Friday, January 8, 2010

Mini Driving Event & Mini Cooper S Review

Event registration site:

I went to this particular event at the Home Depot Center last November. The car, Mini Copper S w/ AT, was a hoot to drive. The course was short, but suited the car quite well. For $20, you become a “VIP” which gets you a T-shirt, two hot laps with pro/semi-pro autocross driver, and to drive the manual JCW Mini instead of the auto Cooper S. I did not think the perks were worth the $20, so I passed on it. To each of his/her own.

The Cooper S handled beautifully on the short and tight course. Its handling was lively, toss-able and immediate with minimal body roll. At no time did I feel the car was underpowered. However, the turbo lag from the force-fed 1.6L inline-four was quite pronounced when I lifted off the throttle to transfer the weight forward so I could rotate the rear-end and then rolled back into the throttle. The automatic transmission on the S I drove certainly exaggerated the problem even more so. The steering was nicely weighted and provided plenty of feedback. The steering wheel felt great in my hands. The brakes were strong, and the pedal was firm.

During my second two-lap session, I chatted with the “instructor” about the tires because I noticed that among the two S’s they had on hand, one had run-flat Yokohama's on while the other had non-RFT Yokohama's which was the tire sponsor for the event. When I asked about his preference between the two, he said “you know what? After this lap, let’s jump into the other car, and then you tell me which one you like more.” After a back-to-back comparison, I like the RFT better than the non-RFT (at least in the case of Mini Cooper) because while the overall grip was about the same, the turn-in was noticeably crisper due to the stiffer sidewall. He agreed. This is complete the opposite of what my impression was prior to this quick comparison. I've always disliked the RFT's largely due to their super stiff sidewall. Although the initial turn-in is slightly sharper than the non-RFT's, the RFT's gives very little feedback, less ultimate grip, and the break-away is more sudden than the non-RFT's. The RFT's also ride harder and are noisier.

The event itself was okay at best. No food/snacks. Though, they did provide bottle water. There was no enclosed tent to lounge in. The wait to drive was long (I waited about 30 minutes between my two two-lap sessions). They gave me a water bottle after filling out the exit survey. Overall, if you live close to one of the event location, do it. Otherwise, it’s not worth the time to go out of your way for this event.

Event Rating: 2 out of 5

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