Mini Challenge expected in North America


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By Henny Hemmes
Senior Editor-Europe
The Auto Channel

The Mini Challenge has become a much beloved series on the European race tracks. The Mini club sport races started in Great Britain, Belgium and Switzerland and Germany and from 2004 also in Germany. From this year on, the participants all drive the second generation of the Mini in the Mini John Cooper Works Challenge. The series has been starring in the programs of important races all over the continent, such as the 24 hours of Spa and the Nürburgring. This weekend (July 18-20), the Challenge will be organized just before the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim.

No less than 37 drivers, including guest driver Götz Otto, the bad guy in James Bond “Tomorrow never dies’, will ask the utmost of their Mini JCW cars and use their 211 available horsepower as much as possible.

Coming to America Good news for Mini- and race-fans in North America: Mini is working with officials to organize the Challenge here as well.

Mini’s marketing director Dr. Wolfgang Armbrecht could only confirm this fact, but not when the Mini Challenge is likely to take off.

“May be in 2009..,” he said. Upon my question if he is working with the SCCA, he did not volunteer any suggestion about this or another race organization.

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Sub Brand

People who do not want to race, but who like to have a very sporty version of the Mini, will be able to buy one from August 2009. Next year, the Mini John Cooper Works will arrive at the 82 Mini passenger car dealers throughout North America.

From now on, JCW will be positioned as a sub brand “To shape the brand and to show the sportsmanship that has been in the genes of Mini since shortly after it was introduced in 1960,” according to Armbrecht. “Fans may recollect the successes of the little car in “several Monte Carlo rallies as well as in the 1000 Lakes Rally in Sweden.

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Mini hopes to sell 6,000 unites a year of the JCW versions of the Hatchback and the Clubman. With three body styles, including also the Convertible, the BMW Group expects to sell 240,000 Mini’s this year. Also the lifestyle products will be more and more visible. Armbrecht: “We have to take it step by step. From caps, t-shirts and shoes (made by Asics) to Italian bags and other new products.”

Sophisticated

This week the John Cooper Works Mini was available for its first test drives on the roads of the Spanish island Mallorca. There the fast Mini proved to be very sophisticated. You can drive like the tourist you are, look around and cruise in fifth gear, but still have acceleration from low revs (about 1,500). The direct feel and direct response of the trendy car makes working the bending roads of the hills along the coast feel natural and fun.

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On the other hand, once at the ‘Mallorca Renn Arena’, the sporty Mini is eager to combat the track. With its stability control function it works the corners with just a little under steer, but once you push that button in the centre console close to the gear stick, the 146 inch short car feels like it is really enjoying very much to be stepped on its tail. Its 211 hp strong 1.6-liter twin-turbo 4-cylinder engine has 192 lb.-ft of torque (between 1850 and 5600 rpm), with an ‘overboost’ function the torque rises to 207 lb.-ft..

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Grip of its 205/45 R17 tyres is amazing. The weight of less than 2500 lbs obviously is an advantage and the Mini can propel to 60 mph in just 6.2 seconds (6.8 for the Clubman).

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Whoever is going to make a test drive in the Mini John Cooper Works could easily be seduced to consider participating in the Mini Challenge as well. He or she at least has some time to make up the mind.

The Mini John Cooper Works hardtop will be offered at $29,200, the Clubman at $31,450, including a $650 destination and handling charge, as well as Mini USA's free full maintenance coverage for 3 years/ 36,000 miles and a 4 year-50,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty.

© HHR, July 2008

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