Mini strikes a bigger pose in SRO Touring Car

Images by Richard S. James

Mini strikes a bigger pose in SRO Touring Car

SRO America

Mini strikes a bigger pose in SRO Touring Car

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After several years of successfully campaigning Minis in Touring Car America’s TCA category, in 2021 LAP Motorsports introduced the car to the Touring Car class. But it wasn’t a matter of developing the car in the entry-level class before moving to a faster one; rather, Touring Car is kind of where the car should have been all along.

When IMSA stopped the Street Tuner class in what is now the Michelin Pilot Challenge, the Minis needed a new home. But Touring Car at the time was being dominated by the BMW M235iR and then M240iR, and you know who owns the Mini brand … BMW. So TCA was the destination of choice to avoid an intra-brand fight.

“We started in IMSA with it,” explained LAP Motorsports co-owner Luis Perocarpi, whose first memories of cars included his father racing an original Mini in in his home country of Chile. “Straight out of the box it was quite fast. It took us a couple of years to develop the car. The crazy thing is the car is 90 percent stock — other than some really nice KW dampers, good brake pads and discs, it’s all OE. What took a long time to develop was getting rid of all the assistance that street cars have — DSC, traction control, stability control, stuff that racers don’t need and in fact gets in their way. Once we did, the car was a monster.

“At the end of our IMSA chapter, when the ST class went away, we ended the season winning a manufacturers’ championship. We came to SRO TC America, and the car is basically the same car, just detuned with a little less power for the TCA class and a little smaller tire.”

LAP Motorsports has had good success with the Mini in TCA, including a slew of victories, the team championship for Mini JCW in 2019 and ’20, and a manufacturers’ title for Mini in 2019. With BMW coming out with the new M2 CS that was placed in the new-for-2021 TCX class, Mini would no longer be competing with a current product from the parent company in Touring Car, so it was time for a new venture, and LAP Motorsports debuted the car for the second event weekend of the season at COTA.

“The TC car has all the DNA from the success and everything we learned from IMSA and our first few years in SRO. It’s the same chassis, but it’s got wider track, bigger brakes — but still the stock brakes package. KW built us a brand-new set of dampers for this, very similar to what they run in some of the GT4 cars,” Perocarpi said.

While the TC Mini has had some challenges, there were flashes of speed, including Mark Pombo qualifying third for the debut race at COTA, and Derek Jones leading at Sebring. Pombo started the year in a TCA Mini, then became the development driver for the TC Mini at COTA. But a massive crash at VIR, while it proved the strength and safety of the chassis, sidelined Pombo for the rest of the season, and Jones — who has raced with Mini for seven years — took over.

“On paper, it’s really not a huge amount of difference, but in drive it really feels like a different car,” Jones said of the TC Mini vs. the TCA car. “It feels a lot stronger, it’s a bigger and grippier tire than we ran in IMSA, and it’s got another inch up front. The brakes are bigger, it stops faster. It’s almost a square — this thing handles incredibly well and gives you oodles of confidence. It’s a pretty impressive car all around, because it’s really well balanced at every track we’ve been to. Unfortunately we had these issues with small failure bits the whole season; I think it was just because we were asking that little bit more from the car. But it was never anything truly mechanical.”

Jones says the torque is enough that it can run with the BMWs and Hondas that have garnered most of the wins in recent years. The real advantage, though, is under braking.

“Our big strength is the brake zones,” he explained. “You can commit an extra 10 to 20 feet further than everyone else, sometimes 50, and it’s a pretty consistent brake zone, even when the tires start going off. Historically, the Minis have been really strong in high-speed corners, like The Glen and places like that where it’s rolling corners. We were down on power there, having some issues, but we were able to run pretty close on times just because of the mid-corner speed it could roll.”

The plan is for LAP Motorsports to field two cars for 2022, which should delight the throngs of Mini loyalists.

“The Mini community is massive,” noted Perocarpi. “You see a lot of Corvette car corrals and stuff, but before OCVID, on a race weekend the Mini community is massive, I think that what Harley is in the motorcycle industry, Mini is in the automotive industry. It’s such an iconic brand.”

 

MX-5 CUP | ROUND 8 – WATKINS GLEN

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