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Episode 32

MINI Challenge:

The Cheapest Racing Series On TV?

Fancy racing on live, national TV? You’d expect to be paying many thousands of pounds for that privilege, but the actual figure may pleasantly surprise you!

This week saw the return of the British Touring Car Championship, and its associated support races also had their season openers. Among those on the schedule was the MINI Challenge, which got me thinking: should I be aiming to enter the UK’s premier front-wheel drive racing series?

So far, over the course of this year, I have written an article about what I’m searching for in a racing series, alongside taking a detailed dive into whether the Club100 karting series or the Ginetta G40 GRDC. Whilst both competitions produce compelling arguments, neither have quite fit all of my criteria, so let’s take a look and see whether the MINI Challenge is the series I’m looking for.

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For those of you who aren’t aware of the MINI Challenge, it is a single-make domestic racing series for the BMW-made MINI hatchbacks. There are four different classes, from the entry-level Cooper class up to the hard core JCW class, whose thoroughbred machines are only a small step down from the front-wheel drive BTCC cars. For the purposes of this article, however, I’ll be looking at the little Coopers, as they are aimed more at the rookie racer.

The Cooper class cars are built from an R53 model chassis, and are powered through their front wheels by a naturally-aspirated 1.6 litre unit producing 130bhp. That power is transferred to the ground through the road-going Cooper S’s 6-speed manual, and the slick Goodyear tyres. MINI claim that, if you were to build your Cooper-class car yourself, a budget of around £10,500 would cover all of the parts, including a suitable donor vehicle. Employing someone to carry out the work for you will of course require a considerably larger wallet, but on the other hand is certainly advisable if you’re not the most mechanically minded person.

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Once you’ve built your racing machine, you’ve got to pay the fees to race it. The pre-COVID race schedule amounted to seven race meetings for the Cooper class, two of which were due to be in direct support of BTCC meetings, including live TV coverage on ITV4. A season entry fee included entry to all of these meetings, in addition to a pair of test days, at Silverstone and Thruxton, all for the cost of £7,995 + VAT, which equates to £9,594 all in. Adding that onto the cost of building the car, and you could theoretically complete a season, with your own car, all for circa £20,000. Is the MINI Challenge inside the budget then? Definitely.

The second aspect I am looking at relates to the reach, the following of the series. Now, as previously mentioned, the Cooper class of the MINI Challenge was scheduled to race on two occasions as part of the BTCC support package, featuring live races on national TV. Other than that, their social media following isn’t sizeable, however the MINI Challenge social media team are very hard working, with considerable coverage on race weekends. Therefore, I would say that the MINI Challenge also passes this test.

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Moving on, we’ll now look at how closely regulated the series is, in terms of performance. On a race weekend, tyres are limited to just two fresh rubbers for each meeting. Alongside this, in order to make car setup simpler, only toe, ride height and single-way dampers are adjustable, so it shouldn’t be too taxing to find the optimal feeling in the car. Alongside this, costs are controlled by ‘widespread use of control parts,’ however this almost inevitably means there are still areas where spending more equates to better performance. The engine, gearbox and chassis are also road-based, meaning that maintenance should be cost-effective due to readily available parts, both new and used. Overall, then, whilst the series isn’t totally cost-controlled, there are a fair few measures to limit ridiculous expenditure.

Finally, my personal preferences. And unfortunately, this is where the MINI Challenge falls down. My criteria listed a preference for a non-front-wheel drive series, and preferably not a racing car that started life as a road car. That is, however, exactly what the MINI Challenge Cooper class is – converted road-going R53 MINI’s, cars which are front-wheel drive. And that makes the choice about entering the MINI Challenge that much more intriguing: all the quantifiable criteria point to the Challenge being the perfect racing series, yet my preferences would almost immediately discount the series. Head vs heart, the age-old adage.

What do you think? Do you think the MINI Challenge is where I should race? Let me know with a comment below!

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