round of the year problems, especially Simon Bowes in the Griff with oil pressure issues but I'm sure they’ll be solved soon. Kevan Gore got off to a good start in Class B claiming both wins, and Tim Broughton will be unstoppable in A judging by his Brands performance.
The competition is shaping up to be interesting with little to choose between the front runners. The next round is a TVR-only double-header at Pembrey so expect fireworks. Watch this space.
Thanks to George Carter for pictures and Graham Walden for the words.