Riding the Twisties
Its something that many of us have always felt...The MINI handles like its on rails and, with the right road, feels like you have your very own roller coaster. Now this feeling can be shared with all the owners of counterfeit MINIs.
This week I was invited to attend a MINI-sponsored press event at Paramount’s Kings Island Theme Park where the Italian Job: Stunt Track coaster was dedicated and opened for its first riders. Along with getting to experience the ride we had time to meet with other members of the automotive press, members of the MINI management team, as well as participate in a autocross featuring various MINI models.
The ride got kicked off with an opening ceremony with several people parachuting onto the grounds, the communications head of Kings Island introducing the ride along with two of the stunt drivers from the 2003 movie making an entrance.
Paramount exec with stunt drivers from movie
First the ride. Having not ridden a coaster in some time and watching the arms race of faster, higher, more G force laden coasters of recent years the new Italian Job: Stunt Track coaster was a refreshing, yet exciting, departure. When first stepping up to the coaster you find a MINI-looking car that is 75% scale.
75% scale Cabrios
Once you’ve strapped in you get launched HARD down the track.
Accelerating hard toward the garage
This is a multi-G launch that slams you into the seat and you accelerate toward a twisting upward corkscrew that is reminiscent of racing through a parking garage.
The Parking Garage upward spiral
To give you an idea of the acceleration and loading while climbing through the garage I noticed that the peripheral vision in one eye starting to go dark...a sign of low blood pressure and higher than normal G force.
From the top of the garage you take a drop down the wall of the LA river basin where you will then dodge and weave through chasing police cars. Just after making it past the police cars you will make a turn that is at a 88 degree angle before getting back onto the 101 freeway. Soon thereafter you’ll make it DOWN into the subway system and up another incline where you will come to a full stop. Up ahead the menacing helicopter comes into view and starts strafing the cars sending explosions and water shooting around you. You peel out again and head into the water system (ie - the dark) where all you see is the headlights and tailights of the MINIs as you fly through the tunnels before splashing down to a return stop.
Splashing down out of the aqueduct
My take on the experience is that this a ride that I would definitely do again. It was fun, well executed, and kept the spirit of the car and movie. If you are in the area of either the King’s Island Park or the Wonderland Park in Canada I would encourage you to give it a try...even if you roller coasters are your thing you should really enjoy this after watching the movie and owning your own MIN!
On to the Autocross
Immediately after taking the ride, Gabe Bridger (motoringfile.com
) and I headed over to the autocross course. On our way the storm that had been promised opened up and brought us a wet and puddle filled autocross course.
MINI's welcome tent for the autocross
The autocross was open to all those in the MINI press group as well as VIPs invited by Paramount. Fortunately when we got there we were the first to arrive (and where the only people there for at least the next 30 minutes). For cars to choose from we had a Cooper, two cabrios, one JCW Cooper S, and the auto Cooper S.
So many great choices...so little time
I started off in a 2005 Cooper S auto with paddle shifters as I hadn’t driven the auto yet. After a few initial passes with the instructor we swapped and I started doing runs. With the automatic set to manual mode it was very much like driving a shifter cart. Bang forward to go up and bang back to go down a gear (most shifter karts are the opposite of this but you get the idea
). This could be done with the stick or from the paddles. Personally I found the stick more comfortable (ie - WRC style shifting) but tried to use the paddles a few times and I’m sure I would grow to like them as well. While not the wheel spinning monster (DSC was off) off the line the auto was great to drive. In fact, it was so fun, that I ended up doing 10-15 runs in it prior to switching to a full JCW Cooper S (suspension, performance, etc.).
The JCW Cooper S was a different beast altogether. As I had not driven a full JCW car I was very happy to discover that this was one angry car...it loves to rev from the bottom end and builds revs very quickly. This combined with the new transmission ratios meant lots of wheels spin off the line given the rain and DSC being off (even working to modulate the wheel spin was a chore). After riding in a JCW Cabrio sporting the 18” JCW wheels at the 2005 MINIs on the Dragon this car, with the same wheels, is a great feeling car. I was expecting that the larger wheels, shod with even smaller and stiffer sidewall tires would result in a teeth rattling ride...it didn’t. In fact, the overall suspension compliance and handling seemed much more refined than that of my 02 Cooper S. For another MINI I will be taking a hard look at a JCW equipped Cooper S with all the bits. Hats off to JCW and MINI for putting together a very well rounded package.
Unfortunately the autocross got wetter and lightening made it into the area canceling the remaining two hours of time we had available. That said Gabe and I both put in some fun runs resulting in some decent times. As soon as we receive results compared to the guys from Autoweek, Car and Driver, Motor Trend, and others I’ll post them as well (unless we get totally embarrassed
Thanks to the team at MINI for inviting me out for this event. I hope that I will have the opportunity to attend a few more of these functions in the near future.
Quicktime preview of the ride
Specs on the ride
Stunt Track Manufacturer: Premier Rides, Inc.
Number of stunt drivers per hour: 800
Height of parking garage: 45.2 ft
Total Stunt Track Elevation change: 53.3 ft
Length of stunt track: 1,960 ft
Peel-out speed: 40 mph
Maximum Drive Drop: 31.2 ft
Number of Peel-Outs: 3 - effect created by Linear Induction Motors
Maximum degree of banked turns: 88 degrees
Ride time: 2 minutes
Official MINI press release