What it's like to drive Mini's ALL4 Racing Dakar-winning car

evo braves the deserts of Dubai to experience just a fraction of the heat and chaos of the Dakar rally

If you ever plan to visit Dubai, do so in the spring or autumn. You don’t want to go in the summer – daytime temperatures can reach the 50s. At this point tourists, and even the Emiratis themselves, head indoors or to their cars to seek air-conditioned comfort.

Spring and autumn are a little more bearable. Mid-thirties is the norm. You’d still not want to stay outside all day, but you can walk around without perspiring from your eyeballs. But wrap yourself in an X-Raid ALL4 Racing Dakar racer, painted black and sat behind a race-prepared engine and temperatures, even in spring, once again start with a five.

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This deeply concerned me. I’ve lived in the north of England for most of my life. I eschew long sleeves as soon as temperatures crest 10 degrees and habitually crank cooling systems down to a deep freeze for comfort while I’m driving. I enjoy hot weather, but only with the promise of an air-conditioned car or chilled restaurant at my destination.

Cockpit temperatures in the fifties are alien to me. When you’re being tumble-dried over jumps and rolling through dips, and wearing a full race suit with a balaclava and helmet, some form of cooling is welcome respite.

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I’d learned beforehand that X-Raid fits its Mini Countryman-alikes with air conditioning. When I arrived in Dubai, 2015 Dakar winner Nasser Al-Attiyah informed me that the system was rather more rudimentary than I’d hoped. In reality, it cuts maybe ten degrees from the ambient temperature – no goosebump-inducing 16-degree blast here. It’s enough to make the car marginally more bearable on the actual Dakar where the mercury can climb into the seventies, but no more. The best I could hope for was something in the forties. Bugger.

This would be a non-issue were I a seasoned loose-surface expert already familiar with the rigours of off-road driving, but this is the first time I’ve driven a competition car in my life. Truly exciting, but nerve-wracking at the same time. The list of things I really didn’t want to do on my first crack at a £900,000 rally car was brief, but important: Break it. Roll it. Get hopelessly stuck. Vomit all over my race suit as a result of the constant yumps and 40-degree heat.

I needn’t have worried. evo Features Editor and office rallyist Henry Catchpole assured me that ultimately, the MINI would be ‘just a car’. And he’s right. The X-Raid Mini is just a car. One with a very special set of abilities, but a car nevertheless.

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