Being proper responsible adults is perhaps the ultimate goal in life. You should behave in all situations and puerile stuff is better left for our memories. Of course, this is applied to all people who are grown ups and take responsibility for every action: taking things slowly, with ease and avoiding any disturbance. Sure, unless you’re a hardcore petrolhead: let’s face it, we’re grown up kids. While we should pay the rent, we buy silly and loud exhausts, just because radios never transmit music with such good vibes as any V8 or V12; we buy tires, track day passes, suspension kits, go-faster parts and we wake up early just to go to our favorite road and behave like complete maniacs. We like to do silly things just because we love cars and driving: in the end, it all comes down to the moment when we get into the cockpit, turn the key and head out. Driving is what defines our passion, and cars are indeed the best thing in the world.
Being a petrolhead is not an induced lifestyle, and it will never be cool enough for being a mere fashion: thank God we have cars in our life.
So, since Escape on Wheels is more of a record book of driving and traveling around with cool cars, we figured out to do something to honor our beautiful and unquestionably silly passion.
Thankfully, Mini Italia has had that idea for us, by creating the Mini John Cooper Works Petrolhead Edition. Only six of this tiny terror will be made: we had car #0 for a week in order to pursue our childish behavior even more.
This Mini has got some lovely go-faster carbon fiber details all around and comes standard with a set of ultra sticky Pirelli Trofeo R, super-lightweight EVO Corse Sanremo 17″ wheels and the excellent KW JCW Pro suspensions all around. It seemed that hooliganism just turned front wheel drive. Oh, did I mention it also has a manual gearbox? Such a special edition was build to commemorate the 6 years of the Italian Mini Challenge: each model is made to celebrate each year and it was ultimately made for…driving enthusiasts. With its straight through exhaust which can be completely opened, it crackles and pops loudly every time you change gear and release the throttle. Of course, you shouldn’t be allowed to use the open exhaust on the road, but I am thankful to Mini for giving us one more reason to annoy people around like 16-year-olds: car popcorn is addictive and fun!
Driving fast is our top priority: so we set up a proper petrolhead escape by taking it first to Franciacorta racing track for an early morning session and to six of the best mountain passes of the Dolomites second. Six years of the Mini Challenge, only six cars and six Passes: call it the Devil’s Escape, but fun was all we had. Life couldn’t get better than cars, tracks and mountain roads.
Franciacorta is a well-suited track for this Mini’s short-ratio gearbox and suspension set up. Its torquey and effective 231 hp 2-liter engine pulled consistently throughout the entire rev-range, enough to propel this pocket-rocket to some seriously fast speeds on the main straight.
When I got the car into the first corners and you’ll immediately notice how much grip the car has got over the regular JCW. It is so well balanced that it never understeers when entering the corner and never loses its grip or traction. Although some slight body roll is present, the car is outstandingly rock solid through the apexes. It is very confidence inspiring and even if you open up the throttle aggressively mid-corner, the car never loses traction and just feels to be on rails. On both road and track, it is incredibly neutral, and it doesn’t even seem front wheel drive. The work that has been done to the suspension and the overall vehicle dynamics was enough to alter the handling qualities for the better: the Petrolhead Edition maintains its pace constantly, lap after lap.
For all of you track day enthusiasts out there, this is not an extreme version like the venerable GP and GP2 versions. This Mini is a rather refined and enjoyable everyday driver with some outstanding grip. It retains all the functionalities of the standard road car, so it is practical too: because going to the grocery store with semi slicks and rally car wheels will brighten up your mood for sure.
Despite being fitted with unique KW suspension, which is considerably stiffer than the normal ones, the car is very supple and civilized over the bumps: on track, it feels like it is riding on a carpet, and on the road, it is supple and perfectly balanced.
After trying not to melt all the good rubber off the excellent Trofeo R’s we pointed the nose north and headed for some of the best roads in entire Italy and our backyard testing track.
On the road, the Petrolhead feels more rigid over the bumps, yet it is quite compliant and never rattles around. At one point, those suspensions and tires seem to deliver more on the road than on the track: it almost feels that it was made for tight and twisty mountains roads. The first pass was the Mangen Pass, a super-tight and twisty pass up which offers great views and visibility.
With the car easily occupying the whole lane, it was perfect to put the grip and agility qualities to test. It was so easy to place the car wherever you like: you could easily come into the corners faster than normal and then close your steering angle without getting any understeer. Such a remarkable thing when trying to beat your photographer times going up the passes.
The loud WRC-like crackles from the open exhaust reverberating against the rock walls are so satisfying that you keep shifting gears even when it is not necessary, just for the sake of hearing them. Because racecar, of course.
From the twisty and tight section of the Manghen, we proceeded to the rather spectacular Fedaia Pass, where you can admire the famous Marmolada glacier. Despite a few tourists along the way it was fabulous to drive with its scenery and smooth and large roads.
The tour went on to the Campolongo pass, the Pordoi, the Sella and the Gardena passes. That was driving Nirvana in a nutshell. Different elevation changes, tight corners, and wonderful uphill sections and that crackling-village-awakening sound which makes you do silly stuff just because you love cars and driving.
The Mini petrolhead is one of those modern cars that still retains a touch of that genuine old school go-kart feeling from the days of the first Coopers. Despite its 50k price tag is an overall great package which will get you smiling on track, road and especially in the mountains.