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Monday 31st July 2006


JCW MINI GP

The ultimate Mini adventure or just bling? Ian Kuah reports

JCW GP Mini
JCW GP Mini

Rumours of a special Cooper S to mark the hiatus of the first generation New Mini have been rife for some months now, and it was common knowledge that the car would be called the John Cooper Works GP edition.

However, in the BMW Mini press kit, this car goes by the tortuous title of ‘Mini Cooper S with the John Cooper Works GP kit.’ No wonder everyone is calling it the JCW GP.

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Specification

Available only in Thunder Blue metallic, which looks more like grey to our eyes, with a Pure Silver roof and red mirrors, the £22,000 JCW GP comes with 18-inch alloys, Recaro seats, multi-function steering wheel and air-conditioning as standard. Limited to just 2,000 cars worldwide, the JCW GP will be built at the Bertone plant in Italy between June and September this year.

Under its stubby bonnet is a larger intercooler with an extra two rows of cooling fins and a software upgrade that includes a 200rpm higher rev limit. Other than that, the car is identical in engine and gearbox to a JCW 210.

Where a normal JCW 210 musters 210bhp at 6,950rpm and 245Nm at 4,500rpm, the GP is good for 218bhp at 7,100rpm, 150rpm higher up the rev band. Torque is also up to 250Nm at 4,600rpm. In ideal conditions, the GP gobbles up the 0-60mph sprint in 6.2 seconds and tops out at 146mph.

Not just bling

While the rather bling body kit and wheels will make the extrovert swoon and the more retiring enthusiast run for cover, it has to be said that these parts are not just cosmetic.

The basic Mini One has a drag coefficient of 0.38, and on the wide-tyred Cooper S, it is more like 0.39. Despite its larger wheels and tyres, the JCW GP has a significantly better Cd of 0.348, roughly a 10 per cent improvement.

The new front bumper-spoiler deflects air around the wheel arches and minimises air going under the car, while the new side skirts swell out considerably at the rear to deflect air past the wheels and reduce turbulence in this area.

The carbon fibre rear wing, smoothens the airflow where it separates from the roof. In combination with underbody plastic panels that give the GP as close to a flat-bottom as was possible, it produces enough down force to negate lift over the rear axle.

It ain't heavy

Colin Chapman famously said, “For speed, add lightness” and that has become a mantra for all sportscar makers (apart perhaps from Bugatti) ever since. No wonder then that the fastest and most powerful factory Mini Cooper S ever has a 50kg weight saving near the top of its list of modifications.

The most obvious weight saving measure is losing the rear seats and some sound deadening material, but the BMW engineers told us that they found small savings in many places. The bespoke alloy wheels with their 205/40R18 Dunlop run-flats save two kg per corner, while the alloy rear trailing arms take a total of seven kg out of the cars unsprung weight. Xenon headlamps were deleted from the specification because they weigh seven kilos more than halogens.

However, some of the new parts put weight back in. The Recaros for instance, are heavier than the standard seats, as is the JCW big brake kit with its 294mm vented discs in front and 259mm solid discs at the rear.

Inside, the black leather Recaros with red stitching, are unique to the GP and are not available as an option on any other Mini. The rest of the interior trim is standard Cooper S save for the anthracite grey instrument dials.

European safety legislation requires a barrier to prevent large objects in the rear sliding forwards under braking or in the event of a collision, and the alloy bar across the rear compartment is it.

Driving it

Although we had use of the Adria Raceway near Bologna, since the JCW GP is primarily a road car, I also made a point of looking for all kinds of roads and surfaces in the area surrounding the track. This part of Italy is not renowned for its wonderful smooth blacktop, and it was easy to find country roads as badly pockmarked as they are in the UK.

Suspension is the JCW suspension kit with slightly stiffer springs and dampers.

The secondary ride is good for this type of car. Since the objective in developing the JCW suspension was to achieve better ride and handling with the factory 17s with run-flats, that is no surprise. The unexpected benefit was the combination of 18-inch wheels and tyres making the ride no worse. Tauter yes, uncomfortable no.

On the road, it is hard to tell if the GP is really faster. Part of the reason for this was the extremely hot and humid weather on the day, which immediately smothers any engine's output. Even so, the motor's response remained eager and its delivery strong.

With less soundproofing, the GP’s soundtrack is clearer and even more inspiring. A crystal clean supercharger whine underpinned by a deep throaty exhaust roar is your reward for pinning the alloy throttle pedal to the floor and keeping it there. With the driver's window down you get an even bigger dose of ear candy, and it is hard to resist doing this whenever you see a clear stretch of road.

Front wheel drive cars inherently understeer, and at the sort of speeds you can attain on a racetrack, that understeer becomes quite annoying. The limited slip differential introduced when the Mini was face-lifted in 2005, prevents the inside wheel lifting and spinning, but the downside is that it also promotes understeer in tighter bends.

DSC is great on a dark, rainy night when you are tired and might so easily make a mistake on a slippery bend. But DSC is also intrusive to an experienced driver on the track as it cuts power and stops you throttle steering the car.

So, after a couple of frustrating laps where I found the nose of the GP running very wide under power on the two slowest bends, I switched DSC off and resorted to trail braking to rotate the tail on the way into corners and sometimes a slight lift-off to tighten the line even further prior to getting the power back on to pull the car through the bend. Then it was fun all the way, composed, capable and very adjustable.

Collectable

If this makes you want a JCW GP, unfortunately all 2,000 cars were spoken for some time ago. Of course that will not stop finding one in the aftermarket at a premium.

Collectable? Definitely, but not to use and enjoy the ultimate Mini Adventure would clearly be a waste.