On June 7th, MINI USA threw down the gauntlet. Publishing a one-page ad in The New York Times at the same time as publishing a video on YouTube and their Facebook page, MINI USA CEO Jim McDowell set down the ground rules: MINI brings a 2010 Cooper S and their own driver, Porsche likewise but with a Carrera S. The track at Road Atlanta was booked for June 21st. The two makers would be racing for bragging rights (and valet parking spaces).
Porsche, arguably the quintessential German auto maker, gave a quintessentially German answer: We race on the track, not for publicity. And by opting out of this challenge (even where the odds were stacked in their favor), Porsche lost some respect from me. I mean, come on. Who says car manufacturers need to be so serious? In response, Porsche referred to this advert they made a few years back:
(This is some nice vintage footage but when’s the last time Porsche really caned anyone in motorsports? All of this footage is from the middle of the last century, when roadgoing Porsches were still mostly aircooled.)
MINI even gave Porsche a second chance by flying an airplane over Porsche’s USA headquarters in Atlanta with a banner behind it reading: “Dear Porsche, Bring it! Love, MINI.” Jim McDowell also responded with another video message:
MINI then posted a video to comedy website Funny or Die parodying the training montage from Rocky IV, equating Porsche to the character of Ivan Drago.
And this is where things got really interesting. On the 18th, Korean auto manufacturer Hyundai sent a video to Jalopnik and Autoblog challenging MINI to a race in July. Their new Genesis Coupe is getting rave reviews and laying the smackdown on such RWD icons as the Z, Mustang and Camaro and they’re right to want to show it off.
The weekend came and went but Porsche remained as silent as before. MINI found its own 911 Carrera S and its own driver in order to continue the challenge. They opened the venue to any MINI or Porsche drivers who wanted to drive the track and attend the event. Jalopnik scribe Sam Smith expressed dismay, however, that although the event was held at Road Atlanta, the course was in a small parking lot/skidpad and not on the 2 1/2 mile asphalt main circuit. He called the event ‘badvertising’ and wrote about his disappointment in MINI for misleading the autoblogosphere.
Finally, the day was upon us. Some loyal MF readers posted updates of what was happening on the track and Facebook, but unfortunately MINI had some technical difficulties keeping the live video feed reliable.
Unsurprisingly, the Cooper S lost by 2 seconds to the Carrera S. MINI USA recons that this means those two seconds cost $30,000 each given the price difference between the cars (some classic fuzzy math). All in all, MINI did what they set out to do: challenge a more prestigious marque to a race fair and square. Jalopnik’s Sam Smith was expecting a Harlem Globetrotters-esque bag of tricks from the small British car, but MINI made it abundantly clear that no trickery was to be involved. Aspiring to be a classic brand like Porsche, and not backing down despite being snubbed reflects MINI’s tenacious nature. I sincerely hope to see MINI take up Hyundai’s offer, and then perhaps challenge other icons like the Mustang GT, Camaro SS and maybe even the VW GTI. It’s not about win or lose, it’s about showing that MINI seeks permanent residency in the pantheon of automotive legends. If you recall, many predicted that MINI would not last given the ‘retro’ flash-in-the-pan trend that they rode into the USA (PT Cruiser, VW New Beetle, Ford Thunderbird) but PR events like this say clearly that MINI is here to stay.
Check out MINI USA’s Facebook page with all the official event details here.