Small Beginnings – Barff & Co. Conquer Sebring
“A 12 hour endurance classic was always going to
be an enormous first hurdle for us,” says Rob Barff, of the
debut event for the RaceSport Salisbury DeWalt TVR Tuscan T400R,
at Sebring. “But if we are to take on Porsche at the very
highest level in GT racing, this is what we have to do.”
Graham Goodwin expressed the opinion that “as if the
task of impressing the ACO wasn’t enough at Sebring,
events during race week meant that TVR very soon bore the weight
of the honour of the smaller British manufacturers alone.”
And initial ‘home’ reactions
to the garish yellow and black beast weren’t all entirely
favourable. “Some of the talk throughout the packed press
room was of how the funny little British car (the TVR) wouldn’t
last the first two hours of the race,” says Goodwin.
Pah. Press room wallahs. What do they know? Very little it
The TVR had
made a careful start to race week at the 51st 12 Hours. No
early heroics – Barffy was taught by Shorty remember – just
settling in the new car, getting the three drivers used to
chassis and circuit. A track that is “notorious as a
'car breaker',” says Rob Barff. “60% of the circuit
is made up of slow to medium speed corners, 30% is long straights
and the remaining 10% are fast, very bumpy concrete corners
- a good lap in the T400R takes around 2 minutes and 11 seconds.
pre-event testing we gradually learnt more and more about the
car with each lap completed - we were far from being the quickest
GT car on the track but the early signs were good, we were
getting faster and faster as each test session passed and the
car was running very reliably - so far so good.”
is not terribly important,” says the man who had the
duty of setting the lap that would determine the TVR’s
grid position. From a best of 2:13 on Wednesday (44th fastest),
in the first official session of the meeting, the TVR ‘improved’ to
2:11.582 in Qualifying (46th fastest). Did anyone in the press
room notice? Nah, too busy muttering about Lucas electrics.
Americans always refer back to 1950s British sports cars that
allegedly stopped when it rained. It was expected to rain on
So it rained
on Friday. Blimey, did it rain.
stole your dummy then? Stanton looks hot and determined, Hay
looks cool and determined, Barff just looks unhappy. Pre-race
day dawned dry and warm. Rob Barff reduces the spectacle of
55 of the best GTs and prototypes, starting one of the three
great endurance races of the year, at the historic Sebring
airfield circuit, to the dry remarks…”I started
the car and after 70 minutes stopped and handed over to Richard
Hay and he in turn then handed over to Richard Stanton.”
Was it as
dull as that, Rob?
(totally the wrong word) actually meant “the TVR ran
beautifully throughout the hot daytime hours - it never missed
Porsches were often missing several beats, tyres with air in
them, pistons without holes…you name it the Porsche guys
copped it. And some of the Ferraris.
stuck to the 'Rob, Richard H., Richard S.' driving order until
the Safety Car made its first appearance shortly after nightfall.
Kevin McGarrity in a Ferrari 360 collided with an LMP car at
the quick, bumpy Turn 17 - Kevin speared off into the barriers
and the car burst into flames. Kevin suffered fractures to
both feet and was briefly trapped in the car.
Safety Car was out for roughly 20 minutes whilst the circuit
was cleared and Kevin taken to the Medical Centre - it was
during this period that Derek Kemp, our hugely experienced
Team Manager, and Richard Stanton took the decision to bring
me into the pits, fuel the TVR and send me back out for a second
full stint in the car.
hindsight that was a fantastic move - when I climbed into the
car at 6.45pm we were 12th, when I climbed out of the car,
over two hours later, we were up to fifth.”
lot in the press room! Fifth behind three Porsches and a Ferrari – and
ahead of 14 Porsches, four Ferraris, one Spyker and a BMW.
Some of these entries had met the most obscene misfortunes,
but many had just failed through mechanical mayhem. “Out
of the 25 GT cars at Sebring, with either two or three drivers
per car, I was the only driver to double stint during the race.
I was knackered!” commented the mighty Barff.
I handed over to Richard Hay, who was chosen to take the TVR
to the finish, the engine died with the electrics dead....” You
should have done a triple stint!
“It took the engineers a couple of laps to sort the problem but quickly
a new battery was fitted and the TVR barked into life. For the final 50 minutes
Richard Hay cruised round and nursed the car to the finishing line in a fantastic
seventh position in the GT class: we had no chance of catching the car in sixth
so we settled for seventh and just made sure that we finished.”
What a magnificent
result. This was epic stuff from the whole team.
“For a brand new car to complete its first endurance race in such a credible
position is very rare. All the team did a fantastic job to bring the car home
- Andy and John, who built us a strong, reliable Speed Six engine at the TVR
race and development workshop in Blackpool - Cushty, Chief, Dickie and Pete who
built the car at TVR - Derek, Jeff, Paul, Dick and all the Chamberlain crew -
Billy, Andy and pit signalling superstar Gary (he only left the pit wall for
three laps over the course of the race!) at RaceSport Salisbury - Mikey Butler,
Colin Brunton and their colleagues at Dunlop - and finally to my driving partners,
Richard & Richard, good job chaps, well done.”
then Rob? Oh, Le Mans.
next event with the TVR T400R is the qualifying weekend
at Le Mans in May where we are hopeful of continuing
our strong team performance.” Which translates
to ‘we’re probably not going to beat
the factory Porsches but the rest had better look
Rob graciously thanked his sponsors - Chris at The Cobra Group, Robert
at Jelson Homes, Gary at Microscan, and the British Racing Driver's Club – “without
your continued support I wouldn't be in the position I am today.” Knackered.
But not so
tired that he didn’t remember to add “there are
still sponsorship opportunities remaining (at Le Mans), so
if anyone would like to be involved, on either a corporate
or personal basis, please do not hesitate to contact me. I
am still short of my required budget for the 2003 season and
there is still space on the side of the car and my racesuit!”
we are. TVR conquered Sebring. Le Mans next. What a fantastic
story this could be. And Rob Barff hasn’t failed to finish
any of the 12 or 24 hour races he’s started. Cushty!