A cold, winters morning at the nation’s action track, Winton Motor Raceway in northern Victoria. Thankfully it’s dry as I’m here for another weekend in my favourite car.
The car in question is a fully race prepared, fire breathing MINI. This MINI is unlike many other MINIs in Australia. An ex-MINI Challenge competition car originally prepared by BMW Motorsport based on a top of the line Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works special.
From the outside it doesn’t look a whole lot different to its road car compatriot, it has the same boxy shape but with subtle hints to the performance of the car. The small wing, big diffuser, massive brakes and four brand new slick tyres stand out.
Being a race car, the first thing you have to negotiate before jumping in is the roll cage. Once you’ve clambered in you can get your bearings on the interior. It’s sparse, but everything there is for a reason. Don’t expect climate control, heated seats, cruise control or any of the creature comforts on your standard road car. This has none of that, however BMW Motorsport have been kind enough to leave the ABS fitted. Otherwise there’s one seat, a steering wheel and you.
All that’s left now is to strap yourself in and go! That’s where compared to other racecars, the MINI is in a league of it’s own. All you have to do is whack the key in and hit start. Once you’ve donned your race suit and helmet and successfully negotiated your way into the 5 point racing harness it’s time to hit the track.
First thing that hits you when you start it up is the noise. It’s much louder than the road car with a twin straight through exhausts. It’s extremely difficult not to give the accelerator a blip, watch the revs rise on the dash and hear the exhaust crackle and pop.
Getting the car out of the pits is surprisingly easy. The gearbox is the same 6-speed manual straight out of the road car so it’s not a massive learning curve. The power is good, but it’s the way that the car stops that takes it to another level. The ABS, the big brakes, the slick tyres mean this thing stops on a dime. Every lap it just dares you to go deeper and deeper. By the end of the session you brake beyond the 100m mark at over 150kph and still make it around the corner.
That’s when you find out how the car drives. The turn in is incredible. It’s like nothing else. The FIA mandated roll cage, the brilliant KW suspension and the Dunlop slick tyres all work in harmony and fire you exactly where you want to go. If the turn in is great, the mid corner grip is on another level. The car feels like it’s on rails, it feels like no matter how fast you head through the corner, the car begs you to go faster. The balance is incredible.
Lap after lap, the MINI just keeps giving you more and more confidence to go faster and faster. In terms of lap times, it’ll give many of the fastest sports cars on the road a run for their money.
A key benefit of the MINI is it comes from one of the biggest names in the business, BMW. This means if anything breaks, which they do in racecars, you can just call up your local BMW dealership, quote the part number and get their mechanics to fit the new parts as they would on any normal MINI. Usually the parts are in stock, however some odd requests have to be shipped from Germany every now and then.
Owning a racecar comes with it’s own unique challenges. As the car isn’t road registered, you have to tow the MINI on a trailer to and from the racetrack.
Bang for your buck, it’s very difficult to beat. This car does what all great cars should do. It makes you smile. It makes you feel like you’re the best driver in the world.