Be Cool!

Picture005_4aeb965d6c3ff-lightbox“Love the handling, turn-in is very crisp, reminds me of an Elise so don’t change anything on the suspension.  Power wise, there is plenty there and it pulls strongly right to the red line and for a car with that much power going through the front wheels there wasn’t a hint of understeer.  Brakes were excellent and there was minimal fade even towards the end of the stint.  So handling and stopping wise I wouldn’t change a thing but you have got to sort out those inlet temps!  It feels like its dropping twenty horsepower on the back straight!”

Just when you think you’ve finished modifying your car and you couldn’t possibly add another thing, one of the country’s most respected motoring journalists reminds you that you’ve missed something.  This was the verdict from EVO magazine’s John Barker after 12 laps in Y5 BMC at Bedford Autodrome.  I really should have been happy with his feedback – after all – having your MINI likened to an Elise is high praise indeed, and watching Mr Barker keep his boss’s Pagani Zonda at bay through the twisty bits was an amazing sight to behold.  Yet after working for so long to get this car set-up just right, I was left a tad deflated that it still just wasn’t quite there.

So, the very next day I took the car to 1320MINI for a post track day check over and a sit down with Paul Webster, owner and resident expert at 1320MINI, to work out the best way of solving the inlet temp issue.  The problem with getting big power numbers from the MINI is managing the extra heat this produces and spinning the M45 supercharger to 17 psi produces a lot of heat.  Paul solves this on the drag strip in his car by squirting plenty of nitrous oxide (NOS) into the engine which gives a nice dollop of extra bhp whilst cooling the engine at the same time.  Whilst this is fine for the drag strip, I didn’t fancy it on a track because whilst an extra 100 bhp at the push of a button sounded mighty tempting down the 1-mile back straight at Bedford, I still fear NOS and its appetite for engine internals when things go wrong.

The other option was installing a water/methanol injection kit to cool the engine by injecting the mix into the air/fuel mixture on the way to the combustion chamber.  This would basically provide a form of ‘Chemical Intercooling’ inside the cylinder and brings two benefits; lower running temperatures and more power.  However, the downside to me is having an extra storage tank installed in the back of the boot that needs constant filling  so I ruled this one out straight away because I’m, well, in a couple of words, too lazy.

So this left one more option, one that Paul was initially a bit sceptical about having known tuners in the US to gain mixed results.  But I knew if one man could make it work it would be Graham Still at GRSMotorsport and I immediately picked up the phone.  “Graham, how do you fancy making a front mount intercooler for my car?” After a short stunned silence the reply came, “tricky to get right and I’ve never done one on the MINI but if you’re up for trying it then so am I”.  ‘Excellent,’ I thought, ‘this could solve the problem once and for all,’ but Graham soon pointed out that it would take time, a fair bit of money and a lot of tweaking to get it right.

As anyone who’s bought a GRS intercooler will know, Graham is a bit of a perfectionist and the quality of his products are second to none.  But when he told me he’d need the car for two weeks I realised just how much of a perfectionist he is. So a few weeks later saw me driving down to the West Country to drop the car off at GRS HQ so work could begin.  Graham ran me though detailed plans of how he would make the intercooler fit into the already crowded engine bay which would mean losing the air-con.  Thankfully this was no problem as Paul had ripped it out months before as part of his ‘weight saving’ program.

So for two weeks I said goodbye to the MINI and hello to Vauxhall’s new Corsa 1.2 and there truly is no better way of demonstrating just how good the MINI is than by downgrading to a lesser car for a time.  Two weeks passed slowly, actually very slowly in a 1.2 Corsa, but it was soon time to once again to visit the West Country. As I pulled up to the GRS HQ I could see the MINI sitting there looking unusually clean, Graham had obviously been busy!  Not only did it look immaculate but when I finally got a glimpse of the front of the car I was shocked to see the transformation.  It had a completely new face, all mean and moody and with plenty of ‘get out of my way’ attitude.

Graham being Graham, the testing of the system had already been done and seeing as he was smiling from ear to ear, I knew he was proud of what he’d created. But now, at last, it was my turn to get back in the beast.

Immediately at start up the car sounded different, like it had an edge and a metallic one at that. First thing I noticed after start up was the reading on the scanguage, 13C or 3 degrees above ambient, even after the car had been given a good ragging, sorry I mean ‘testing’ by Graham not long before.

Usually after being left to sit around the top mount intercooler would heat soak leaving you with temps at least 15C above ambient so I knew already that the front mount was working nicely, but what about on the move… As I pulled onto an empty main road I took it easy in first gear to get a feel for it before selecting second, this MINI’s most potent gear, and ‘dropped the hammer’. It became apparent straight away that the car now had a millisecond more lag to it after mashing the loud pedal and the only way I can describe it is by likening it to taking a deep breath before you jump in a swimming pool, you just feel the car has bigger lungs to inflate as the supercharger sucks a big gulp of cold air from the 8.2 litre front mount and spits it into the engine.

Before you can blink the car is heading towards the speed limit and I know straight away that it’s quicker low down thanks to the front mount’s new cold air injection but what about the top end performance? Well on public roads it was hard to tell, there didn’t feel like any drop in acceleration but by the same token it didn’t feel any quicker overall than before the install.  But what was apparent straight away was that after trying very hard on the near 3 hour journey back home, I couldn’t get the inlet temps to go higher than 26C and when cruising on the motorway  I never saw more than 3C above ambient. Result!

But the true test wouldn’t be back road thrashes on Britain’s finest roads as the standard 3.2 litre GRS top mount Intercooler could eat them up all day long. It would be dyno days,  dragstrip events and 20 plus laps of tracks like Brands Hatch and Bedford Autodrome that would be the true test, and that’s where I’m off to next.

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Ben Cunliffe