When Going Faster Becomes a Passion
If you've taken the opportunity to take your MINI out on a road race course for club track days, or gone auto-crossing as a novice in order to learn more about your car’s capabilities and improve your own driving skills, you've probably discovered how much fun the MINI is to drive harder than you can safely do on the street.
But now, perhaps you’re starting to wonder just how good you are compared to other drivers. If you’re on the autocross course, you’re starting to look at your lap times in comparison to other drivers, rather than just using them to see if you’re improving. If you've been out for track days, perhaps you’re starting to enjoy overtaking other cars, and beginning to wonder how you would fare in a real race.
If so,you should consider moving up to the next level of MINI motoring. Maybe you’re ready to start competing, rather than just participating.
Class Competition in SCCA Autocross
Running in the street stock class at SCCA regional events is certainly a great way to spend a weekend day and burn off a little rubber. But there’s much more to this sport than just seeing how fast you can get your street car around a set course in one of the local parking lots.
Part of the fun of competition is to tailor your car to your own preferences, exploring the differences that modifications can make within the limits of the rules. If you’re getting to the point where you’re doing about as well as the other newbies in their street cars, then perhaps you’re ready to consider modifying your MINI to run in the street touring or even the street prepared and street modified classes.
If you've already gone auto-crossing you probably ran in the “stock” or “street” class, which only allowed changes to the air filter, front sway bar, shocks, the exhaust system back of the catalytic converter, and wheels and tires. That doesn't begin to scratch the surface of modifications available to you, and doesn't even allow most of those that we've discussed so far.
If you’re prepared to move up into the recently-introduced SCCA “street touring” (STS for the Cooper and STX for the Cooper S) class, there are a number of other things that you can do to your car which not only will give you better handling and power on the track, but also improve the car’s performance on the street, without giving up much in terms of driving ease or riding comfort.
For example, in street touring you’re still required to run street tires with a 140 or higher tread wear rating, but you can mount wheels up to 7.5 inches wide. You can also install the improved air intake discussed in the previous section of the book. In addition you can make all the changes to the chassis discussed in the last section, including replacing springs, shocks, sway bars, and camber plates (which we’ll discuss in this section). You can also install a high-performance header—which we’ll also discuss in this section—as long as it’s emission-legal (which means on the MINI that it must include a catalytic converter). Finally, you can even remove some of the interior appointments, including the radio and air-conditioning system, substitute race seats, and install a lighter battery.
If you want to go further than that, the street-prepared class for Coopers and street-modified class for Cooper Ss allow almost unlimited modifications. However, be forewarned, these classes are terrific opportunities for pushing a highly-modified MINI close to its limits, but winning a trophy can be an expensive proposition. Many owners in this class spend several times the value of their original car on modifications and don’t expect to also be able to use them on the street.
If you’re going to be spending money on your MINI mods, then it’s probably also the right time to get serious about improving your technique, which means taking a good autocross course. Many of the regional SCCA clubs offer auto-crossing courses, especially during the months between the official season. Check with your own SCCA club to see what may be available in your region.
There is also at least one commercial company, the Evolution Performance Driving School (www.autocross.com/evolution/) that offers multiple-day classes at tracks all over North America during the year. They teach basic and advanced autocross techniques using specialized equipment and professional instructors and get great reviews from experienced autocrossers.