I will personally attest to the fact that watching vintage Mini racing is one of the most delightful activities a person can engage in. But some people seem to think it’s “easy” just because they’re small and front-wheel drive and lack insane horsepower figures. Rubbish, as the British say. Here to demonstrate is Top Gear’s own Chris Harris, whose latest video involves piloting an old-school Mini Cooper S ’round the track at Goodwood.
And against 60 other Minis at once, as you do.
Renowned Mini racer Nick Swift explains these cars pack 1293cc four-cylinder engines rated at about 130 horsepower, and are capable of revving to around 8,000 RPM. Sounds fun, especially when you consider these tiny giant-slayers weigh just 620 kg—just about 1,360 pounds. An average lap will see the cars top 90 mph. Ten-inch wheels, tiny brakes, limited-slip and a racing suspension.
A languid city car, this ain’t.
Harris has a smile on his face in this video, and not just for the same reasons any of us would. His mother raced Minis too, he said, and she passed away recently, so he did the Goodwood race with her in mind.
These cars look almost too beautiful to race here, all 1960s chic and Italian Job swagger. But despite the Mini’s humble beginnings as an inexpensive urban people-mover in postwar Britain, these cars were raced almost since the beginning, taking on much bigger and more powerful cars on and off the tarmac. This is what they were meant to do, and they’re very good at it.
What follows in the video—after an engine problem caused by a gearbox issue—is a howling, buzzing symphony of speed where passes are hard-won and where drivers get more ruthless than you may expect. You don’t even have to brake often, Harris said. Instead you lift, rely on the car’s small size and limited-slip differential to get rotation through the corners.
“It’s a ridiculous feeling and it never feels quite right to me,” he said. The result is often a very different plan of attack than you’d make in something big, like a Jaguar or a Ferrari, but you still get up to 120 mph at times.
Harris finished 11th, and left with a desire to do more Mini racing. It’s hard to watch this and not want to try it too.