Sunday, January 18, 2009

Serious MINI Coopers for Touring, Track and Autocross

If you’re working your way through this book one step at a time, by now you have gotten a few weeks or months experience with your MINI Cooper. We also hope you have taken the opportunity to participate in a basic one-day driving school where you got more comfortable with the car’s handling and performance, and learned some safe-driving techniques. If not, we hope you’ve at least used that anti-lock braking system, tried a few quick lane changes, and squealed the tires a little on a back road or empty parking lot.
Perhaps you’ve also upgraded the basic engine performance and bought those aftermarket wheels and tires that give the car a distinctive appearance and improve its handling. But there is still more to be done and more to experience. In this chapter we’ll discuss several ways that you can get a little more excitement out of your motoring experience. We’ll offer some ideas for further performance upgrades to suit the driving you’re starting to do. Finally, we’ll give you some tips on high-performance driving to take advantage of the capabilities of your MINI Cooper.

What Can We Do Next?
In your everyday driving, by now you’ve discovered how much fun your MINI Cooper can provide, especially when you can let it out a little bit and experienced its estimable performance and handling capabilities. But if you really want to have some fun with that great MINI Cooper, we encourage you to try some of the various kinds of organized events that are available to you. You can head out on the highway for club tours, participate in organized track days, or try your mettle against the clock in autocross events.

Backroads Touring in a MINI Cooper
In every part of the country, there are interesting roads that allow you to get off the interstate and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature and geography. When you do that, you begin to experience the automobile not just as a way to get from one place to another, but rather as a source of enjoyment in itself. And you discover how much fun driving can be, even within the prescribed speed limits of public roads.
You can explore other times by visiting historical sights, you can expand your senses by getting closer to scenic wonders, or you might just pack a picnic lunch and find a place off the beaten path where you can relax for a few hours away from the noise and confusion of the city. Or you can just spend a day or two becoming one with the spirited handling and performance of your car on some curving backroads through hills and valleys, with no other purpose in mind but to enjoy the drive.
While you can do any of these on your own, simply by getting out your map and guidebook and doing some internet exploring to find places to visit and stay, the trips will be much more fun if there is a MINI Cooper in front of you, and another in your rearview mirror. In other words, take a tour with a local MINI Cooper club or some MINI Cooper friends.
In some parts of the country, competitive time-speed-distance rallies are still sponsored by local sports car clubs. These TSD rallies have a competitive element that often appeals to car enthusiasts, but under controlled legal circumstances. Essentially, a TSD rally measures your ability to drive a route that has been laid out by the “rallymaster” with your results determined by how close you can match the exact speeds driven by the rallymaster over the route.
Directions are spelled out in a shorthand that is defined in the rally’s general instructions—“R at 1st op,” for example means turn right at the first opportunity after executing the previous instruction—and exact speeds are specified for each leg of the rally, always at levels that can be achieved without exceeding speed limits. By driving each leg at the specified speed—say, 36 mph—and carefully following the instructions, you try to arrive at each checkpoint at an exact time. Points are deducted for each second you arrive early or late to the check point.
These TSD rallies challenge the ability of the driver and navigator to carefully follow the instructions and maintain the specified speeds, which requires a significant amount of driving discipline. The rewards are the opportunities to drive through interesting countryside, and share experiences with other individuals who are trying to meet the same challenges.
The best way to get involved in activities like these is through a local MINI Cooper club, if one already exists in your area. If one doesn’t exist, your local dealer may be willing to help you organize one, or at least introduce you to some other new MINI Coper owners with whom you can do some driving events.
If there aren’t yet enough MINI Coopers in your area to have your own single-marque club, you might instead see if there is a local British car club or more general sports car club in your region. Regardless, it shouldn’t take long to find a group of like-minded enthusiasts who enjoy driving their cars and organize events for just that purpose.
All that is required to enjoy one of these events is a willing interest to participate and a safe, reliable car that is fun to drive. You supply the first and your MINI Cooper will happily fill the bill for the second. Nevertheless, the better your car’s performance and handling, the more pleasure you’re likely to get out of the experience.

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