Hot hatchbacks are all the rage in the UK, and not just because it’s nearly summer. Consumers are looking to downsize their car wherever possible these days, but still retain the comfort and power offered by the bigger, more luxurious models. When renting a car or taking out day insurance, people want a sporty number that’s nippy on the straights – so just what makes a hot hatchback, hot?
There are plenty of elements that need to be included in a hatchback for it to be ‘hot’ – big wheels, 200bhp+, a quick 0-60 and let’s not forget the dashing features. But if it’s not fun to drive, and trust us when we say there’s plenty out there that aren’t, then it’s back to the drawing board.
If you think the new Mini Cooper S looks a lot like the old model, you’re not the only one, but there’s a good reason. Mini hold their core values in extremely high regard, and as a brand they feel these are best translated through the Cooper’s design. So, if it’s not for the looks, then what makes the new Mini Cooper S so attractive?
Under the Bonnet
As always, the answer can be found under the bonnet. The new S is mighty powerful for a car its size, with the four-cylinder turbocharged engine pushing out 192bhp, and 0-62 in just under 7 seconds with the automatic gearbox. It only takes the manual gearbox 0.1 second more to reach 62mph, and although the speed is impressive, it’s the Mini’s energy efficiency that’s been turning heads.
Depending on the combination of tyres and wheels selected, it is possible to get CO2 emissions all the way down to 122g/km, which puts it in the category of the write-down allowance threshold. On the roads we doubt you’ll see more than 40mpg, but as hot hatchbacks go, the Mini Cooper S seems to be setting a new standard.
Cockpit and Interior
The first point of call, surprisingly, is the boot, which boasts 30% more room compared to the conventional mini. It’s also wider and longer than its predecessor, meaning there’s more room to be enjoyed inside too. As with all Mini models, the décor has quite a long way to come before it is able to compete with the likes of the Golf R or Astra VXR, with plastic dominating the cockpit. However if you’re looking to bypass the cheap inner shell and instead look towards the power underneath your feet, we’re sure you’ll be mightily impressed.
With optional Variable Damper Control, the new Mini Cooper S handles superbly, and stands out against some of the market’s better sellers. Whether you’re driving on soft or hard terrain, the suspension automatically adjusts too, without limiting the driving experience. Extremely fun to drive, the lack of aesthetic change with the Cooper S on the outside just reinforces the improvements made under the bonnet, meaning it is certainly one of the hottest hatchbacks around.
The weather has been pretty wet and miserable for the last few weeks and it has been a while since I was last out trackside. I was becoming irritable. However, yesterday was the Media Day for the 2012 Silverstone Classic so I was to head there with eager anticipation.
I love classic cars and of course classic racing cars. I love the fact that these iconic vehicles that are mostly from before my time and worth an absolute fortune, are still raced for everyone to see. Those who remember these race cars get the opportunity to see them again and to revoke past memories and those, like me who weren’t about to see them first time get the chance to experience what they were like and gaze in awe of how beautiful these machines are.
Last year’s Silverstone Classic was a huge success. Over 1100 race entries and a further 7000 plus classic cars on display from various car clubs and societies made it the biggest race weekend in the world. Throw in all the additional things to see and do such as trade stands, fun fairs, live music, driving experiences and simulators and the world record for the most E-Type Jaguars on circuit at the same time and you get a good idea of what a fantastic weekend it was. I enjoyed every minute of it and a real highlight for me was the Group C ‘Dusk’ race on the Saturday evening.
The weather back then was amazing, sun all weekend. A huge contrast to the weather that greeted us for the media day. But after parking up in the paddock behind the fantastic Silverstone Wing complex and catching a glimpse of some of the cars in the garages that were to be out on track during the day, the miserable weather was soon forgotten.
After signing on, having a coffee and catching up with friends, the press conference took place. During this, plans for this year’s event were unveiled. The last Silverstone Classic would be hard to beat, but it looks like expectations will be exceeded. A new partnership with the AA was announced and their commitment to the weekend was impressive. They are planning so many off track activities and driving experiences to keep everyone entertained if the racing wasn’t enough. A number of anniversaries will be celebrated such as 50 years of AC Cobra and to mark the 25th anniversary of the Ferrari F40 more than 60 examples of every school boy’s wet dream will be out on track. The celebrity race line up was also announced and joining regulars like Heston Blumenthal, Dave Vitty & Brendan Cole will be Chemmy Alcott and Sir Patrick Stewart to name just two.
After the press conference it was time to head down to the garages to see what machinery was about and to take part in a passenger ride. I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to go out in an awesome 1962 Jaguar E-Type driven by Andy Dee-Crowne. As I was getting strapped in, Andy told me he would need to take it a bit steady in the wet conditions as he had just spun at Stowe with the last passenger on board. I told him not to spare the horses for my sake, but obviously I didn’t want him to damage his beautiful car. The grin plastered across my face as we headed down the pit lane was not going to be moved for some time.
As we headed out onto the track the car sounded fantastic and despite the age of the machine ran smoothly and quickly. Very quickly. Andy told me the brakes would take a little while to warm up so would take it steady into the first few corners. This didn’t deter him from getting on the throttle as soon as possible though as the car squirmed on the exits as he expertly kept it under control. The conditions were wet and the original style cross-ply tyres the Jag runs on meant grip was at a premium. It also meant fun was in abundance! Drifting and sliding through the corners, Maggots and Becketts were especially fun, Andy was working the steeling wheel masterfully, whilst controlling the throttle to time the acceleration down the straights just right. Not only was I impressed with my chauffer’s ability as was in awe of this incredible machine. We all know how far technology has progressed over the years but this 50 year old beast still knew how to perform and put a lot of modern day machinery to shame. It really was a credit to Jaguar and their engineering.
With the brakes up to temperature on the second lap, Andy was happy to push that bit harder and was loving it. With speeds of 120mph on the straights in the wet the E-Type had impressed me immensely. It was great that people still raced these machines and following the AC Cobra along the Hanger Straight, I got my very own taste of what it would have been like to have raced these cars back in their hay day. The passenger ride was over too soon for my liking, mind you I would have stayed out there all day if I could and not got bored, but as we came back into the pits I knew I had experienced something very special for which I was truly grateful to Andy for. The E-Type Jag has now been added to my list of cars to buy when I win the lottery. If only eh?
After a nice lunch back up in the wing complex, I was back roaming around the garages to check out some of the cars there. This years Silverstone Classic will feature 1980’s & 90’s British Touring Cars, DTM cars and Super touring cars so there were some fine examples of these cars on show. Steve Soper’s BTCC & DTM BMW’s were there along with Tim Harvey’s Labbatt’s liveried Sierra Cosworth RS500, John Cleland’s Vauxhall Cavalier, Anthony Reid’s Ford Mondeo Super Touring car and Matt Neal’s Independent Nissan Primera along with a few others. A couple of Porsche 962’s were there along with some more historic Touring cars such as Mini’s & Ford Cortina Mk1’s as well as a selection of historic single seaters. Most of which took to the track for some test laps giving us a chance to take some photos despite the worsening weather. It was great to see just this handful of cars so it really whetted my appetite for the main event in July.
The day was over too soon but I left with a lasting memory and the excitement of this year’s Silverstone Classic. I cannot recommend the weekend enough to anybody. There is so much to see and do and it is a weekend that should be high on the ‘to do’ list for any car fan young or old. It will be a great event and you really don’t want to miss out.
You can find out more by heading to their website here: http://www.silverstoneclassic.com/ and you can see more of my photos from the day on the Chris Gurton Photography Facebook page or in my Flickr Album.
Last week saw the Motor Sport Vision Racing (MSVR) Media day at Brands Hatch. MSVR run a number of club series from the Trackday Trophy and Monoposto championship, up to the GT Cup championship and F3 Cup so it was good to head down to Kent again to see what was being planned for the coming season. It’s great to see the enthusiasm for club level motorsport and to hear that the race series are being well represented. You should never underestimate ‘Grass Roots’ motorsport as the action is just as good as any top level events and championships are just as hotly contested.
There were a number of cars filling the pit lane to represent the race series under the MSVR banner and most took to the track too, including a very special car. That of the 1989 Lotus 101 as driven by Satoru Nakajima in that seasons Formula One championships. As a young boy growing up in the eighties the latter part of that decade within formula one was an era I remember fondly so it was great to see the Lotus on track sounding like a dream. A very big noisy and almost deafening dream, but a dream none the less. It was also one of the cars which made up my very first Scalextric so it had extra meaning.
Now some of you may recall that at last year’s MSVR media day I was taken around the Iconic Brands Hatch Indy Circuit in a Radical SR3 RS. Well this time I got taken around again but in two very different cars. The first passenger ride of the day was in a Porsche 997 GT3 which will contest in this seasons GT Cup Championships. This was a superb opportunity for a huge GT racing fan such as myself so to be able to experience for myself what it is like being in a car that I have seen in many top race series from British GT & Blancpain to endurance races such as the Nurburgring 24hr & Le Mans.
The weather was overcast and the track was damp but it was going to be a ride I would enjoy very much and my chauffeur, Nick Whale wasn’t in the mood for hanging around. The acceleration was phenomenal from the pit exit and we straight onto the tail of a pair of DB5 Aston Martins, which we made short work of on the Exit of Paddock Hill bend. Breaking into druids on the greasy surface the Porsche remained so stable and took it in its stride. On the exit of the hairpin it was clear how much power this machine had at its disposal. Just a dab of throttle and the super wide rear tyres were struggling for grip as the 997 started to wiggle its rear but Nick was always in control and told it who was boss. On the edge of its limits we sped through Graham Hill bend and along the Cooper straight towards Surtees and McLaren. The Porsche remained planted through the bends despite the lack of grip the tarmac was providing only squirming slightly as it chomped at the bit desperate to unleash the horses which would enable it to power down the straight quicker than a scorned child caught with its hands in the biscuit tin.
Down the pit straight I watched the speedometer rise as it just passed the 200kph mark as the brakes were applied for Paddock Hill bend again. The Porsche and Nick took it all in their stride. Smoothly through the bend, down the hill and back up towards Druids within the blink of an eye. By now we were catching the Green Lotus Evora GT4 and it wasn’t long before we had passed it with ease. I was loving this. However, it wasn’t long before a couple more laps had passed and we were heading back into the pits. All good things have to come to an end but I was very fortunate to have experienced my ride in such an awesome machine. I’d like to thank Nick Whale who manned the wheel expertly and the In2Racing team for letting me experience firsthand what their car is capable of.
That wasn’t to be the end of my on track excitement though. My second passenger ride of the day came in something a little less powerful, a little more affordable, but by no means any less exciting. I was to be taken out by Luke Caudle in a John Cooper Works Mini. Luke had won the JCW Mini Challenge class in 2010 so he knew what he was doing behind the wheel of this not so small Mini and he was keen to show me. We blasted out of the Pit lane onto what was now quite a busy circuit. There were 3 or 4 other Mini’s out along with a few BMW 3 Series from the Production BMW Championship, a few cars from the Trackday trophy contingent and some VW Golf’s from the VAG Trophy and Golf GTI Championships. This was of course no bother as the Mini was quick. Very quick. I knew it was not going to be any slouch but even I was surprised at how fast this car was. It certainly felt it too as Luke made light work passing the other cars on track. Passing round the outside at Druids or darting up the inside at Graham Hill, the other cars seemed to be disappearing rapidly in the rear view mirror. I was pretty sure Luke was having a great time as he cut the kerbs and power slid round bends on the damp track. It didn’t matter whether he was enjoying or not though because I was having a great time. Only my crash helmet could conceal a grin any Cheshire cat would be proud of.
Blasting down the Brabham straight just inches from the pit wall the car topped 110mph as like the Porsche it remained stable braking for Paddock Hill bend. Ok, so it may not have been as quick or as powerful as the 997 by heck the Mini Cooper was fun. With all the traffic on track that Luke was supremely carving his way through it was probably the nearest I would get to experiencing a race situation. One thing was certain, I’d never seen any mums drive a school run in a Mini quite like this, but it wouldn’t half make it more bearable. As like last time it was all over too soon but it was great to experience a few laps in the Mini and it was just as fun if not more so than the Porsche and the Radical’s I have been in round Brands Hatch. So thanks to Luke, the EXCELR8 team and the guys and girls from the Mini Challenge for letting me have a ride in their small but awesome race car.
It was a super day at Brands Hatch and another day I won’t forget. It’s great to be gearing up for the new motorsport season and I can’t wait for it to arrive. You could do a lot worse than check out some of the MSVR race weekends at circuits around the country. They offer a lot of great racing in a variety of cars with very reasonable ticket prices so check out their race calendars.
I’ve been very fortunate to have been given a number of great opportunities within the world of motorsport and recently I was given another.
Having had a number of days holiday saved up and work keen on me to use them up before the end of the year I was left wondering what to do with them. Cat Lund got in touch and asked if I was interested in being part of their chase crew for the immanent Mull Rally. Although I do like Rallying I’ve never been to a rally before and it was a great opportunity to get firsthand
experience of one as part of a team, so naturally I jumped at the chance.
Cat, the co-driver along with driver Andy Rowe were competing in the Mull Rally for the first time in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo3 which has seen them to great success over the past four years and it was to be the car’s last hoorah before being replaced. Being a new rally to the pair a lot of work was needed to be put in on pace notes etc so we headed up on Sunday night to allow plenty of time to reccie the stages.
Having stayed overnight and picking up the mechanic Dan Green, we arrived on Monday. After issues with the Initial accommodation plans, Richard at Crannick Farm was able to come to our rescue at the last minute for which we were all very grateful for. With our new accommodation came a great spot which served as a service area for the car which was ideal and with Richard’s fantastic hospitality we settled in well.
Whilst Andy and Cat spent the next few days out and about perfecting pace notes and checking the stages, Dan and myself were left to sort out the Car. Well, as I know pretty much nothing about mechanics, Dan did most of that side whilst I did odds and sods like sorting out the onboard camera, cleaning wheels and bodywork and as I like to call it, applying race tape to strategic areas on the bodywork etc. We also had to go and check out the services areas for the rally and the emergency service points where we would need to refuel the car. As well as that we needed to get some mud flaps too. So we spent a long time driving around the island which is deceptively large and only has a few roads which, with the exception of the stretch between Salen and Craignure and a few miles into Tobermory are all single track with passing places. Mud flaps were exceedingly hard to come by and almost at the point of giving up on our quest to find some and having asked almost every Mull resident where we might find any, we were tipped of about a guy who repairs Land Rovers. After eventually arriving at said yard, we managed to acquire a pair of Land Rover mud flaps which eventually proved to be a great fit to the rear. The front mud flaps were slightly less desirable though as those had been fashioned with a pair of car mats. But they still did the job.
Friday morning soon came round which meant heading to Tobermory for scrutineering. With 117 entries ranging from Subaru’s and Mitsubishi’s to Mini’s and more Mark2 Escorts you could shake a stick at, the bay was heaving. The scrutineering took place within the yard of the Islands distillery and the Evo3 passed without major issue. Dan spent some time making sure the light pod was fixed securely to stop it vibrating and after we had taken the van to the first leg’s service area, we were back in Tobermory ready for the Rally start that evening.
With Andy and Cat being number 17 they were one of the early starters and after watching them head off to start Stage 1 Dan and I headed off to the service area in Craignure. On the way the team mobile phone rang. My heart sank as I knew it would only be a call from one other phone, that of the phone in the rally car and it would only ring for one reason. Sure enough, there was a problem. The alternator belt had gone on stage one and despite assistance from some ever enthusiastic rally fans, too much time had been used on stage getting it repaired. Stage two was completed before the car made it into service and a great feeling of dejection was hanging in the air. A full fix was carried out by Dan and Andy before the car was ready to continue. It was decided that only a few more stages were to be contested that evening as after going over time meant the car wouldn’t be classified and it wasn’t worth taking a risk and damaging the car further when entry to the trophy rally the following day was a very viable option.
The trophy rally was indeed the option taken which enabled the retirements from Friday to still be able to continue behind the field on the remaining stages so despite the disappointment of Leg One, there was still plenty to do. It was a pretty miserable day and a steady rainfall had caused difficult conditions so wet tyres were put on and the Car headed off to Bunessan for the start of Leg two as Dan and myself packed up the van ready to head off to the service point. On the way we needed to get fuel for the Rally Car and the dreaded phone went again. A rally organiser was on the other end. The car had gone off and had suffered serious damage about a mile into the first stage of the day. Thankfully Cat and Andy were ok but the Rally was definitely over this time. It turned out that upon landing after a jump, the car slid on mud and the rear went into a ditch. The impact then spat the car back out across the road and another rear impact with a concrete post sent the car into a spin. The onboard footage can be seen here.
As the car arrived on the back of a recovery lorry the damage was clear to see. Both rear wheels were pointing outwards in opposite directions. It was a sad way to mark the car’s final rally but thankfully no one was hurt. Clearly the Mull Rally was a tough one and very unforgiving as over half of the field that entered failed to reach the end. Over the course of the week many people asked how many Mull Rally’s Cat and Andy had done and we were met with the same reaction on the response of it being the first. A sharp intake of breath. They all knew something we didn’t and so it proved.
With the final leg to take place on the Saturday night, the team headed into Dervaig for dinner, to watch the remaining runners come through and to drown our sorrows. I was able to get some photos of and watch the section of the Glen Aros stage which came through Dervaig which was good fun, although I would of course have preferred to have been sitting in the Service area waiting for the Evo3 to arrive before sending out to complete the rally but it wasn’t to be. The village was packed with spectators, and so was the pub creating a great atmosphere, despite the local chav’s, girls of loose morals, drunkards young and old and the fact I’m sure I was charged more for a round of drinks because I was a southerner. The same round Dan bought, who’s a northerner, cost less.
As we headed off the Island on Sunday at the start of the long 13 hour trek home, underneath the sense of ‘What could have been’ I took great pleasure in what I had experienced and I thank Cat and Andy so much for giving me that. I’d like to think I will be back at Mull in the future for the rally even just as a spectator. But secretly I’d like to think it will be with Cat and Andy as they give it another crack of the whip.
The weekend just passed was the Silverstone Classic. I was fortunate enough to be there covering it for The Checkered Flag. You all know how much I love classic and Historic racing, so I was really looking forward to it. Hundreds of amazing racing cars that would grace many a museum were out on track doing what they were designed to do, race. Particular highlights for me were the Grand Prix Masters, the World Sports Car Masters and of course the Group C races. Thankfully the weather stayed dry and the action on track was fantastic.
It was to be my first visit to Silverstone since the much anticipated Silverstone Wing Complex was completed. I was looking forward to checking it out and seeing what the facilities were like. Having arrived on Saturday morning the Media car park was by the main entrance. Having walked through a few of the car club areas James, writer for The Checkered Flag and I waited to jump on one of the busses to take us to the new Pit and Paddock. On arrival it all looked very impressive. The garages were very clean, modern and pretty big too. The paddock area was smart and a number of teams had set up there for the weekend.
However, as we entered the building, which look stunning on the outside, it became a little less impressive as we headed to the media centre. It was clearly unfinished as bits of carpet were missing and paint jobs had yet to be completed. The media centre was huge and very well equipped with power and internet points and plenty of TV screens. The Canteen next to it was a nice touch too. Unfortunately though, the main issue was that you couldn’t see the circuit. A row of small soundproof commentary boxes stood between the media centre and the glass front looking onto the pit straight. Obviously commentary boxes are important but the only time all of them would be used is for the Formula One weekend and perhaps the Moto GP. None of them were used this weekend and perhaps only one or two would be used for the rest of the season. Also, did they need to be there? Could they have not gone upstairs? On inspection of the boxes, we found that the desks inside them were high and deep, so you couldn’t lean forward to see up and down the pit straight. You had a view of a very small section of the track right in front of the box itself.
So the media centre could have been designed better, a big race weekend has live TV which can be broadcast on the many TV screens inside the building, so it wasn’t a total loss not being able to see outside. But what happens on the smaller race weekends when there isn’t live TV feeds? I’ve likened the new Wing to Lindsay Lohan. Attractive, but one or two things missing upstairs. The bigger issue with the new complex though, which I heard from a number of photographers there was somewhat different.
Busses and courtesy cars were laid on for media and VIP’s to get to the new building from the car park 50A by the main entrance. Now those of you who know Silverstone will know that car parks 50A, 50B and 50C are almost right opposite the new Wing. So why the busses and cars? Simple. You cannot get to the new Pit and Paddock complex from the outside of the circuit. So that meant a drive through the main entrance, over the bridge on the Wellington Straight, around the back of Aintree and the loop, behind Village and Farm Curve and along behind the paddock to the entrance at the end near Vale. You could have walked from the car park in less than a quarter of the time and with much less hassle if there was a crossing point on the Start/Finish Straight. Add that to the fact that access to the track from the paddock was extremely hard, a long days walking was in store. This meant careful planning to get round in between races and some action was inevitably missed. Something that could be rectified very simply. I really hope the people at Silverstone will put in a bridge or some crossing point in the near future. It will be of great help to all and save a lot of time and effort for anyone wanting to access the new Paddock, whether they are public or media, VIP’s or team members.
Despite the disappointment of the much hyped Wing, it was a good weekend. There were lots to see and do away from the action on track, and thousands of classic cars from various car clubs around the country. So if it’s you’re interested in classic cars, it’s an event well worth a visit.
I won’t be trackside this coming weekend but the remainder of this week and most of next will see me shoot horsepower of a different kind. I’ll be photographing the local Pony Club’s summer camps. It’s been a while since I last did an equestrian event but its where my life as a photographer started so it will be fun to get back into it.
It’s been a while since my last blog, apologies to anyone who has been waiting in eager anticipation for my latest mutterings, but quite frankly, if you fall into the category then perhaps you need to find yourself a hobby! Thats not to say im not very flattered if you do though.
Anyway, it’s been a week or so of ups and downs and rather than dwelling on the negatives, I’ll talk about the positives. This week I headed off to Brands Hatch for the Motorsport Vision Racing (MSVR) media day. It seemed like an age since I was last at Brands Hatch but it did mean the new season of Motorsport was drawing near. A coffee and bacon roll on arrival was much appreciated before Jonathan Palmer discussed the season ahead and introduced the racing series to compete under the MSVR banner. My full report on the media day can be found at TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk which you can read here.
After the presentations of race series and discussions in the media centre, I number of cars from the various representative series were taking to the track. Some of which were providing passenger rides. Two cars to offer this were a pair of Radical Sports cars. As I headed into the garage, I managed to get a ride in the Radical SR3 RS. I was in for the ride of my life. A full report of my experience in the car can be read here. So after this amazing experience I was pretty made up. I’d never done anything like that before but would jump at the chance to do it again.
As I write this, it is three weeks until I will be heading to Snetterton for my first race weekend of the year. MSVR are hosting a number of race series, and one of which, the MSV Trackday Trophy will see the debut of my Friend Julie. She will be taking to the new 300 circuit in a Porsche 944. So I will be there to cheer he on, get some photos and reporting on the weekend.
Other news from the world of motorsport is the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Its been a long wait for the new season to get underway, however, there are far more important things happening in the world that are of higher importance than Formula One and the current situation out there is one of them. Let’s be honest, after last year’s season opening bore fest, it’s probably just as well it’s been postponed. Whether it will be slotted into the already congested F1 calendar at a later date remains to be seen. I had heard that it could slot in between India and Abu Dhabi towards the end of the year.
Lastly, both my 1966 GT40 Model has been finished and my latest model, a 1960’s Mini Cooper racing car. Having spent hours working on the GT40, meticulously paining and putting it together to get it perfect, disaster struck when it came to the decals. The kit was quite old and although the decals showed no sign of ageing or damage, when it came to putting them on some of them shattered and broke. I did the best I could to put them together and it did mean I had to paint the front wing decals. It was disappointing for this to happen after the model was looking really good. There were however no such problems with the Mini and that was completed without any problem. It looks really good and even has an opening bonnet to show off the engine which I spent quite a while working on. Its hard work painting very small parts for the engine but it was very worthwhile. I’m thinking of putting together a flickr album on my account to show the photos I have of them at various stages of the build. I now need to find some more models to work on.