MINI owners invade Niagara

David Duncan, VP of MINI of the Americas and Adam Shaver, Director of MINI Canada post at the Falls with a pair of patriotic MINIs.

David Duncan, VP of MINI of the Americas and Adam Shaver, Director of MINI Canada post at the Falls with a pair of patriotic MINIs.

From the feel good files comes the 2014 edition of MINI Invasion in the Niagara Region, where American MINI owners who were taking part in MINI Takes the States, ventured north for a fantastic day of activities at historic Fort George.

Completed in 1802, the fort was absolutely the best spot on the continent to host a meeting of American and Canadian fans of a British icon. The British army built the place, which was attacked and taken by American forces in 1813. After the Brits beat back the Americans later in the year at other locations, the Americans pretty much abandoned what is now the Canadian part of Niagara region, allowing the British to reclaim their fort.

The battlefield outside of the fort came to life yesterday with the sounds of first wave style Brit rock, from the Beatles to Sex Pistols and the Rolling Stones to The Stranglers. My kind of tunes!

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Throttle off oversteer in action!


Back in the early days of front wheel drive race cars, there were those who felt that front drivers couldn’t be as fast as a rear wheel drive race car. Those were usually the guys who also said that a fwd car couldn’t be driven sideways. The first feeling is somewhat true, otherwise we would have fwd Formula 1 cars by now, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be fast. The second part is utter nonsense as anyone who has ever pedaled a front wheel drive rally car will tell you.

To drive a front wheel drive race car fast, one MUST learn the art of managing the loud pedal and using throttle off oversteer to one’s benefit. Not sure what TOO is? Think about all the stories you have heard about early Porsche 911’s swapping ends at speed when the throttle is released at the wrong time. A front wheel drive car behaves exactly the same way, except that it is more controllable and actually makes a car faster through the corner. Also, unlike a 911, most TOO incidents in FWD cars can be controlled by the application of FULL THROTTLE.
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Guerlain Chicherit has massive crash while attempting new World Record jump


French stunt driver Guerlain Chicherit’s bid to beat Tanner Faust’s World Record for the longest ramp jump in a four wheeled conveyance came to an end yesterday as the driver suffered a massive crash in practice yesterday. The former competitive skier and rally car driver has been prepping to beat Faust’s standing record of 332 feet and has been hoping to smash the record by 30 feet more. Unfortunately, the only thing he managed to smash yesterday was his heavily modified MINI.

The Monster Energy and Toyo Tires sponsored car caught spectacular air off the jump, but the car dropped its nose just before landing causing the little jumper to do at least 6 or 7 endos before coming to rest.

According to his Facebook page, Chicherit is fine thanks to the safety equipment on board.

“Guerlain is doing good and has already reviewed video footage of the jump to see what went wrong. He got out of the car himself, slightly injured and will now get a precautionary MRI to check that everything is fine. Further updates to follow once information is released.”


Review: 2011 MINI Countryman

When the MINI Cooper was reinvented from its new parents at BMW, some critics were quick to lump it into the group of the VW New Beetle and Chrysler PT Cruiser as a neat take on a retro design, but where do you go from there? Unlike the now discontinued PT Cruiser, and (finally) redesigned Beetle, the MINI Cooper is well into its second generation. The MINI Clubman added some additional interior practicality and luggage space, but seems oddly proportioned, and is still not a practical family car. For 2011, MINI expanded the line with a mini-crossover, the Countryman. But can MINI build a four door crossover that remains true to the core traits that make a MINI a MINI? Read on…

As far as appearance goes, the Countryman is a dead ringer for a MINI. Yes, it is bigger in every respect than a Cooper, but a quick walk around the car shows there is no excess here. The Countryman is sporty, compact and premium in looks and execution all around, just as any modern MINI should. Our test car, finished in Royal Grey Metallic included the Sport Package, which added 18″ black alloys and black hood stripes definitely adding some snarl to an already snappy looking car. I can understand how MINI fans must have been nervous at the prospect of a four door crossover bearing the MINI badge, but the designers here positively nailed it. Well done.

Anyone who has ever turned a wheel in the current MINI Coopers will feel instantly at home in the Countryman. Which is a mixed blessing, depending on what you want from an interior. If you prefer a dash layout you can operate in your sleep, I’ll kindly direct you to your nearest Honda/Toyota dealer. The MINI continues to be about style inside and out, and as such, you better be prepared to take a minute to get the lay of the land, and know what switch does what. As always, an enormous speedometer dominates the central dash, which I consider essentially useless. In a week of living with the MINI, I don’t think I ever looked at it, relying instead on the digital speedo found in the tachometer. The thin red LED audio display was remarkable for its dearth of information. What’s that song playing on XM Radio? Who knows, you have to scroll through station/artist/song info one at a time to find out.

But, that’s what the MINI is about, and it makes no apologies for putting style above all else. To its credit, the interior is extremely well put together, and I cannot fault the quality of materials. Seats are supportive and comfortable, and there was plenty of room for my family of three. The Countryman features four individual bucket seats (but we hear a rear bench seat will be offered). The Countryman featured a central rail floor console that ran from the bottom of the dash to the back of the rear seats. The rail contains an eyeglass case, and two cupholders, but the novelty is they are adjustable, and I appreciated I could perfectly align the cupholder to be within reach of my son in his car seat.

The MINI Countryman is available in two flavors, Base and S. Base models are front-wheel drive with a 1.6L four rated at 121hp, available with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. While the base offers good fuel economy, acceleration will be leisurely at best. The enthusiast will want to go straight to the S, using the same 1.6L engine, but in turbocharged form, with 181hp on tap. As with the base car, a choice of six-speed manual and automatic transmissions are offered. Unlike the base car, S buyers have the option of ALL4, for, you guessed it, all-wheel drive. Our test car was an S ALL4 paired with the automatic-top-spec but also the heaviest. I was thrilled to find our Countryman full of plenty of pep around town, and quick passing on the highway was never an issue. Handling-something MINI fans hold dear-is exceptional. No, I’m sorry, it’s shocking a crossover can possibly handle nearly as well as a MINI Cooper. Steering feel is beyond reproach in this class of car. Rejoice, MINI fans. Even with four doors, four wheel drive, AND an automatic, the Countryman feels and drives just as a MINI should. I’ve driven many crossovers, but never smiled as much as when I was at the wheel of the Countryman.

So, what does all this crossover fun cost? Our Countryman S ALL4 had a base price of $26,950USD. A friendly reminder here that BMW is the parent company, and in typical German fashion, the price starts rising rapidly as option boxes get checked. Having said that, our test car added optional extras like metallic paint, cloth/leather seating, Cold Weather Package (power folding mirrors, heated mirrors/washer jets, heated seats), Sport Package, Premium Package (dual pane panoramic sunroof, auto climate control, Harmon Kardon audio), and other extras for a grand total of $35,900, including destination. Folks unfamiliar with MINI’s were shocked at the price for a crossover this size, and basically dismissed it as way overpriced for what you get.

No matter. MINI isn’t after the average crossover shopper. Face it, the guy checking out a Chevy Equinox is not cross-shopping the Countryman. What MINI has managed to do is usher in an entire new group of buyers to the brand. Case in point. Years ago, while attending a car show, and pushing our then infant child in a stroller, my wife was smitten with a MINI Cooper. A salesman, sensing her enthusiasm, walked up to us, and sheepishly said ‘The back seat will hold a car seat.” I didn’t disagree with him, but I also didn’t want to have to rent a U-Haul trailer whenever we had to go away for a weekend. MINI has now built a car suitable for small families yet retains all of the qualities that have made MINI so well-loved by its core of devoted enthusiasts.

Yes, the Countryman is not without compromise. Dodgy ergonomics, less cargo room, firm ride and premium price tag won’t give the competition any sleepless nights. But for the small family whose always craved a MINI, or simply a small crossover that offers pure driving entertainment few rivals can deliver, the Countryman is highly recommended. So much so, in fact, the Countryman is on this family”s shopping list for when our current VW’s lease is up, and that is about the highest praise I can give any car.

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On board with P.J. Groenke at Mosport Grand Prix

If you read my earlier post about the Canadian Touring Car Championship races at Mosport over the weekend, you know that things did not end well for VW driver P.J. Groenke. We have Groenke’s in car footage from both the Saturday and Sunday races, including the race ending crash in round 10.
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Spotted in Ontario: MINI Coupe

When do we ever get spy shots here in The Garage? Well, hardly ever, because we never get the cars in Ontario.

A few minutes ago, long time friend of The Garage, Rob Treml, just grabbed this shot of a mildly disguised MINI Coupe on Highway 400 near Major MacKenzie.

With the car due to be released shortly, I’m sure there have been lots of other spy shots, but we’re happy there is one here in The Garage for a change!

Team Octane announces three car team for 2011 – Sallenbach back to contest CTCC title

Team Octane press release

2007 and 2009 Canadian Touring Car champions, Team Octane, announced today that they will be back to compete for the Castrol touring class title in 2011.

“With 2 Series titles and 16 victories in the last 4 years, it’s a natural for us to come back to the series that brought us so many successes” commented Team Owner Alain Lauzière. “The 2011 schedule of major events put together by the Series has helped our team grow from a one car operation to a three car team” added Lauzière.

The team will introduce a brand new 2010 chassis later this year, which will make the team transition to the new R56 MINI turbo platform. The vehicle is currently being built in-house in the team`s facility.

Michel Sallenbach who finished in second position in the 2010 championship, a major accomplishment for a rookie driver, will rejoin the team for a full season ride in the hotly-contested Touring class. “More reasons for me to smile, I’m glad to be back for even more fun in 2011” added Sallenbach.

Team Octane, supported by MINI Original Parts, will make further driver and sponsor announcements before the beginning of the 20111 season, about car #45, 46 and 47.

The Castrol Canadian Touring Car Championship 2011 season will start on May 21-22 at Mosport in Ontario for the Victoria Day Speedfest.

Michel Sallenbach is supported by:
Carrosserie Touchette, peinture automobile et industrielle, St Valérien
La Clinique du Pneu, pneus et mécanique, Granby
Lettrage Raoul, Ste Cécile de Milton
ASG Accessoire de Soudure Granby Inc., Granby

Contact: Alain Lauzière – 450-455-2468 (

2011 New York Auto Show: Bright lights, big stars and journos behaving badly

Did you hear the one about the auto show and the fighting journalists? No? Well, it really was no joke. Amongst the glitter and new model reveals, there was some pretty ignorant people. More on that later.

The New York International Auto Show has long been considered one of the most important shows of the year. That position may be in jeopardy thanks to the rapidly growing show in China that alternates annually between Beijing and Shanghai. Somehow the manufacturers also seem to be conspiring against New York’s relevance, as a the days before the show were filled with off site product launches. From the MTV hosted VW event on Monday to Lexus and Ford on Tuesday evening, many of the 4 wheeled stars of the show were revealed before media days arrived. While these events are lots of fun and generate great product buzz, at least amongst the media, they certainly detract from the importance of the show.
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Frankly, scarlet MINI a contender at Targa Newfoundland 2010

Kenzie and Bourbonniere MINI lapping Mosport

Long time friend of The Garage, Doug Mepham, just sent the following press release regarding the upcoming Targa Newfoundland. Doug has been at this a lot longer than I have, so rather than re-write it…

ST. JOHN’S (August 3, 2010) – One of the most successful and popular cars and teams to compete in Targa Newfoundland, from one of the event’s most dedicated supporters, will return for 2010 with some unfinished business at the top of the agenda.

The brilliant red MINI John Cooper Works Challenge car that debuted in the 2009 event, helmed by driver Jim Kenzie and co-driver Brian Bourbonniere, will return for Targa 2010, the team announced.

The MINI Challenge car is a purpose-built competition car, created by the company as the basis of a one-marque road race series in places like the U.K., Australia and continental Europe. Race suspension, improved brakes, an on-board air-jack system and dazzling aerodynamic kit including front splitter, rear diffuser, and high-downforce adjustable rear wing make the little red rocket a serious contender.

Kenzie, Bourbonniere and the MINI Challenge car nicknamed Frankly Scarlet spent much of the 2009 event coming to terms with adapting a car built for road racing to the rigors of rally competition, finally finishing second in the competitive Open Division. But with a year of experience with the new car, the team has recalibrated its expectations.

“The car looks fantastic and goes like stink,” said Kenzie. “Last year was the MINI Challenge’s first attempt anywhere at rallying, and we learned a few things about the car.”
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OPP vs MINI convoy part 2

Earlier this evening, I wrote about the convoy of MINIs that were herded off the road by the Ontario Provincial Police while on their way towards Ontario cottage country for a Spring cruise. In that post, I shared the viewpoint of one of the cruise’s organizers. I have a few thoughts of my own on the story.

Perhaps the fun stuff first: The road they call The Rattler, is in fact Muskoka County road #13. Muskoka 13 is quite possibly the best driving road in Ontario. During the winter. During the Spring, Fall, Summer it is a beautiful, twisty road that is heavily populated by cottagers and motorcyclists. It is quite narrow in places and is horribly bumpy. One of our writers here in The Garage, and not yours truly, used to test a rally car on this road. He will remain nameless at this point. I however did encounter this road way back in about 1993 during the Ontario Winter Rally. 3 am, -34C and sheer ice. That is absolutely the best time to visit Muskoka 13.

Warning: Do not attempt this at home unless you have experience, the proper tires and proper safety gear. Like a roll cage!

Secondly, the OPP has been involved with organized driving events for many, many years. In fact, when organizing a navigational rally, an organizing club must inform the local police which is usually the OPP. By law, route speeds must be calculated to within a certain percentage of the legal limit. On occasion, a driver who is behind schedule might exceed the limit somewhat. It has been 17 years since I’ve entered a navi, but even then the occasional speeding ticket was not unheard of. It was rare to have more than one in any event. The officers usually got bored sitting around an empty gravel road waiting for an errant driver and went on to better hunting grounds.

Now the not so fun stuff.
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