Mini JCW Chal­lenge

The saga of the Chal­lenge’s out-of-sorts ride rum­bles on, but a new so­lu­tion is in sight

Evo - - FAST FLEET - Will Beaumont (@Will­beau­mont)

A‘A CAR THAT MUST BE use­able day-to-day.’ Much to the dis­be­lief of al­most ev­ery­one here now, that was one of the goals that for­mer evo writ­ers Dan Prosser and Jethro Bov­ing­don were aim­ing for when they fine­tuned the Chal­lenge’s chas­sis and tyre combo. Any­one who’s been in it since would never de­scribe it as ‘use­able’. If they were be­ing kind, they might call it ‘ track fo­cused’.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love this car and I am to­tally happy us­ing it ev­ery day. But that’s be­cause ride qual­ity and NVH aren’t re­ally things I worry about in my own cars. If a car drives well and is en­gag­ing and thrilling, I’ll eas­ily for­give a bumpy ride and some slight vi­bra­tions. But even I will ad­mit there’s been some­thing not quite right with this Mini. Now, finally, I think we’re get­ting to the bot­tom of it.

You may re­call that we sus­pected the car’s Nitron dampers might need a re­build, but they have re­cently been checked out by Mini, who de­clared them fight­ing fit. (The tyres less so, so a new set of Miche­lin Pi­lot Sport Cup 2s were fit­ted, which should see us through this year’s re­main­ing evo track evenings.)

What now looks like the cause of the prob­lem is that the dampers aren’t ex­actly what we thought they were. The orig­i­nal road set­tings that we de­cided upon when we tested the pro­to­type cars ( evo 223) were 10 clicks on the front and 15 at the rear, while for the track we chose 15 clicks on the front and 25 – i.e. fully hard – for the rear. But at a re­cent track evening, I went to wind the rear dampers up to 25 clicks and found that they stopped at 20…

It tran­spires that on an ear­lier oc­ca­sion when our Chal­lenge re­turned to Mini – last year, to in­ves­ti­gate an un­set­tling knock­ing noise from the front sus­pen­sion – un­be­knownst to us the rear dampers were swapped to new units match­ing those fit­ted to the fi­nal cus­tomer cars, and these units have fewer clicks. The soft­est and hard­est set­tings are the same as on the early dampers, but the dif­fer­ent num­ber of in­cre­ments has meant that when we di­alled in 15 clicks, think­ing they were only a lit­tle over half­way to fully hard, we’d ac­tu­ally been closer to fully stiff. Also, the front dampers were still the de­vel­op­ment items with 25 in­cre­ments, so the sus­pen­sion has been to­tally out of sync front to rear.

Mini ac­tu­ally rec­om­mends that you wind the dampers back to fully soft, front and rear, when us­ing the car on the road, but I tried that and found the car lacked the sense of fun and ad­justa­bil­ity you get when the rear is a lit­tle firmer. It still has in­cred­i­ble amounts of grip, but there was a play­ful­ness to the Chal­lenge when I first drove it last sum­mer that I’ve just not felt since.

Now I’m in pos­ses­sion of all the facts and know ex­actly what I’m work­ing with, I’ll ad­just the dam­per set­tings ac­cord­ingly, and maybe the ride height too, to try to find that orig­i­nal chas­sis balance. Hope­fully, once we’ve got the car feel­ing more mis­chievous – like a Mini should feel – the set­tings will have in­tro­duced a lit­tle more com­pli­ancy and the rest of the team will be hap­pier to drive it. Or, like me, they’ll find it so much fun they’ll for­get about be­ing com­fort­able.

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