Go to Manfeild they said. Drive John Cooper Works Minis around the track they said. Yes, I said. Who could turn down such an offer?
Not only did we get the privilege of thrashing John Cooper Works Minis, we also got the first look at the new Clubman – an event in itself.
The attendees of the day were put into three groups – I got the Black team, and everyone knows that’s the best colour. But, could the Red team really go faster and take us out? The pressure was on!
First up – the slalom
We got to take a 141Kw Cooper S through the slalom, which required lots of control to not use more gas pedal than was needed. As always, smooth driving here helped with your times. On one of my three runs, I gunned it too hard out of the u-turn and the traction control kicked in, meaning a huge loss of power as the engine management system cut the throttle back to get more traction. A great event though, and it really showed how well the Mini handled – these are tight, fast turns it’s doing, and it handled them brilliantly.
I didn’t win the slalom, but I hope did Autoclique proud.
After the slalom, Black team moved onto the acceleration and braking test. This was more of a test of courage than anything. Accelerate as hard as you wanted to, then brake hard into the ‘garage’ without knocking over any cones. There were two frustrating parts to this. One was the fact that where your rough braking point was, there was no marker or any other single thing you could use to tell you when to brake – it was all down to gut feeling.
The other frustration of this test was the car we were using. A John Cooper Works Mini, all 170Kw of it. It even has an app for your smartphone (via Bluetooth) so you can adjust the exhaust butterfly to give it no exhaust restrictions at all. Did we open it up? You bet! The Sound? Fantastic. Just standing outside the car and hearing that 170Kw was a joy in itself, although even inside the car you got a good taste of that exhaust note as well. The problem? You wanted to keep using all that power to go a little faster. Accelerating to 100km/h in 6.1 seconds was a bit of fun.
I tried watching the heads-up display in the JCW but it was best to keep your eyes on the cones.
The end result was that someone in Black team managed 108Km/h, which was a record for all teams for the day. I embarrassed myself; only your third run was timed, and I braked too late and went ½ metre past the cones. I cannot mention the words I said here.
A few things were learnt on this test; The JCW Mini is a rocketship, sounds amazing with the exhaust opened up, and can brake incredibly well. Need I say more about the brakes than Smokin’!
Last event for the morning was the gymkhana, which was held on a section of the track, using cones as guides and a John Cooper Works Mini as the car. It certainly wasn’t the ‘normal’ gymkhana I was expecting, hooning around on a grass paddock, but still lots of fun. Black team excelled here as well, and some people shaved 10 seconds off their time between runs.
Once again, smooth driving paid off. When the Red Mist descended over the male drivers, their times went out the window. I was again a Bridesmaid – a time that gave me third place, but couldn’t quite shave 2 more seconds off to take the win.
New Mini Clubman
After the gymkhana, we were treated to a reveal of the latest Mini Clubman. Not too much different looking than the Countryman, but with some new features like automatic opening rear barn doors, including the ability to open them by waving your foot under the rear of the car. One nifty feature is the Mini logo that’s projected onto the road when you unlock the car. Looks fantastic in the darkened garage where the car was unveiled.
After lunch, we had a show down for the fastest slalom drivers from each team. Black team took this out, and in fact Black team had the best times/speeds for all the events of the day. I like to think I helped the team along!
Track time at last!
Now it was time to get out on the track in the new Minis – sort of. Due to safety regulations, we had to ‘follow the leader’ in a line, which was fine as he picked up the pace each lap to the point where we were going reasonably fast. There was those of us who wanted to go faster, but we toed the line and enjoyed trying to get the Mini sideways instead. No easy achievement with all the technology helping you.
Last event was to jump in one of three JCW Minis with a ‘real’ racing driver, and do some hot laps. Initially I thought they would be pretty cautious, not wanting to dent anything. How wrong I was. The Red Mist seemed to lower over the three drivers, and it was door-to-door more than a few times, and positions often changed in the course of a lap. Great fun, and real proof of how well these cars handle and go – after all, all of them were four up for each run.
On the return to the pits, one of the wheels seemed to be on fire, but it was just the brakes smoking – and this happened every time the cars returned to the pits from the hot laps.
This day was a blast and I failed to see anyone without a huge grin at some point in the day. Mini + Track = fantastic fun. Thanks to BMW New Zealand and Jeff Gray BMW & Mini for inviting Autoclique along. Same again next year, thanks!