Here’s What Happened When I Drove A Mini Cooper on a Race Track
“I go through EDSA every damn day, how hard could that be?”
This is me whenever I get to watch car racing. Even with absolutely no track experience, I was always sure I'd kill it when I get the chance.
I finally got that long-awaited chance when MINI Philippines recently brought a group of journalists and customers to Clark International Speedway in Pampanga for the 2018 Mini Driving Experience.
The group was a mix of experienced track drivers and newbies (me), so it was a good thing that Mini brought in BMW driving instructor Kah Keen Kwong to lecture us first about the basics of track driving. From the proper seat position to approaching a corner, Kwong carefully explained how not to crash the Minis, which was prudent because Willy Tee Ten, president of Autohub which distributes the Minis here in the Philippines, was also in attendance.
After a few more reminders not to crash the car (they seem pretty adamant about it), we finally went down to the track and my tired, sleepy Sunday eyes were treated to this view:
Three-door and five-door Coopers, Countrymans, Pacemans, and a couple of Cooper S's were on hand for the day. We were divided into pairs, taking turns experiencing three driving activities—accelerating and braking, guided laps, and the time trials.
My partner and I were assigned to a classic red, three-door Cooper S. Glistening in the November sun, the Mini looked like it came straight out of a magazine, but better. Once inside, I immediately appreciated the fine Italian craftsmanship, as the upholstery felt soft to the touch. There were no flex or weird warping on places you would normally place your hands on, even with added pressure. My favorite part? The iconic dashboard with a huge circular console that glowed to match the chassis, giving off a really sexy vibe.
Such a classy interior belies its powerful performance. I'm no expert, but I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of pull its 2.0 liter, six-speed engine has. In my unofficial time, I clocked the Mini going from zero to 100 kilometers per hour in less than seven seconds, which is impressive for what is supposed to be an everyday car. Fortunately, it also has powerful breaks, able to put the Cooper S into a complete stop from 100 kph in less than 50 meters.
Accelerating and braking is one thing, but I was really eager to go through the entire track. But the guided laps, even in low speeds, quickly made me realize that track driving is world's apart from normal everyday driving. MINI set up cones along the track to guide us where to brake, turn, and accelerate, but it was still quite challenging to stay on the correct racing line.
My partner and I were assigned to a classic red, three-door Cooper S. Glistening in the November sun, the Mini looked like it came straight out of a magazine, but better.
I felt confident pushing the Cooper S because of its numerous technological wizardry.
Even with my racing experience limited to grocery runs and beating the office login time, I felt confident pushing the Cooper S because of its numerous technological wizardry. As Kwong pointed out, the traction control system in the Mini is different from others in that it can selectively cut or reduce power on just one rear wheel depending on the degree to which you are understeering or oversteering. Couple that with the anti-lock braking system, and the Mini really is a stable track car.
At faster speeds, I was able to feel the traction control take, um, control at certain points in a turn, particularly when I understeer. But it doesn't become too overbearing, and you're still very much in control.
But let's stop pretending that the time trial laps are not what we came to the Speedway for. And after each driver had done a couple of guided laps, we got our wish. Each driver was to drive as fast as he or she can while applying the lessons learned from the guided laps.
My partner went first, and after two laps, it was my turn. Once you accelerate a car full throttle, you'll begin to understand why so many people get hooked. Without being too dramatic, it is really an amazing experience pushing a highly capable car like the Cooper S on the track.
The Cooper S showed its mettle with every hard turn, with all the technology keeping the car very stable and predictable. But my 'too fast, too furious' attitude became mild panic when, on the last hairpin, I came in too fast and the Cooper S skidded off the track. As Kwong taught us, I fought the urge to yank the steering wheel and risk flipping the car over. Instead, I waited for the car to slow down enough before I carefully turned back towards the track. Luckily, I had another lap and was able to redeem myself, conquer that tricky hairpin, and finish the time trial, albeit at a more conservative pace.
In the end, it was a Sunday well-spent, and everybody was already requesting for a repeat of the Mini Driving Experience (a full weekend maybe?). And who wouldn't, when you get to drive a car that is as at home on the streets as it is on the track? The Cooper S was, in a lot of ways, the perfect car for my first time on the track. And no one forgets their first time.