The MINI JCW Team was at full strength at Road America, taking both cars to the historic and fast circuit in their freshly decorated transporter, and looking forward to a full test day in addition to official practice time. They had a few ideas up their sleeves to move the MINIs up the performance ladder that they wanted to try, but Mother Nature had a different plan. Torrential rain washed out the second official practice as well as qualifying. Starting near the back of the grid, both cars encountered difficulties—MINI 37 finished twenty-third and MINI 52 did not finish because of mechanical issues.
Rain Hampers Testing and Washes Out Qualifying
Arriving early for a test day, the team wanted to evaluate new engine management tweeks and suspension set up changes. Setting up a race car is a tedious and time-consuming process, and the extra test day would be beneficial. Heavy rain started falling at the beginning of the second official practice prohibiting evaluation of the new changes and when the rain intensified later in the day, qualifying was cancelled and team point standings were used to set the starting grid.
This dealt a serious blow to MINI JCWs hopes, as the MINIs typically qualify in the front third of the field. Without qualifying, their team point standings forced MINI #37, driven by Zack Meyer and Stephen Simpson, and MINI #52, with Ramin Abdolvahabi and Dan Clarke, to start near the rear of the grid.
MINI 37 Gets Punted off Course
There’s an old truism in racing that says, “You can’t win the race on the first lap.” Sometimes there are drivers who just don’t get it and, unfortunately, one such driver was behind Zack Meyer when he took the green flag. They got as far as turn 3 before the over-anxious competitor hit the MINI, knocking Zack off course and into the tire barrier. The Antistatic Design MINI 37 suffered damage to the right front, but Zack was able to drive it back to the pits. The MINI JCW Team sprang into action bending sheet metal away from the wheel, checking for suspension damage, putting on two new tires, adding a splash of fuel, and sending him back out a lap down in 27th place.
Zack proceeded to motor on, breaking his personal best lap time four times before handing off to Stephen Simpson. Stephen joined the fray in 24th, but despite setting and re-setting his best lap times, full course yellow flags hampered his advancement and he finished in 23rd.
MINI 52 Back in Action
New driver Ramin Abdolvahabi did well, running consistent laps and moving up in the standings, until lap 12 when the hood latch decided to quit working and the hood flew up across the windshield, totally blinding him. Ramin did a great job in maneuvering #52 off the course without further damage. The track workers managed to push the hood down enough so that Ramin could motor back to the pits. The team decided that the damage could not be repaired, and withdrew #52.
Ramin will be back in the Wavetrac Differentials MINI 52 for the next race at Virginia International Raceway on August 22nd.
Competing in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge is not for the faint of heart. Each race sees 25 to 30 cars on track in the MINI’s class. Car performance is closely balanced and the only way to stay in front of the competition is to have the perfect set up for your particular car for each track. Most of the brands in MINI’s class, such as BMW, Porsche, Honda and Mazda, have extensive racing history and there is a raft of data for race teams to rely on for setting up their cars, which helps them zero in on the best set up in a minimum amount of time.
Not so for the MINI JCW. This is the first time that a MINI JCW has raced at such a high level of competition and the MINI JCW Team does not have the luxury of a set up database for each race track to fall back on. The team is, in effect, writing the book on how to set up a MINI JCW for this type of competition.
Stephen Simpson, the team’s triple-threat man—driver, driver mentor, and race engineer—believes that the team is making progress that hasn’t yet shown up in the race results. The MINI JCW has good balance, the suspension changes seem to be working and with the new engine management tweeks, he and the rest of the team remain optimistic. Now if Mother Nature and overzealous competitors would just cooperate once in a while, the team could chalk up a few impressive finishes.
MINI Car Corral
The guests at the MINI USA car corral presented by MotorWerks Magazine, enjoyed the MINI hospitality and the camaraderie of fellow MINIacs. They also enjoyed meeting and chatting with the MINI JCW Team, and taking a close-up look at the racing MINI JCWs in the team paddock area.
The eighth round of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge will be at Virginia International Raceway in Alton, Virginia on August 22nd. Full details will be in our next race preview.