There really is only one way to truly test your MINI and fully understand it’s true performance potential, on the track. One of the better opportunities for MINI owners to do this is through the Phil Wicks Driving School. It’s program that is run by some dedicated enthusiasts that travels to some fantastic facilities all across the US. Phil Wicks, the man behind the school, has a long history with MINIs (he stunt drove the red Mini in the original Italian Job) and perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s always plenty of them at the school. You can learn more about Phil and the program at their website minidriving.com.
Saturday was my first experience with the Phil Wicks Driving School and in turn, my first experience with my new MCS on a track. The event is set-up with three classes, novice (where I placed myself), intermediate, and expert. The novices had just as much driving time as everyone else but instead of spending downtime in the paddock area between runs, we were in the classroom going over the finer points of car control and proper techniques.
One thing I should mention about the program, it’s very much a driving school rather than a racing school. Everything that is taught is both applicable on the track as well as the street. And in the end you really do feel more comfortable on the road due to your increased knowledge of the car and how it will react at its limits.
Having been in karts since I was five years old and on the track once before, I probably could have gone into intermediate and not totally embarrassed myself. However choosing novice was probably the wiser choice as I was able to ease into the day’s driving and feel completely comfortable with the track before turning the speed on.
The facility itself was also quite nice. The Autobahn Country Club in Joliet is one of a new breed of racing clubs sprouting up across the country where you can join for a one time fee ($25,000 in this case) and then renew your membership for some low low price ($3,000 at Autobahn). Yeah, a little out of my budget. But what it did mean is that the other track at the club was stock full of some pretty exotic equipment. Porsche GT3 race cars, current and older generation Vipers that you might see at LeMan, and a Ferrari 333SP race car rounded out some of the more interesting machinery at the club Saturday. Then there were also the handful of AC Cobra replicas (all extremely well crafted and very loud) that actually were participating in the driving school. Beautiful cars, but not exactly fast around the track. MINIs, Porsches, A4s and an E30 3 series were doing a good job of eating them up all day.
A great experience and highly recommend, Phil Wicks Driving Schools are easily worth the money and the time.
Observations on the MINI at the Track
I have to admit that I was bit nervous as this was the first time I’d be behind the wheel of my own car at an unfamiliar track. I was mainly concerned about brake performance over an extended track time and extreme tire wear on my new and ridiculously expensive 18″ Dunlop runflats.
I had heard horror stories of friends who ended up with almost no brakes at all after multiple laps, only find out deep into a high speed corner. Sure they all seemed to be shod with the ventilation starving s-lites, but would that be a difference? Would the open design of my R95 JCW wheels be enough to cool the brakes sufficiently?
I’m happy to say that throughout the day and until the final lap I felt little if any brake fade. Whether it was the design of the wheel that spared my brakes or the design of the track, I’m really not sure. however I was continuously impressed by the performance lap after lap. Of course not as impressed as I was when I rode shotgun with a friend who had just upgraded to the JCW brake kit. My definition of braking deep into a corner was made laughable after a shotgun ride with him for 10-15 laps. And I won’t even mention this 996 Porsches with Brembos!
Tire wear was also a nice surprise. My 18″ Dunlop SP Sport 01 DSST held up rather well despite the heat. That said, a rotation might be in order next week. The grip, on the other hand, left a little to be desired.
Finally my Schroth Belts were a God-send. Based on my experience, they are an absolute must have for serious track time. The belts allow you to become truly one with the car as there is none of the typical movement around corners that you would find with the standard belts. They’re also a lot cheaper than springing for new seats.
The Phil Wicks Driving School was a fantastic experience. I received some supurb instruction, got a ton of track time, and met some great people who I’ve known online for years. A big thanks to Phil Wicks, Steve, Phil, Jim and others who gave me pointers throughout the day. I’ve officially been bit by the track bug.