Mini Coopers Bruised At The ‘Ring
© Michael Cotton

Mike chose to visit the Nurburgring 24 Hours this year, instead of Le Mans. Here he reports on the efforts of the famous family behind the Minis racing at the ‘Ring.
(images to come)

"I wonder if my father is looking down on us…do you think he’d approve of what we’re doing?" Mike Cooper was in a mystical mood at the Nurburgring, preparing to run two Mini Cooper Ss in the mad marathon called the 24-Hours.

"Do you know," Cooper went on, "our budget for this weekend is more than he spent to win his first World Championship? I really don’t know what he would make of that."

Mike’s grandfather, Charles, who founded the Cooper Car Company, was the man who counted the pennies, and then counted them again just to be sure. John was more gregarious, renowned for his cartwheels every time a Cooper won a Grand Prix, and nearly lost his life in a crazy twin-engined Mini when a rear Rose joint sheared on the Kingston by-pass.

John would have approved heartily, I reassured Mike, who brightened considerably. He had an interesting mix of drivers in his team, including former touring car champion Roberto Ravaglia, who came out of retirement for the German event, BMW test drivers and ‘Ring experts Thomas Sturtz and Gunther Weber, and Karl-Heinz Kalbfell, the boss of Rolls-Royce.

If you have difficulty making the connection, Kalbfell was the former boss of BMW Motorsport, a lifelong company man in fact, and like MINI, Rolls-Royce is controlled by BMW.

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The Mini is a major success story for BMW, and the Mini Cooper is another success both for Cooper Cars, with 6,000 units produced in 13 months, and for the separated John Cooper Motorsport company which has launched the UK and German Mini Challenge series and sells a full range of performance accessories.

The two ‘works’ cars at the Nurburgring had their 1,598 cc four-cylinder supercharged engines tuned up to 270 horsepower, plenty to propel the cars which were reduced to 1,040 kg. Braking was taken care of by 10-pot Tarox calipers, replacing the usual AP system. They were in a tough class, though, competing against most of the BMW M3s and the class winning Volvo S60.

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A round of the German Mini Challenge was held on Saturday morning, with 26 cars on the grid, but everything is done on a grand scale by the ADAC at the Nordschleife. Rounds of the SEAT Leon Supercup and the Renault Clio Cup were also run at the same time, the grids being sent off at two minute intervals, keeping 200,000 spectators well amused.

Mike Cooper had a major shunt on Friday night, during a kart race organised by BMW, bad enough to need treatment for a neck strain. That, unfortunately, set the tone for the weekend.

Little more than an hour into the rain-affected race, Mini test driver Paul Harvey was hit so heavily by a BMW M3 that he, too, needed treatment for a neck strain, and it took two hours to rebuild the red Mini. "Our car was hit at more than 100 mph and we’ve replaced the radiator, rear cross member, suspension arms and uprights," reported Cooper. "The bodywork needs attention too."

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Later, the team would report that its two Minis had been hit on at least four occasions, as they seemed to be the pin-balls in a German slot game. After changing a cylinder head gasket on Sunday morning the Ravaglia / Kalbfell / Harvey Mini was classified in 159th place with 73 laps completed.

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The other Cooper Car Company entry was running at the finish, but unclassified with 68 laps completed, in the hands of Sturz and Weber, with Benno Rottenfusser. They, too, had been in the wars, and had a deranged gear linkage to add to the delays.

Cooper’s honour was salvaged by the BSO 2001 team Mini Cooper of Andreas Decker, Robert Fassl, Frank Herrmann and Joerg Weidinger, who finished fourth in the A4 class in 75th position, with 112 laps completed.

"We were very unlucky this year with accidents," Cooper reflected. "At one time we were second in class but the accidents really knocked us back. It hasn’t put us off racing at all. It was wonderful to be back in international racing and we want to do more."

Plans are a bit vague at the moment, but he is talking about running a John Cooper Motorsport team in selected events, possibly including the talked-about Silverstone 24-hours next summer.

 

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