GRR

This off-road racer has been undefeated for a year

19th July 2023
Adam Wilkins

A tubular spaceframe chassis, minimal composite bodywork, a 500PS (368kW) turbocharged engine that once called a Mitsubishi Evo 9 home and an all-up weight of 1,080kg. This is a Lofthouse off-road racer, and as headline specifications go it sounds very enticing. Could it look any more uncompromising or fit for purpose?

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The FAF Evo is driven by six-time British Off-Road Champion Richard Kershaw. He started off-road racing in 2000, worked his way up in terms of pace but decided to take a break after he’d claimed those half-dozen trophies. But he couldn’t resist the lure to return, and approached Dan Lofthouse to commission the build of a new car. “I long admired their engineering,” says Richard. “It was originally going to be built on a bit of a budget but then Covid came along and the build took probably more than a year longer than anticipated. More finances became available and it ended up being quite an expensive car, but it’s got all the right bits in it. It worked out for the best in the end.”

There are two basic chassis packages offered by Lofthouse, and thereafter it’s a case of speccing the car to the customer’s requirements. And that blank-sheet approach has worked well for Richard, who first got behind the wheel of his new car in 2021. “It’s the first car I’ve had that I haven’t had to alter the car really at all, we’ve both gelled together, whereas other cars I’ve had we’ve had to alter things to suit my driving style. I’ve had to adapt to the turbocharger and anti-lag but it’s all come together nicely.” The mid-mounted Mitsubishi engine drives through a front-mounted Sadev gearbox that allows full-throttle upshifts, while the differentials were liberated from a Nissan GT-R. 

The results speak for themselves: Richard won the Sunday Shootout on the off-road course at the 2022 Goodwood Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard and won every time he’s been out since.

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The secret to the car’s success is having a package that can handle the mix of terrain confronted by off-road racers. They compete on a range of venues, including farmland, forestry and rally stages so need to adapt all the time.

“The cars need to be capable of handling well on gravel or tarmac and then also be able to do the jumps and the rough sections,” says Dan. “You try to get the centre of gravity low while having enough wheel travel and traction. You also have to control body roll. It’s all a happy medium – you’ve always got that scenario where you can be really strong in one area and slightly weaker in another, and then tune the car either way depending on the course.” Richard revels in the mixture of topography. “I like a good mix of venues – I like the technical challenges and the faster courses.”

Lofthouse production amounts to around two cars per year, and there are now 18 cars that are either up and running or close to completion. One of the main considerations when specifying a new build is where it will be raced. There’s a huge following in France for cross-country racing, and the regulations are stricter there than in the UK. Here, pretty much anything goes, but in France there is, for instance, a 3.6-litre limit on engine capacity. Beyond that, budget is the major consideration. With such a wide array of engine and gearbox options, the sky is the limit when it comes to mechanical specification. Customers can also choose to build the car themselves or opt for a turnkey package.

With three regional clubs in the UK all running their own championships, it’s possible for drivers to compete every other weekend during the season. Many pick just one championship, and Richard usually competes once a month. He’s looking into entering a round of the French championship later in 2023, where competition is hotter. The weekend before Festival of Speed, another Lofthouse driver claimed a victory in France – becoming the first UK-built car to do so in 40 years.  

Back on these shores, if you fancy seeing cross-country racing you’ll need to seek out the best-kept secret in UK motorsport. It’s not billed as a spectator sport, although spectators are not turned away. The best way to get a front-row seat is to approach your local club and volunteer as a marshal. As for the best place to watch off-road racers? Dan says it’s right here at the Festival of Speed.

Photography by Jochen van Cauwenberge.

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