Successful Debut

Update by Scott Lear to the Mini Cooper S Club Racer project car
Aug 7, 2009

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To our knowledge, our MINI Cooper S had never been on a dyno, so getting a baseline run was high on our to-do list. Power and weight factor heavily into the classification for NASA’s Performance Touring class, and this won’t be the last time the MINI hits the rollers, but it’s a good snapshot of where we’re starting. We loaded the MINI onto our trailer and headed to Jet Black Motorsports just down the road in Daytona Beach, as they’ve got a DynoJet, which is the model required by the NASA PT rulebook.

On a particularly hot and humid Florida day, we witnessed a measurable drop in power from our first run to our second. It seems that our pressurized MINI Cooper S engine doesn’t like to get toasty, and it protests by losing some power. Still, our peak of 162 horsepower and 160 lb.-ft. of torque were decent for our little 1.6-liter engine. The air/fuel line shows that the car goes super rich just before 6000 rpm, and the spike in fuel is accompanied by a drop in output. The engine wasn’t overheating or showing any particularly bad behavior, so we were confident with the VIR race debut weekend looming.

We had a few housekeeping items to attend to before we could head out for a proper wheel-to-wheel race at VIR with NASA. First up, our MINI was still full of the very same fluids it arrived with. We like to start with a clean slate, so we emptied out the oil and replaced it with Mobil 1 5W30. We had to drain the coolant as well, since it was still full of slippery antifreeze. After flushing the system, we refilled it with distilled water and added some Red Line Oil WaterWetter.

While we were under the car, we noticed how chewed up one of our brake ducts was from interference with the left-front tire. Our MINI has a steering rack limiter to help avoid just this problem, but obviously this duct didn’t get the memo. We reshaped the duct by hand so it sits a little flatter, and then used duct tape to restore integrity.

Our safety gear is all up to snuff, but NASA does have a rule that requires lateral head protection. Since the Recaro seat in our MINI doesn’t have built-in wings, we had to install a center net. OG Racing sells a very nice Piper Motorsports net for $100, and the net installed easily onto the car’s cage bars.

After an awesome time photographing the cars and meeting the competitors at the Hankook Ultimate Track Car Challenge on Friday, we unloaded the MINI Cooper S from the trailer for some fun of our own on Saturday and Sunday. We haven’t finalized our power to weight on the car, so we ran in PTC to ensure that we’d be within the letter of the law. We were the only car in our class, so the classing wasn’t a problem.

The MINI performed without incident on the winding track at VIR, and we had a blast driving the car. The lack of a limited-slip differential was a bit frustrating out of the Oak Tree corner, but the car exhibited great stability in the higher-speed elements and was a hoot at full throttle up the climbing esses. We ran a 2:23.543 fast lap in the Saturday race and finished ninth overall. Although the car was torquey, we didn’t feel like we had a ton of thrust down the long straight. As we pondered the configuration of the car, we started wondering how much benefit we were getting out of the rear wing.

For the sake of experiment, we pulled the wing off the car on Sunday morning to see what effect it would have. The car was only slightly less planted—the only place we noticed it was on the right-hander at the top of the climbing esses—and our revs were higher everywhere. In fact, we were down to a 2:20.795 fast lap. The conditions were admittedly better across the board, but we had qualified fifth overall, so the relative improvement was there.

In the Sunday race, we had a great battle with some PTE cars, notably the Nissan Sentra SE-R of Team Speakman Racing. The ambient temps were back up a bit and we had slowed to a 2:21.928 in the race, but we still took fifth overall, and the MINI demonstrated great endurance on its BFGoodrich R1 tires. We were less convinced that removing the wing was a silver bullet, but if it goes back on, it’ll be at the lowest downforce setting.

Next on the radar is a Redline Time Attack event at Carolina Motorsports Park.

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