When people hear the name Mini Cooper, they usually think of a small, green car driven by Mr. Bean. The British automotive icon isn’t normally associated with speed and performance. But history was made in 1964 when a Morris Mini Cooper S won the Monte Carlo Rally.
Today, the cars aren’t as “mini” as the name suggests. But joining the “Mini Driving Experience” showed me that even modern Coopers still have the sporting heritage of the brand. The track day was held at Clark International Speedway, the perfect venue to enjoy these not-so-little speedsters.
The first activity was a slalom competition where drivers had to drive a three-door Mini Cooper S around a series of cones as fast as possible, without hitting them. This gave the driver a good grasp of the car’s behavior as well as challenged his/her technical skills.
This isn’t my first time doing this, but compared to the humble Toyota Vios, the Mini Cooper S has a much more powerful 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo gasoline engine producing 197hp and 280Nm.
It’s still front-wheel-drive, so similar driving dynamics apply. The difference with the Cooper is that it’s a lot easier to overdo the throttle and throw off the car’s balance. Because of the limited grip at the front, don’t accelerate or brake while turning (as much as possible, of course).
After the slalom was the guided lapping where multiple groups of four drove around the track with their respective leaders setting the pace. At the end of each lap, the order would be rearranged so everyone got a chance to closely follow the lead car. Things started out slow at first with the pace gradually increasing the more drivers got comfortable with the car and the track.
Before heading out, Georges Ramirez gave a briefing, and one thing he emphasized was the importance of squaring off the corner. Rather than following the geometric racing line, braking earlier and aiming for a late apex can be more advantageous as it allows the driver to have a better corner exit. When negotiating a series of corners, the instructor also said to compromise the first turn to get a better entry into the next one.
Although I never got to push the car and myself to the limit, I appreciate that I was able to go faster than usual in a safe and controlled environment. The Mini Cooper is not the most practical car, as it is larger than a hatchback but with less interior space. However, the punchy engine and the responsive steering make it a good track toy. That’s good for me.