Amongst a crowd of LS-powered and all-wheel-drive titans, a MINI entered the arena with two goals. One was to have fun, the other, to push Project Alter-Ego as hard as possible while improving my skills with the hope of driving the car home at the end of the weekend. Call it what you want David and Goliath, Joe versus the Volcano, Revenge of the Nerds - I had brought a pea shooter to a gun fight.
Competing in the under 3000 lbs class didn’t provide any advantage seeing that my competition included a Honda S2000, a LS-powered Miata, a LS-powered Volvo, and a Corvette Z06. This left me with the feeling it would be a long weekend. However, following tech, Alter Ego was recognized in the driver’s meeting for its custom details and being the very first MINI to ever compete in an Ultimate Street Car Association event. This helped to ease the nerves.
The first driving event was the speed stop challenge. From a standing start you accelerate towards a hairpin at the end of the course, negotiate a two-cone slalom and stop in a 20’x 40’ box. Lining up behind Vipers, ZL-1 Camaros, Evos, and an AWD Porsche was quite intimidating, but I mentally prepared to simply compete against myself. In the end I improved roughly 2 ths of a second each run and was just under 2 seconds behind the leader of my “class” and a half second behind the other novice under 3000 lbs.
Many assumed my moment to shine might come in the autocross. However, it was laid out over 30 acres of asphalt “essentially” consisting of two straits and a hairpin. It was an understatement to say it was built to carry some speed. I took full advantage of driving instructor Luke Pavlick courtesy of Jet Hot Coatings. He rode with me for about 4 laps encouraging me to brake later and pointing out which cones to pay the most attention. After that he left me to my own devices to put together a “complete” lap. Overall, my time improved by almost 3 seconds with me once again shaving roughly 2 this off of each “successful” run.
The Search for the Ultimate Street Car is a 10 track event with each event at a world class facility laid out over the course of two days. Day 2 had us moving onto the speedway’s high banks and infield road course. The course utilized turns three and four, as well as the front stretch of the 2-mile oval. To keep the fastest cars below 150 MPH, event organizers place a chicane made up of 3 water filled walls perpendicular to the track. This made for a surreal reality check as you braked from a half mile run of wide open throttle to negotiate around them. Here Alter-Ego was truly out-matched with 175 horsepower versus the cars with 800-plus. The highest speed I could reach was about 115MPH. However, the infield course was full of 4-wheel drift action and 2-3, 3-2 shifts as I drove the car to the full extent of my abilities. No doubt a pro driver would have found more in our potent little package.
The final element of the weekend that makes all USCA events truly unique is a design and engineering review that I helped to establish at the original Optima Invitational. One of the underlying reasons for the creation of the series was to encourage car builders to take their high horsepower, big brake, race inspired builds off of the show stands and see what they could truly do on a track. Here Alter Ego really shined and impressed the judges and made it on the podium in 2nd behind a beautifully customized 50’s Volvo Coupe.
The weekend was an incredible experience that I look forward to doing again. To compete against over 50 of the finest pro-touring and track day cars from across the country really proved that we created a well-built, balanced handling, stout, and well-respected vehicle. The event provides more seat time than you will get in any race series anywhere. The camaraderie and friendliness offered by your competitors makes you feel right at home. The track officials, staff, and driving instructors are all there to make sure you are safe, learn, improve, and most of all have fun. I believe one of the main reasons they make you wear a driver’s suit it to simply help you contain all of the fun you are having!
In the end two words sum up the weekend - mission accomplished.
I would like to thank all of Project Alter-Ego’s project sponsors for helping to create a bullet-proof MINI. And I would like to thanks the following race sponsors for helping to make the weekend possible! They are - Pilot Transport, M7 Speed, Bavarian Autosport, Speed Industry, MC2 Magazine, Peak, Automotive Lift Institute, Nitto Tires, Pfaff Designs, F1 R/C Labs, MSD Performance, Car Buff Network, and Discount Tire.