Good MINI Morning!

To celebrate the grand opening of the Walser's Automotive Group's new MINI dealership in Wichita, the dealership hosted the MINI Performance Driving Challenge on October 7th 2017. And I managed to get an invite to the event!

MINI logo canvas

Full Disclosure: As a full-time employee of a company associated with the one of the sponsors seen on these event cars, I entered a contest to win a chance to attend this event. I was not paid (nor did I pay) to attend or report on this event, MINI, or the vehicles. This is simply me sharing an experience with you.

If you can believe it, there's a group of MINI employees that travel to different MINI dealerships and setup an Autocross track on location. Having participated in an SCCA Autocross event, I can tell you that the track they set up had all the right stuff including the long straight, hairpins, and chicanes. Unlike the local SCCA event, MINI brought a professional racecar driver and, of course, the MINIs.

John Cooper Works MINI Clubman ALL4s on autocross track Autocrossing John Cooper Works MINI Clubman ALL4s on autocross track

MINI furnished the event with four 2017 John Cooper Works MINI Clubman ALL4s in racing liveries to really set the mood. I won't go into great detail about this model, but, I'll let you know some of the specs that will set the stage for these cars.
  • 2.0 Liter, 4 Cylinder, Turbocharged Engine
    • 228 Horsepower
    • 258 Foot-Pounds of Torque
  • 8 Speed Automatic Transmission
  • 6.0 Second 0-60 MPH
  • 3486 Pound Curb Weight
The event was made up of several heats from midmorning through the afternoon. So, what was on the schedule for each heat?
  1. Drivers' Meeting.
  2. Parade Lap behind the professional racer in the pace car.
  3. Four timed solo laps.
  4. Swag pick up.
The heat begins with a Drivers Meeting where the Performance Driving Challenge team briefly tells us about MINI as a brand, their goal to get more people interested in MINI, the Clubman model they brought for us to drive, and then the driver’s penalties for murdering hitting the traffic cones outlining the circuit (First cone: 2 second penalty; Second cone: DNF lap; Third cone: DNF heat).

Once your group got called up, you got behind the wheel and had a Parade Lap behind the professional racer who was explaining the course over walkie-talkies. Unfortunately, my walkie-talkie's battery died right before starting the parade lap so I missed out on his advice. After the parade lap, the pace car pitted and the drivers got a green flag. This was a rally, not a race after all, so the each car was held at the starting line individually to create a safety gap.

After the two cars in front started, I was ready for my first lap in a MINI! I got the "Go!" and floored it into the straightaway (excellent decision by the team to give us the opportunity to feel hard acceleration). Throughout the corners the tires screamed in protest and the car did understeer (due mostly to my inexperience in a FWD-biased AWD and a wet track from the previous night's thunderstorm). During the final chicane into the finish line, I had far too much speed and couldn't slow down enough to make the turn. An embarrassing ABS/TC aided recovery of understeer narrowly avoided cones and got me through the chicane. 32.498. Lap two, I lifted more, braked more, and understeered less. 31.187 Lap three, I managed to get the fastest lap time of the heat so far (8/20 drivers). 30.279. Lap four saw a couple hundredths of a second improvement. 30.244. My thrill ride was over, but, I had two coworkers in the same 20 driver group who were eager to post faster lap times. To one of my coworker's dismay I kept the high-score after the next two groups of four drivers (Now best of 16/20 drivers). Then it was my other coworker's group's turn. His final lap, he beat my time by 0.541 seconds.

This team had the local SCCA chapter beat by having a 40+ inch TV set up to show the lap times of the 20 drivers. My two coworkers and I occupied the top three spots at the conclusion of the 20 driver heat.
After our laps were complete we were invited into the new dealership and pick up a MINI gift bag containing:
  • "I Completed the MINI Challenge" T-Shirt
  • Midwest Beerfest 2017/MINI of Wichita can coolers
  • New Car scented air freshener
  • Metal MINI keychain
  • Business card for the MINI dealership
Boxes of donuts MINI paint and interior samples

Once we had picked up the gift bags, we were encouraged to grab a soft drink, a donut, and have a look around the modest showrooms. Amongst the wide-eyed MINIs was the equally enthused staff. All the employees were excited to have everyone invited to the event touring the dealership and getting acquainted with the MINI cars. They clearly were passionate about their cars and it was contagious. One particular employee I had a conversation with, made a point of saying that the MINI brand has a lot of character and I couldn’t agree more. MINI's design language has a cohesion that very few other brands can boast—Jeep and Lamborghini are the only ones that readily come to mind. When you see a MINI, Jeep, or Lambo in person, you might not be able to identify the model, but, the manufacturer would be unmistakable. In the market of eggshell cross-overs, trucks distinguished by grills or tailgate banners, and beige sedans why not get a car that stands out?

MINI fascia MINI kiddie car

Before I conclude this rambling of a MINI I have some final thoughts. The MINI isn't (and never will be) an American V8 or twin-turbo V6, but, it's still fun. They're an excellent example of how much fun driving a slow car fast can be. There's not much of a better way to prove this concept than to sit people, who might not have considered a MINI, behind the wheel and let them have more fun in a MINI than they've ever had in their daily driver. Furthermore, for MINI fans, autocrossing a new model would be an extraordinary experience further cementing the passion for the brand.

This event surely changed my opinion of MINI and would like to thank MINI, Walser Automotive Group, and the MINI Performance Driving Challenge team for a thrilling experience.

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