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For this episode of Meet the Drivers, I got to talk to Tom. I already saw his Mini a couple of times on Social Media but it was during our Track Day at Mettet in October when I had the chance to have a closer look - and I was in for a big surprise. Not only does the car run an interest engine concept for a Trackmini, but it is also incredibly light - below 1000kg!
Hi Tom! Thank you for taking the time to be our third guest in our "Meet the Drivers" series. Let us start with the obligatory first question: How and especially when did you get into motorsport?
I honestly cannot put a date on it exactly. I started Karting (Slalom) when I was 10 years old. After around two years and limited success, I discovered RC racing.
What started as a hobby, quickly developed into something more and fun club racing became fierce international competition. However, the high-pressure environment across these kinds of championships, spoiled the fun in the long-run.
Coming closer to the end of my RC racing "career", I already started doing the first laps on the Nordschleife. Come 2011, I decided to quit RC racing altogether and focus on the real cars.
It took a while until I did my first Track Day in 2013 in Spa on a Clio. From then on, more and more started to happen though.
Since 2018, I am also part of a VLN-Team, not as a driver but as a part of the pit team.
Did you always drive a Mini, or have you tried some other brands as well?
For the very first laps on the Nordschleife I used a Polo 9N3 - my daily driver at this time. The following year, I got my first Mini though. After an accident on the Nordschleife, I bought the current one with a broken transmission and electric issues so I could use some parts of my crashed car.
Also, I regularly drive a Clio RS 3 which I am sharing with my dad on different Track Days.
I had the chance to have a closer look at your Mini last October in Mettet. It is naturally aspirated! That is definitely not the common choice for a Mini Tracktool. Besides, you went to great length, making it as light as possible. Why did you go down this route?
My obsession with weight reduction started while I was racing RC cars. Being 13, it was hard to come by a good RC engine but we had a toolbox at home for all the other things. In addition, adding a lot of power sure makes you faster but it comes at a cost. More wear, more expenses and often less reliability. Colin Chapman summarised it perfectly:
"Adding power makes you faster on the straights; subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere"
The n/a engine was born out of necessity. As a student, I simply did not have the means to go for a Cooper S or JCW straight away. However, I learned to love the n/a and wouldn't want to swap it for a super or turbocharged engine!
Besides, I love the challenge of getting the maximum out of the car as you really have to fight for every bit of power - a turbocharged engine it would be easier.
It is just impressive to see the attention to detail and effort you put into reducing the weight of your car. Can you tell us some examples of what you have done so far?
Thank you! I started with the obvious parts: lighter seats, battery, carpets and sound deadening, as well as eliminating all unnecessary bits of metal and interior trim.
I analysed every part I got out of the car and tried to find a way to make it lighter. Sure, most of the times you will just save a couple of hundred grams. But if you do it with almost everything in the car, it adds up!
One of my favourite bits was cutting the excess rubber along doors. You just need carpet knife and an hour of your time and you will save 438g (Yes, Tom is this meticulous!).
In comparison, stripping the wire-harness saved 4kg!
Another thing I did was optimising the mechanism for the boot lift. I saved 80g by optimising the hinges and getting rid of the lifters - every little helps!
Drilling holes in the dash and getting every bit of material out that is not necessary saved another 1kg.
I also changed the inside mirror as I found out that the pre-facelift one is 207g lighter!
Surely some parts helped to lose weight much quicker such as R53 GP control arms (2.5kg per arm) as well as aluminium wishbones (750g p.p).
That is just a small selection of the work I did. So if you are interested to find out more, just meet me on one of the Track Days!
Crazy! Are you doing everything by yourself or are you getting yourself some help?
Most things I can do myself in my garage. Also, I try to build most parts on my own. I usually only outsource work if I do not have the right (precision) tools, for example to working on the cylinder head.
Somtimes my dad or some friends help me with certain things - I think a project like this simply does not work without that. Oh, and last year I got my ECU reprogrammed by someone as I cannot do it myself.
That is just great! Do you know how many kilos you were able to get rid of until this point?
I started at 1,120kg with a full tank and without a driver. The last time I weighed it, I got 970kg. So 150kg reduction in the end.
My 6 gear transmission added 10kg to the older 5 gear one though. Except for the bonnet, I do not have any fibre-glass parts or Makrolon screens. However, I also do not have a roll-cage yet which will definitely add some weight.
Did you not at all work on the engine though?
Of course, I did. It is not stock by any means. It is a W11 engine (Cooper S) as it has piston-cooling. However, the pistons, rods and crankshaft are from the Cooper and are fitted with valve recesses and other modifications.
To increase the compression (12:1), the cylinder head and engine block have been modified as well. In addition, I have fitted an improved camshaft.
The highlight is the individual throttle body system I developed. Together with the reprogrammed ECU, it is the only way to get the current power out of the engine. The airbox is also developed by myself and 3D printed.
Another 8kg were saved by optimising some engine parts such as the flywheel, electronic water pump etc.
Wow! So I am guessing you are not going to tackle another project any time soon?
No. I will stick with the Mini for now. I wanted to build another one but I cannot really let go after putting so much work into it.
During the winterbreak, I will fit a roll cage and a new suspension (KW Competiton). To compensate for the weight of the roll cage, I will add some more fibre-glass parts (boot lid, roof lining etc.). In addition, I will add Makrolon screens as well as a heated windscreen so I can get rid of the entire ventilation system.
My goal is to get it down to 950kg including the roll cage.
There is still so much potential and it is just fun to push it to the max. In the future, I might have a look at an MX-5 though!
Just impressive! Looking at my Mini that just shows how much there is to do still! Last but not least I want to ask you about your plans for the Track Day Season 2021. What are you planning?
I am going to be in Mettet again for sure! But Spa and the Nordschleife are also on the list.
I would love to experience some new tracks like Zandvoort and Charade but I am not sure whether I will manage this year.
Marque / Modell: Mini Cooper R50
Engine: 1.6l n/a, W10B16
Power/Torque: 167PS / 174nm
Suspension: K-Sport, KW Competition from 2021
Brake: Mini R56S
Interior: As little as possible, as much as necessary
Wheels: ATS DTC 7.5x17 (dry), Team Dynamics Pro Race 1.2 7x17 (rain)
Tyres: Kumho v70a (dry), Michelin PS4 (rain) - both 215/40R17
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