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