A MINI Cooper Tradition Commences at Donington Park

Donington Park, Castle Donington, Derby, England: By virtue of winning the North American MINI Cooper Championship, Waylen Hunsucker was awarded the opportunity to compete in the U.K. “MINI Challenge” series at Donington Park on October 21-22. His entrée into the event marked the first transatlantic competition between the two international series. The two independent series developed for race-prepped MINI Coopers have secured a cooperative arrangement whereby competitors from either series are eligible to compete in the other, greatly expanding the nature, if not the general fan and competitor interest, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Hunsucker was provided use and was fitted to the TotalTrack prepared full-race JCW-spec MINI Cooper S with, of course, right hand drive and left-hand mounted shift. Hunsucker took full advantage of his rental car by practicing shifting and opposite driving positions to U.S. specifications in preparation for Friday’s unofficial practice session to learn the car and the track. Phil Wicks, the U.S. series owner and administrator along with U.K. MINI Challenge Chief, Alan Maynard, were impressed with the progress Hunsucker had shown in adapting to the British oriented car, track and driving position.

“He did everything ‘right’, including his driving position,” quipped Phil Wicks. “He listened to the advice of the U.K. racers and was welcomed warmly as the American representative of the North American version of the MINI Challenge. He drove consistently faster and was not overwhelmed by the steep learning curve. He did an amazing job.”

In Saturday’s practice sessions Hunsucker lapped in the 1:28 range but with continued track time and a few minor car adjustments, Hunsucker was lapping consistently in the 1:24 second range during official qualifying. Hunsucker qualified a highly respectable 15th position out of 35 starters. . In comparison current UK MINI Challenge champion Arthur Forster, qualified on pole position with a time of 1:22.3.

Race day dawned cloudy and dry — perfect racing weather. With the customary “British” standing-start, all 35 cars hurtled into the first bend with 34 coming out the other end, one car spun with no contact. The race settled into the usual MINI-dicing and Hunsucker, driving conservatively but consistently quick, made up several positions as the race wore on. “He took his time and made up several places,” noted Wicks. “Of course, there were the usual ‘offs’ by several cars. Waylen avoided contact and took the checkered flag. I was very proud of his achievement.” Hunsucker finished in 10th place overall. Gareth Nixon won the Clubman Class and thereby became the new UK MINI Challenge champion.

For the second event of the weekend, the rain came — and DID IT RAIN! But in the British racing tradition, the cars were fitted with rain tires and lined up on the grid in nearly untenable conditions. In the second race, Arthur Forster was again on pole position. However, this time after two caution laps, the event was flagged off with a rolling start. With very little rain experience, Hunsucker was again presented with new challenges and experiences. “Phil advised me to take my time and settle into the race before making any moves,” said Hunsucker. “It was good advice as I was able to pick off a few additional racers who were too aggressive too early in the very nasty rain conditions. I learned a lot and appreciated the help everyone gave me.” With even darker skies and heavier rains, the MINIs were spinning all around the racetrack. Hunsucker, with only two minor off-track excursions managed to stay in contention throughout the race. For fans, the race was extra thrilling and fun to watch. With advancing darkness, the race was shortened to 20 minutes. Hunsucker crossed the finish line in 8th position overall. With only the minor excursions to slow his speed and lapping within a second of the current champion and race winner, Arthur Forster, Hunsucker would have easily been within reach of the leaders without his brief off-track excursions.

As the checkered flag fell, both Phil Wicks and Alan Maynard achieved the initial goal of their cooperation, the first race with the transatlantic exchange of drivers. Newly crowned UK MINI Challenge Champion, Gareth Nixon, will now be given the opportunity to race in the 2007 North American MINI Cooper Championship to complement the growing tradition of international shared competition. “I was thrilled with the results we achieved in the UK,” added Wicks. “It was a sensational start to what I hope and trust will become a very popular tradition among MINI racers. We’ve seen what can be done and I’m excited about the future. With our television coverage on MavTV cable network kicking in next season, it’s going to be a very fun and competitive year.”

The 2007 North American MINI Cooper Championship is currently finishing their schedule of events and hope to make announcements soon. MavTV will cover the races, which will be split between an East coast, and a West coast championship with a final “run-off” scheduled in the Midwest to crown the series champion. For more information, please visit www. Minidriving.com.

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