The Fast Airbender

Update by Scott Lear to the Mini Cooper S Club Racer project car
Oct 19, 2010

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The car was simply glued to the track, and it begged us to go faster

Aerodynamics is a mysterious art, and it’s not surprising that many racers shy away from that which they don’t understand. Our MINI Cooper S came equipped with a cool JCW adjustable rear wing, but the front end was unaltered. A bit of rear downforce at speed can be a nice confidence builder, but what a front-wheel-drive car really craves is front-wheel grip.

At last year’s Redline Time Attack, we met a friendly fellow MINI racer by the name of Chris Sneed. Chris is the head honcho at Sneed’s Speed Shop in North Carolina. Chris had recently returned from some wind tunnel testing on his own car, where he’d been playing around with splitter designs in anticipation of releasing his own product. Chris swore up and down that a front splitter was a revelation on these cars, adding palpable levels of grip to the nose and simultaneously reducing drag. He sold us on the concept, and we were delighted when a Sneed’s Speed Shop splitter arrived at our office. The kit runs $500 and includes all the necessary mounting hardware plus a really nicely machined thick plastic splitter element. It weighs less than 25 pounds all told.

Our buddy Matt Smith, a car fanatic and engineering student at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, dropped by to lend a hand with the installation. The job required a few specialty items, notably a stepped drill bit for making large holes in the back of the aluminum bumper to allow a socket access to the front element. Nylock nuts hold the majority of pieces in place, and the splitter element is predrilled to attach to existing bolts on the MINI’s underside, evening the load. On the leading edge, four adjustable aluminum stanchions and two wind-blocking endplates for the fenders require a bit of drilling, but nothing scary. The MINI’s bumper cover is easy to remove, as is the aluminum impact structure underneath.

Our first step was to tentatively locate the splitter using the predrilled holes; this gave us an idea of its final location. Then, we mocked up the stanchion locations and drilled small pilot holes through the bumper to mark the aluminum underneath for the stanchion mounting studs. With our measurements double-checked, we removed the bumper cover and structure and mounted the four threaded studs into the aluminum bumper. We drilled the plastic bumper holes to accommodate the newly installed studs, then confirmed that reassembly was possible. On a second mock-up attempt, we realized that our MINI’s stock plastic leading edge was bending the splitter down too far, so we took a Dremel to the bumper plastic to promote a more horizontal splitter position.

When we bolted everything in place for the last time, we were very impressed with the quality and robust mounting of the Sneed’s Speed splitter. It’s secure, and the threaded stanchions allow easy adjustability of the leading edge angle. A locking nut holds everything in place once the angle is set.

We must have mounted our two outermost stanchions a bit too high, as there were only a couple of threads of engagement available for a high angle. A trip to Lowe’s for some threaded steel bar provided a cheap solution and a longer, happier stanchion angle. Alternately, we could have been more aggressive with the Dremel on our front fascia’s lower edge, but we didn’t want to cut into the shape of the nose too dramatically. With the slightly longer threaded rods in place, we’ve got solid engagement and a good range of adjustability.

To minimize stress on the piece, it’s important to detach the stanchions whenever we load or unload the car from our TrailerWorld trailer. With the stanchions disconnected, the Sneed’s Speed splitter has adequate flex for loading and offloading; it bends up a couple of inches as the splitter glides along the aluminum ramps, and there’s no drama. Since the install, we’ve loaded and unloaded a dozen times with no issues.

Before our first race with the splitter on the car, we also removed our worn-out 225/45ZR17 BFGoodrich R1 tires for a set of fresh 235/40ZR17 R1s. Though the listed width differential is just 10mm, the new rubber seemed a bit wider than that in a side-by-side comparison. (Keep in mind, however, that the 235s were unmounted at the time.) Our favorite local tire mounting shop, Orlando & Sons, did the tire busting.

Armed with extra mechanical grip and our new Sneed’s Speed splitter, we hit the track at HyperFest. The increase in grip was undeniable, both from a purely mechanical standpoint and in higher-speed corners. We were honestly astonished at how much grip the car had on its nose at higher speeds; it was simply glued to the track, and it begged us to go faster. Our times dropped throughout the weekend, culminating in a 1:27.880 fast lap and a Performance Touring C class win in Sunday’s race. We ran toward the front of the Stinger group for nearly the entire session and came out of the car with a huge grin.

Here’s a video recap of the weekend:

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nderwater PowerDork
10/19/10 1:32 p.m.

Do you have any previous lap times to compare against?

Scott Lear
Scott Lear
10/20/10 4:04 p.m.

Unfortunately, we never did run the MINI at Summit Point, so I don't have times to compare.

We do have times at VIR, however: Fastest lap before the splitter was a 2:20.7 in fairly cool air during qualifying around VIR full in 2009. In 2010, the car turned a 2:20.2 in INSANELY hot weather that was definitely hurting horsepower relative to the 2009 lap, and that faster lap time was in race conditions.

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