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Mini race car vs John Cooper Works Edition

Broadcast date : 14th May 2006

Why take a road-going Mini Cooper S and a racing version to the track? What are you going to prove? 

The answer to the first question is: "Because we can". As to the second, well, the aim was to see how different the production version was to the racer.

But not fast enough to catch the Minis. As the Castrol Mini number one driver for 2006 and the "winningest" driver in Production Car racing this year, Clint Weston is well qualified to talk on his carís performance and its merits and demerits versus the opposition.

As for the road-going John Cooper Works edition Mini, he was equally impressed with the road machine, siting its flat cornering stance as one of its greatest assets.

The Cooper Works Mini costs R40 000 more than the standard Mini Cooper S and utilises a larger intercooler, higher boost from the supercharger and larger injectors to produce 154 kilowatts.

This has enabled the Cooper Works Mini to compare favourably on paper with the Golf GTi track challenge, which is still taking shape, with no factory support for the Uitenhage cars as yet.

Our road-going test car was also fitted with various extra-cost brake and suspension upgrades, and itís clear by the carís flat stance just how much advantage it has in the corners.

As for the race car, the Castrol Mini is a long way from standard. 

The spot-welding of the body shell provides much of the rigidity that the production racer needs. The rest of the body rigidity is provided by the roll cage.

The track John Cooper Works Mini also uses special Cooper brakes which helps stopping power, as well as 17-inch wheels shod with Bridgestone semi-race rubber.

The rules for production car racing are tight, to prevent wealthy teams turning their cars into pure race machines. But itís in the detail work that the Van der Linde racing team, with all its vast experience, can gain an edge.

Clint is obviously grand-standing with this power slide, whooping it up for the cameras. But even a tail-happy slide can be a useful tool in the heat of competition.

Knowing how the car will react in an extreme situation is useful for Clint. Extra camber means more grip, but as the tyres have less contact area on the straight, braking suffers. Set-up is all a trade-off.

A key feature of Production Car racing is that the engines essentially remain un-modified.

All that can be changed is the exhaust system, more for spectator enjoyment to create a louder noise, and engine computer management fine-tuning.

This has resulted in about a 10 kiloWatt increase over the standard John Cooper Works Mini, which in turn produces some 29 kilowatts more than a standard Mini Cooper S motor.

The Cooper Works motor boosts more thanks to a smaller supercharger pulley, and the bigger intercooler keeps charge temperatures way down.

Under the bonnet of the racing car you will notice extra catchment tanks for oil, and the biggest changes are to the shock towers, which are reinforced to enable camber adjustment.

After all the effort that went into the race car, Clint was surprised at just how well the road car measured up against his championship-leading Castrol machine.

The test car was fitted with upgraded springs and shock combos as well, although this is not part of the standard Cooper Works spec, but is offered as an extra cost option.

Being an understeering front-wheel-drive car, the Cooper Works is an extremely well-mannered car on the track and it has the interior packaging to suit.

Mini, built by BMW, has been an amazing success story in terms of sales worldwide.

It has managed to transcend its retro roots and establish a modern day cult amongst owners and wannabee owners, something which, for instance, the New Beetle has not managed outside of the United States.

This is due to superb handling and performance that offer real sports-car like attributes, as well as an interior package that appeals to the youth market.

Itís not subtle by any means but it combines retro and modern themes in a way that makes modern Mini-malism an art form.

The fact that the race car is so successful adds to the legend.

Van der Linde Racing is a semi-works operation contracted to build the Minis for BMW. The Van der Linde name has been synonymous with winning since Pa fell off the Datsun.

Actually that was patron Hennie van der Linde, who won championships with a Datsun 1200 way back in 1975. Since then sons Shaun and Etienne have been flying the flag.

The weight saved by removing all the standard panels is added back by lead ballast, and each time Clint wins, more weight is added to put him back on par with his competition.

Digital instrumentation keeps the crew in the pits informed of the carís behaviour, and this is where a lot of the teamís budget is spent. You are looking at a car worth close to R1 million, taking into account the teamís operating costs.

Testing is also a vital part of the teamís success, which is why Clint relished the opportunity to spend time at Wesbank Raceway.

A drag race between the racer and the street car shows some straight-line edge for the competition car.

But the biggest difference is the way that power is transferred trackwards,

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