MINI ALL4 Racing. DRIVEN. MINI Adventure

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It’s not long before the earpieces really start to earn their money. As I shift into third and the speedometer needle (gradually) starts to rise, the high-pitched roar from the biturbo six-cylinder under the bonnet is deafening, even through my helmet. Were Andreas and I not connected to the same system, I’d have no hope of hearing his instructions.

Our first ‘stage’ takes in a kilometre or two of high-speed gravel, and the speed readout on the panel just in front of me is soon in the triple digits (though with my eyes glued to the landscape flashing past me, I have no idea how fast we are actually going). The Recaro’s mounted position means I’m sitting pretty close to the steering wheel, which requires minute adjustments to counter the terrain as we motor along. We’re quickly into the fifth as the biturbo kicks in acceleration forcefully, though not, I’m surprised to find, violently. The sequential gears slot home almost instantaneously, and as we approach the first of many red marker flags dotted about our course, it dawns on me just how quickly we’ve covered the opening stretch.

The flag signals a sharp left turn in second gear. Banging the gear lever down at Andreas’ instruction (no braking required), the front end is on the move into the turn with little effort, despite the 1900kg regulation kerb weight. The poise of the vehicle though is not what’s caught me off-guard. The ride – thanks to the Reiger Racing Suspension – is much smoother than I’d expected. There’s still a lot of jostling (that’s just to be expected) but I had expected the stiffened chassis to bounce me out of my bucket seat and through the windscreen across even the smallest of dunes. But it doesn’t. It’s amazingly supple, allowing me to control the vehicle without having to wrestle it.

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We’re soon into the deeper stuff, over one dune and then into a high-speed sandy straight. Movement through the wheel as the enormous Michelin All-Terrains bounce across the sand, is much greater now, and though the ALL4 Racing is clearly doing most of the heavy work for me, still I’m having to put my fair share of effort in. Into the next sharp left-hander, I once again bang down the gears and aim the front end at the turn. This time though, the back end has started to step out on the loose sand (despite the four-wheel drive) catching me completely off-guard, and I’m soon turning into the steer to catch the rear. My surprise has clearly amused Andreas sitting next to me who simply says “go, go, go” and waves a hand at the windscreen. The problem is, I can’t.

I do want to go faster – I really, truly do – but my right foot is refusing to oblige. Our route takes in several dunes now – all taken in second gear – and from the top, the world completely disappears, returning only when the MINI crests the top. To Andreas, who’s seen this more times than my feeble experience could ever appreciate, it’s all part of the job. For me though, the sight of the windscreen hurtling towards what appears to be a wall of sand makes my heart skip a beat and causes my foot to lift slightly. Even though I have a two-time Dakar winner next to me directing what I should do – “it’s okay, more speed is good” – my brain refuses to accept that what I’m doing is actually possible: ‘to climb this dune, at this speed, in this gear’, it’s telling me, ‘would be suicide’. And while I desperately try to ignore that voice in my helmet (mine, not Andreas’), I can’t. As a result, my drive in the MINI doesn’t even come close to showing me its true potential. Only when reigning Dakar winner Nani Roma offers to take me for a 155kph thrash across the sands do I see what punishment the MINI (and, for that matter, my back) can take. Technically astute, surprisingly easy to drive and capable of barrelling through anything that stands in its way, the ALL4 Racing is an absolutely phenomenal machine.

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After our ten-minute run, we pull back into base camp using a brake pedal that feels like a lump of wood and which I have to stand on for any signs of life. My entire body is filled with adrenaline, and I can barely stop my hands from shaking. I still can’t quite comprehend what I’ve just driven: a MINIALL4 Racing endurance rally car alongside a two-time Dakar winner. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and yet it will be some minutes before I can form any words at all about the experience. The MINI itself is a triumph of engineering and a formidable vehicle on the endurance rallying stage, of that there is no question. But for me, having experienced for myself what driving a Dakar machine is really like, the gulf of talent between professionals like Nani Roma and Andy Schulz, and myself is beyond comprehension. The MINI X-Raid ALL4 Racing may be a superb piece of kit, but the skill to use it to its full potential is what really knocks me spellbound.

FULL MINI ALL4Racing video HERE

MINI X-Raid ALL4 Racing
Engine: Inline 6cyl / TwinPower turbo diesel / 2993cc
Power: 307hp @ 3250rpm
Torque: approx. 516lb ft @ 2100rpm
Transmission: Six-speed sequential gearbox (Sadev)
Front suspension: TBC
Rear suspension: TBC
Brakes: AP disc brakes / 320 x 32mm front and rear
Wheels: 16-inch front and rear
Tyres: 245/80 R16 front and rear / Michelin All-Terrain
Weight (kerb): 1900kg
0-100kph: N/A
Top speed: 185kph

MORE VEHICLE TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS AVAILABLE HERE

Categories: Editor’s Picks,Race

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