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MINI Cooper S Works

Seeking profit from someone else's misfortune is at the very heart of motor racing. Ugly but true. And so it seemed fitting that I bagged a drive in the new-for-2004 MINI Cooper S Works racer that will form the top rung of the John Cooper Challenge as a consequence of a nasty skiing incident that rendered diminutive editor-at-large Meaden incapacitated (well, unable to drive, which is the same thing). So, having nabbed his Cooper S Works, I head down to Goodwood for an official Cooper Challenge test day. It's a welcome chance to remind myself what it's like to get suited-and-booted and go flat-out for a lap time.

Seeking profit from someone else's misfortune is at the very heart of motor racing. Ugly but true. And so it seemed fitting that I bagged a drive in the new-for-2004 MINI Cooper S Works racer that will form the top rung of the John Cooper Challenge as a consequence of a nasty skiing incident that rendered diminutive editor-at-large Meaden incapacitated (well, unable to drive, which is the same thing). So, having nabbed his Cooper S Works, I head down to Goodwood for an official Cooper Challenge test day. It's a welcome chance to remind myself what it's like to get suited-and-booted and go flat-out for a lap time.

Goodwood is a magical place and although I've seen the circuit unfurl at remarkable speed from the passenger seat of a Ferrari 250 GTO (thanks Mr Hales), this is the first time I've driven it.

The new racer is the perfect car in which to acquaint myself with the circuit. With 200bhp, it's quick enough not to feel restrictive but its front-drive layout and racing brakes should make it both predictable and adept at getting me out of trouble, should I do something stupid.

Mike Cooper is on hand to shake down the press car and there are dozens of Minis buzzing around the track in preparation for the 12-event calendar (the first race was at Lydden on April 10). The ΂£26,000 S Works racer will mix it with the 133bhp Clubsport cars that have been competing since '02. It certainly looks and sounds the part. The suspension is fully-adjustable and wound right down, Touring Car-style, on most of the cars. You can see them hopping and skipping over Goodwood's bumps, the engine notes rising and falling as the inside front wheels spin-and-grip from entry to exit.

The track is virtually deserted when I get my chance to sample the new racer. Perhaps the assembled competitors had heard there was a journo about to venture on track and retreated to the safety of the paddock.

Whatever, it's nice to have the track to myself to learn both the car and the layout. The S Works racer immediately feels familiar: it steers with the same crispness and has that stability and delicate poise that makes the road car such a devastating cross-country tool. But there's more of everything: more grip thanks to that super-stiff set-up and the Dunlop Formula-R rubber, and more braking power (but, amazingly, a similarly soft pedal feel). On the sweeps of Goodwood it feels great.

In truth a slightly slower track with rapid direction changes might highlight the MINI's agility better, but Goodwood shows that it's got speed to spare. Through Fordwater you turn in at 115mph and stay flat on the power until the approach to St Mary's, a third-gear right-hander. This is when you need those big brakes as the MINI wriggles and squirms down from 125mph. It's an exciting ride, and with a grid-full of other MINIs jostling for position, it should be enormous fun.

Hopefully, we'll get a chance to experience it for ourselves on May 31 when the John Cooper Challenge heads to Castle Combe and evo joins the grid for real.

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evo Statistics

 
Date acquired: January 2004
Total mileage: 5587
Mileage this month: 1232
Costs this month: £0
MPG this month: 26.9

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