If you've never done a driver's school, then your missing a tremendous opportunity to learn a lot about the MINI. Last year I participated in a school given by Phil Wicks at Gateway International in St. Louis. I learned two things. One, the MINI is an absolutely amazing performer, of which, I came nowhere close to its capabilities. Two, in order for me to explore those dynamics fully, I would have to invest in something that was going to deep me planted in the seat. At Gateway, I spent too much energy gripping the wheel and pushing my right leg against the stereo pillar in efforts to maintain good seating. Prior to my next school, that would have to be remedied.
Very little effort was put into product research before I bought the belts due to the good reputation they have with other enthusiasts. Another plus was that the harness only required use of existing attachment points and that was critical in my decision process. I was not interested in drilling or welding. I also liked the fact that it had been DOT approved. Another selling point was the “anti-submarining” design. That prevents the driver from sliding underneath the belt if there's a front impact.
Installation of the belts is straight forward. To get started, you should purchase a set of Torx head sockets. Not a bad investment since that seems to be the only type of bold used on the MINI anyway. You simply unscrew the outside seatbelt bolt located on the floor and insert the Schroth attachment. It does require bending of this piece to allow proper fitment. The second step was a little more demanding, but makes sense once you get started. You have to remove the rear seat cushion to gain access to the driver side outside belt attachment point. After backing out the bolt, it is replaced with an appropriately sized bolt included with the system. Once again, some bending is necessary to fit the metal attachment. The cushion should be replaced in the reverse order. Now it's time to snap the belt in and fit it to your physique. One suggestion, spend the extra coin on the shoulder belt pads. The belts over your shoulders will definitely cut into your neck without them.
Snapping in is simple and straightforward. Use the existing inside rear seat female belt latch and the newly placed rear outside male latch to connect behind the driver's seat. Run the two straps between the headrest posts. This requires raising the headrest out of the seat and putting back down once the belts are in position. For the front, use the existing inside female belt attachment and the newly attached female point on the floor to connect the front harness. The only thing left to do is slide yourself in and clip together. Make sure the waist belt is tight before pulling down the chest belts.
Another suggestion, back your seat slightly, tighten the belts, and move your seat back to its original position. This helps insure a snug fit. Forget about reaching for anything other than the steering wheel and the stick, or turning your shoulders for backing up. The four-point harness keeps you well planted to the seat facing forward.
Since installing it, I've used it for street use as well as a driving school at Blackhawk Farms. As it turns out, it's really not practical for use in daily driving. Strapping in and out is time consuming. As I mentioned earlier, once the belts are fastened it's difficult to perform necessary functions as reaching the climate and radio controls. I recall the first time backing into my garage and trying to turn around to look. I couldn't! It was like being glued to the seat. Which was exactly what made my track day a true driving experience. Unlike the previous event at Gateway where it was a constant effort to remain in the seat, I could focus on hitting the apexes. Blackhawk was a more technical course than Gateway. Had I not had the Schroth harness, learning the lines would have required extra concentration. My hips remained planted in the center of the seat. I didn't require pushing my left arm against the door for additional support. I could relax my grip on the wheel. Can you imagine doing all this and trying to have fun? As comparison, I had the experience of riding in the passenger seat with a stock belt. The difference was obvious. I was all over the seat. I am convinced that the stock seats, especially with leather, are no match for the cars suspension. If the MINI came with seats such as those in the Mitsubishi Evo or the Volkswagen R32, the Schroth Rallye 4 harness wouldn't be as critical. That not being the case, the Schroth harness is a must for a genuine track-day driving experience.
Rating: 4 (out of five)[Review written for MotoringFile by Steve Dybedock. Photos courtesy of Brad Herman]
The Schroth Belt retails for $229.95 and is available at HMS Motorsport, Promini and OutMotoring. You can read the full set of official installation instructions here and an even better real world install guide here.
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