As many of us can attest, life sometimes gets in the way of your favorite motorsport, whether it is auto-x, rally-x, track days, or even concours events. Patrick Munhall, a fellow New Englander, had such a break from rally-x; one that lasted almost 10 years. His triumphant return to gravel came behind the wheel of his R53 Mini Cooper, which isn’t the typical AWD monster that likely comes to mind when discussing rally racing. Built upon a solid chassis with good basic dynamics, Patrick’s success since rejoining the sport has proved the Mini is capable of succeeding in a diverse range of motorsport environments. However, that success has not come free, and this Mini has been torture tested throughout New England as the chassis, suspension, engine and under body protection have been fine tuned for competition in the New England Region SCCA Rally-X series.
Almost any experienced driver will tell you that seat time is the most important factor in dropping lap times, and although rally-x is no different, the abuse that a car takes during an event often requires additional vehicle preparation. And that is where Rennline enters this story. Patrick first tried fabricating his own skid plate, and although sturdy enough for most disciplines, during his second event at New England Dragway he managed to catch the front edge in a covered hole and literally folded it in half!
As their first season progressed Patrick and the Mini came into their own, going from 3rd in a small field of entries in their first event to a 2nd place finish by their 3rd event. Had it not been for a cone that jumped out into the middle of the course causing a penalty, they would have found themselves in first after the final run of the day. Results like that make you want more of everything, and so the modifications began piling on. To maximize grip Quaife provided one of their legendary torque biasing limited slip differentials (LSD) which can transfer power from wheel-to-wheel based on the amount of slip it senses by using a series of helical gears to transfer load to the wheel with the most grip.
To keep the engine firmly connected to the drivetrain a Valeo flywheel and clutch package was added along with refreshed axles to deal with the strain of competition. To get a rally-appropriate ride height Patrick fabricated 1/2″ spacers for the strut mounts which raise the ride height of the Mini that same 1/2″. Powerflex control arm bushings stiffen the suspension and help to retain as much of the factory suspension geometry as possible, and a BSH lower engine mount reduces the amount the engine and transmission can move as they hammer through gravel, mud, snow and muck in pursuit of victory. Most importantly these modifications were carefully chosen to compliment the already agile and able Mini chassis without adding any exotic or expensive parts to the mix.
With the handling well sorted and the mini protected, it was time to turn attention add some power by turning up the boost in this little Mini. A Way Motor Works supercharger pulley was installed which is 15% smaller in diameter resulting in a supercharger that spins faster and creates more boost pressure across the rev range. An Ireland Engineering exhaust minimizes exhaust back pressure allowing the engine to breathe easier at these power levels. Way Motor Works claims up to 20hp from this modification alone, but when you’re on rally style surfaces power is nothing if you can’t put it down. To that end Patrick runs Black Rocket Rally Tires on gravel surfaces and switches to Bridgestone Blizzaks for the ice and snow events that cover half of the year’s schedule here in New England.
Finally it was time to turn attention to the interior because to be fast you need to be in the correct environment both mentally and physically. Again a few choice modifications were planned to enhance the Mini without ruining its inherent strengths. A set of our Rennline track mats were installed to enhance footwork and keep the footwells clear of debris that could lodge itself in, behind, and around the pedals. An OMP wheel helps navigate turns faster and helps reorient the wheel when things get get a little too crazy. A Megan Racing short shifter reduces the length of gear changes and adds accuracy to the feel of the transmission. This winter saw the installation of Sparco race seats for both the driver and anyone brave enough to strap themselves in next door, which will come in handy during events like the Vermont Winter Rally which is organized by local rally legend John Buffum.
For his time, effort, and dedication Patrick has been rewarded with a Mini that can go toe to toe against more powerful and grippier cars on almost any terrain. We are just happy we were able to help him in his goal of improving the reliability and drivability of this cool little car. With our ever expanding line of Mini Cooper parts and Patrick’s desire to continue improving the car and his skills, we are sure there will be another update coming in the near future. If you are attending a New England rally cross event in the coming months, keep an eye out for Patrick and his Mini atop the podium!