MINI has always had a bit of a love affair with the fast lane. And it’s practically a crime to let one of those souped-up gokarts lie dormant in your garage for too long. The sweet smell of burning rubber and motor oil could be found wafting through the air this year at MINI United 2012, showing motor enthusiasts from around the world how much it has to offer. The MINI Space Team was there to take in the sights and sounds and walked away with plenty to be impressed with.
As the concrete baked under the hot Mediterranean sun, the rumble of race engines could be felt rumbling in our chests as a sea of high performance MINI roared by on the Circuit Paul Ricard during MINI Trophy and MINI RUSHOUR. Andréa Gagliardini walked away from the track with a win in MINI RUSHOUR and in the MINI Trophy series, Thomas Tekaat secured an impressive start-to-finish victory. As soon as the pros got of the track, fans got the privileged chance to take their own MINI onto the famous French circuit. Joyful screams could be heard fleetingly as they zipped by one by one.
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To get a better feel for just what goes into making these high-performance cars purr, we got to know Marco Marquardts (or "Maui" to his friends), who works with his team of specially trained technicians and designers to tune them up to racing levels. Down in the pit, amidst a cacophony of pressurized ratchets, the hiss of air hoses, and the revving of engines, Maui told us a thing or two about what it takes to soup up a MINI.
“There’s so many components that need to be adjusted bit by bit and they all have to work together perfectly for it to all work right,” he explained. “Racing is really an extreme sport. Each one of those pieces — every little screw — is used so incredibly intensely, that each has to be just perfect. They all have to work in concert with one another.”
We were surprised to learn that just one of those cars on the track takes nearly two solid years to develop. There’s a lot more involved than just dropping in an engine with boost horsepower. They’re real works of engineered art and a labor of love. Behind every one of those cars on the track is a dedicated team that has to be mindful of every little, seemingly insignificant detail of the car.
But Maui doesn’t just do race cars. In fact, some of the drivers we met in the Beauty Parking lot had their rides made over by him. Similar to the fine tuning he does on each part of the car, he explained the challenges of customizing a vehicle for a person with a strong sense of character and opinions about what he or she wants in his car. “You have to approach it like a puzzle. The personality of the car has to fit exactly with the personality of the person. MINI in many ways already has perfect design, so there you have the added pressure of deciding what should be changed and what is already just right. It’s not as easy as just giving it a paint job and new hubcaps.”
Maui is sure to get some new clients soon with the release of the MINI John Cooper Works GP, the sportiest MINI ever built. It was unveiled at MINI United 2012 to an eager crowd that’s more than pleased to see that MINI continues to honor its racing pedigree and push the envelope in performance design. Clocking a stunning 8 min. 23 sec. at the Nürburgring-Nordschleife, this is one fiercely competitive MINI. It will go on sale later this year with a limited run of just 2,000 cars to be built.
Of course what would MINI United be without a test drive of our own? The MINI Space Team got behind the wheel for a spin ourselves… quite literally. At The MINI Driving Experience lot, visitors got a little driver training and were able to really push those cars to their limits. There’s just no feeling in the world quite like burying the gas and listening to those pistons fire. It’s amazing enough as it is how well these cars handle on the road, but the freedom we were given on this track is a whole new story. The good guys in charge made sure you got to do all those wild stunts you’ve always dreamed about. Fishtails? 360s? No problem. They even gave us pointers on how to execute them better.
The MINI (Space) Driving Experience
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There’s no doubt that the lifeblood of this festival was high-octane gasoline, and when you’re showcasing the many thrills of MINI, you wouldn’t want it any other way.