BRracing - Project Cars - MINI R56 Cooper S

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MINI R56 Cooper S - Track Attack

Due to the ease of driving a MINI, and ease of driving FAST, we have seen a flood of MINI’s come thru our shop to have track oriented upgrades installed as the customer progresses or evolves with their Driving Event (DE) habit. Track activity really is like a drug habit…but only w good results. Once you get this into your system, you just can’t get enough, and the smiles and memories last a lifetime. This is the story of one customers MINI Cooper S R56 2008 model as he started with a driving school (Hooked On Driving), and now is adding the enhancements to make his DE events safe and fun. But, this story has two (2) phases, as the customer started with Phase 1, then progressed, and desired to add even more, making the car more of a hard core track car that would retain all the creature comforts, and allow him to use as a daily driver.  Both Phase 1 and Phase 2 will be detailed below.

PHASE 1

As most know, if you are going to regularly track a MINI (either the earlier generation R53 or the current generation R56), the first area that needs to be attacked is the brakes. Doing minor upgrades on the MINI really won’t solve the core underlying problem…..the brakes suck. Due to the small size, and poor design for heat dissipation, under almost all track conditions, the brakes just won’t hold up….they will overheat and fade away. If we drive a MINI, we can’t last 2 laps without the brakes being completely gone. I’m not talking hard to stop, I’m talking OH MY GOSH I’M GOING TO FREAKIN FLY OFF THE TRACK as I have NO BRAKES!!! Try taking turn 10 at Thunderhill w no brakes…..not the kind of fun that we wanted.

We normally suggest two levels of upgrades for the brakes for customer serious on DE events with their MINIs. A simple upgrade here just won’t do….pads, fluid, and ss lines won’t come close to doing what the car needs. Now, surprising, it doesn’t take a lot of brake upgrade, but it does take a different brake system. We would recommend that a customer consider brake upgrades in this order…both in terms of price and benefits. The least expensive is the JCW stock brakes. As mentioned, it doesn’t take a lot of brake upgrade, but it does take an upgrade. You can implement the JCW system either for the front only, or for the front and rear. The complete system is different from the stock MINI Cooper S. You get bigger rotors, vented rotors, bigger calipers, and better pads and stainless steel brake lines. The rear is not much of an upgrade, but the caliper is painted RED like the front JCW caliper, so it looks like a complete system. The core advantage of the JCW upgrade is cost, and that the caliper will fit inside a stock 17″ wheel. The next step up in the food chain of brake upgrades for the MINI is the StopTech BBK system. This is an awesome system….and will allow the user to put the MINI on its nose under hard braking, and can take all the abuse you care to dish out. The other major benefit of a true BBK like the StopTech system is the ability to have a wide array of pad choices. What good does upgrading the brakes if you are limited in the choice of pads?? The StopTech is a true BBK…floating rotors, massive size, big, strong caliper, larger pads, longer moment arm for the braking center of pressure (this is the real key to better braking or stopping power). The only downside to a BBK is that it requires a 18″ or larger wheel…and for a MINI, that really just means an 18″ wheel. So, the cost of the BBK upgrade is the braking system and complete new set of wheels and tires (but you want those anyway for track use….its really a win/win). The other attraction of the StopTech system in the world of BBK kits is the price…great value.

Finally, as most know, the top of the braking food chain is the Brembo system. Brembo makes a great braking system, and the one for the MINI (front only, and that is all your really need) fits well in a slighly wider array of MINI 18″ wheel options. This system too is a complete BBK…floating 2 piece rotor, big, strong caliper, bigger pads, longer moment arm for center of pressure…everything you need in a BBK. Its just the price that is a little higher. Large selection of pads, from street/performance to full race options. This project MINI, due to the choice of wheels and the desire for the best braking system, received the StopTech BBK upgrade. To make most wheels fit (these wheels have an offset of ET40, will require a 5mm spacer). Awesome system (this MINI gets the StopTech ST40 front BBK kit) -

Now, if we can get the car to stand on its nose under braking….we need some way to keep us planted in our seats or we will become like the bug, and a smear on the front windshield. There are SO MANY reasons to deal with seats, harnesses, and a harness bar. SAFETY is the number 1 reason, but there are many more. We find that in every track upgrade…when we upgrade the seats and harnesses, and can keep the driver focused on driving, and not holding themselves into position while trying to corner or turn…that their lap times drop by about 2 seconds or more. Most customers think of so many other things first to get their car to go faster…when they need to focus on themselves, and getting them into an environment that allows them to go faster. They are more comfortable, planted, relaxed, and they can focus and enjoy the whole driving experience. Most cars without these upgrades, have drivers who come home from a DE event with bruises on their knees and legs, and find their arms hurting from the strain. Not what we want at all. And….if we’re going to put those safety features in, we need a proper way to secure the whole system…and this is where the harness bar / roll bar come into play. The main reason for this is SAFETY….you can NOT cheap out on SAFETY….if you are going to do DE events, then this is the NUMBER 1 priority. PERIOD…no questions, no maybe. You have to invest here. This car and owner did, and purchased the BRracing complete harness / roll bar solution. Just like any well designed system, there are many benefits. Safety, added strength and rigidity for the car, proper harness attachment. Our system also allows the horizontal harness bar and rear down / X brace to be removed so that if the car needs use of the rear seats, you can. Our system also attaches to all OEM attachment points, so that no new holes or welding points or fabrication is needed. Here is the bar in the stages of installation.

Next…now we have the base for the harnesses, but what seats??? There are two major decisions to be made here…..if you want OEM like fitment and functionality, then there is really only one choice – the Recaro Sportster CS. The reason for this is fitment….the Recaro is a split back seat, so it will tilt forward and allow access to the rear area of the car or rear seats. But, that’s not the major advantage, the major reason is the size of the butterfly wings on the sides of the seats for your shoulders. Almost all other seats have broader wings…and these will interfere with the upper door panels, making it impossible to install and then close the doors. Believe us…we have tried many many seats…and most do NOT fit. But the Recaro does. The seat also comes w great fabric to hold you and plant you in the seat, is very comfortable, and has the necessary harness openings, even for a complete 6-point system. We can also accommodate all the attachment points. Fabrication will be needed for the submarine belt…but no big deal. The other direction to go w a seat is a true, fixed back, racing seat. If we were doing that for this project, we would have used a Sparco Evo 2 seat….great seat, comes in several sizes, but it is a racing seat. Not necessarily the best choice for a car that sees dual duty. (Note..for those considering a race seat, the seat itself is fairly reasonably priced, but most forget to include all the other pieces – seat base, slider, and side mounts).

Now…just installing a replacement seat is no big deal. But, to replace an OEM seat, and replicate OEM features takes a little bit more thought and work. The original seats had side airbags, and the passenger seat has a seat occupancy sensor. If you just throw in new seats, you will have an AIRBAG light on the dash all the time, and you will have a SEAT BELT light on the dash all the time as well. So, what are we to do?? There are not parts that you can buy to solve these. Nope, but you can make them work.

For the seat occupancy sensor….you need to take the old seat, the OEM seat, completely apart. With the seat out of the car, you can then remove the lower seat cushion. Once the the cushion is out, you can then take it apart, and remove the outer leather covering from the base cushion. When you get this off, you will then have access to the electronic seat occupancy sensor and wiring harness. Take the sensor and harness out. Take the new Recaro seat, and take it apart in the same manner. Take the lower seat cushion off the seat frame, take the fabric covering off the lower seat cushion, and install the OEM seat occupancy sensor. Re-install the fabric covering on the cushion, install the cushion into the seat frame, and now the seat is ready for installation into the car. Simple….right???? Test the voltage and resistance drop of the seat sensor before installing, and you are good to go.

In the pic below, you can see the lower cushion removed from the passenger seat, and the cover off the seat cushion to gain access to the seat occupancy sensor.

Next…the airbag. Now, we can’t install the side cushion airbags from the OEM seat into the new seat, but we can make the car think they are there. All we need to do is make a new wiring harness that duplicates the OEM airbag harness and electrical equation. Once you know the values of the voltage and resistance drop under the various operating and start-up conditions, you can make your own wiring harness. One piece of the harness BRracing made is seen here.

With the normal seat occupancy sensor installed, and the new airbag wiring harness done for both sides, the seats are ready for installation.

With the new seats, we have both harness and seat belt options. We can use the normal seat belts for daily driving, as the harness bar and seat solution retain all normal seat belt attachments and functions (including the seat belt receiver and wiring harness for that), along w the new 6-point harness for track use. Complete dual duty solution, with no down sides, no lights on the dash even w passengers, no loss of features, and great fitment. Since we duplicated the system on both sides, you also meet the DE event instructor requirement where they have to have the same safety equipment as the driver when out on course.

Now, no car would be complete for track duty if we just did the safety aspects. We need some performance to make this car handle and scoot. The easiest upgrade for a MINI Cooper S w the turbo motor is the software upgrade. “We need more power, cap’tn”.?? More power it is! The Cobb system is what we used for this project…and it is as easy as plug and play. Plug into the OBDII port, select your upgrade, and voila, you’re car is transformed. More power, more torque, more get up and go, and more pull when you want it most on the track. You can read in our blog and other write ups on the many advantages of this system. If you are going to upgrade the software and turbo power, then we need to feed the engine more, and let it flow better. There we added a new JCW intake, along w upgrade turbo hoses. Now, the car pulls and accelerates and pushes you back in your seat. Get in and hold on.

The MINI is such a great handling car to begin with, that there is not a lot of improvements that are needed at the initial stages of DE use. The car is flat, handles much like a go-kart, but like almost all front wheel drive cars, it has a touch of understeer. This is easily addressed. The MINI just needs a slight upgrade of the rear sway bar. This little addition will help the car to easily rotate when initial steering input is given…but don’t get carried away here w the thought that bigger must be better. There are a wide range of sway bars for the rear of the MINI – 19mm, 20mm, 21mm, 23mm, and even a monster 25mm bar. You ONLY want the 19mm bar. Anything more, and the car over rotates on initial turn in, and makes the car a handful when driving…and reduces the stability of the car, and makes it very twitchy, even just when taking off ramps on the freeway. So, if you are doing this upgrade to your car, just go w the 19mm rear bar. The bar comes complete (ALTA) w upgraded sway bar bushings. For hard core DE users, we would recommend upgrading the sway bar end links as well.

Like all projects…they never are done, and there is more to come as we match the capabilities of the car to the needs of the driver. The MINI is such a great platform to build on, and is so easy and fun to drive hard….smiles for miles.

That was indeed PHASE 1, and the customer got a huge smile on his face after driving the car for many events with the PHASE 1 enhancements, but, now that his driving skills had evolved, he longed for more, and believed the MINI served as a great platform for the further upgrades.  Even with the Phase 1 upgrades, he had become one of the fastest cars in his normal run group.  But, could the MINI be upgraded even more to keep up with almost all cars that play on the track?  That was the goal for PHASE 2.

PHASE 2

Almost all areas would come under the knife (engine, exhaust, tune, suspension, body support, clutch, differential, and of course, track alignment).  We did not need to do anything w the wheels, brakes, or seats / safety.  They were all working great.  But this was still a daily driver, not a hard core track car that could still be driven on the street.  This car still looks mostly stock (sleeper aspect), has the AC, all interior appointments, carpet.  But as Porsche has proven with its GT3 series, a serious track car can still be fully street legal and have all the normal creature comforts, no sacrficing to gain performance.

ENGINE

This time, we went beyond just "bolt on" performance parts, we wanted an engine that could produce about 250HP (the prior engine was putting out about 210HP), and to make the engine more reliable at that power level.  To do so meant a complete rebuild....new head, upgraded and larger valves / springs, new pistons, slight bore / hone to the engine, new turbo, new oil pump, new manifolds, new exhaust system, new injectors, upgraded engine hardware.

Like many projects, it's not just what parts get replaced, but with WHAT parts do they get replaced with?  The core of the engine is the PISTONS, and for this application, we choose MAHLE Racing pistons, with a slight increase in diameter for the overbore of the block.  Light weight, incredibly strong, right piston ring definition for the turbo engine, and right head shape for the new larger valves and cam combination.

To hold them all together, we upgraded all the core engine hardware to ARP Hardware.

Every aspect of the engine was reviewed and given consideration....again, not for just pure power and performance (as a MINI can not handle too much power....it just becomes wasted due to the drivetrain and suspension design)....so, our target was the 250HP with reliability.  Here the new pistons and rod / crankshaft hardware has been installed (the block was overbored 0.05 and honed, cleaned, dipped, and the head decked ever so slightly).  Since we were going to be running a larger turbo as well, and higher boost, we did not want to step up the base compression ratio, and with the head being "decked", we changed the thickness of the head gasket and head gasket material to provide the right solution.

We also replaced the oil pump to ensure proper flow of lubrication to the engine and turbo.

The next area on the engine to be addressed was the head / cams / ports. With a larger turbo, we wanted to have all elements flow better, and the normal approach of enlarging the intake and exhaust ports, along with "port marching" the intake and exhaust manifold gaskets was implemented.  Take a close look at the amount of material in the stock port versus the gasket edge, and the new exhaust ports with the upgraded exhaust manifold gasket.  Better flow, smoother flow, and critical to get the air to the turbo impeller with as little disruption as possible (otherwise, just wasted energy).

What good is a "ported" head though...if you don't address both sides of the solution...and we did, here is a picture of the JCW based exhaust manifold (the original MINI Cooper S R56 engine was not a JCW version).  Notice also how the stock MINI Cooper S R56 exhaust manifold had cutouts that went no-where??? Only caused blockage, turbulence, heat soak.  We took the new exhaust manifold gasket, and ensured that both sides of the port were fully matched....perfect flow.  The JCW manifold also has much better casting and tube orientation...everything about the manifold is an upgrade from the stock unit.

If we're going to all this work to enlarge the ports and flow, we need to carry out the complete task. We see so many do "pieces" of the project, but not every element.  If you enlarge one piece, and don't carry the implementation through every single little aspect, your gains are marginalized. You can also create some funny aspects of the new HP and Torque curves...and we wanted linear flow and power. 

Next up in the engine upgrade then needed to be the turbos themselves.  There are usually two types of approaches...use the stock turbo housing and upgrade the internals (like what many of the Audi and BMW N54 guys have done), or upgrade the complete turbo.  In this case, there is an easy solution for the MINI Cooper, as they produced a larger and better turbo for the JCW version of their engine.  Here are the two versions....it is hard to tell from the pic, but the ports (both in and out) of the JCW turbo are larger, as well as the interal impeller.

We always have to remember to stay true to the objectives of the project...we were not trying to build the highest HP MINI engine, we were trying to provide the right types of upgrades, and get more power, but reliably...so, we changed the exhaust cam, but not the intake.  We didn't want to go crazy with the camshafts (you can virtually make any size and combination of cam you want, but no one takes the time and effort to really know what the right combination would be).  We do have a custom grind exhaust camshaft (our secret potion), and you can see the stock intake cam installed in the build picture.

As just mentioned, we have been progressing with the enhancements, and how they all tie together...and there are two final elements.  The exhaust (which we will detail a little later), and the output flow from the turbo.  Better intake, better combustion, better port flow, better exhaust manifold blow, better turbo's, and now, better flow from the turbo output to the inake.  This car already had the upgraded Intercooler, so we just needed the proper turbo output tube, intercooler output / intake tube, and a better flow from the JCW intake to the engine / turbo (remember, the new turbo has larger ports as well, so the original upgraded intake tube did NOT fit to the new turbo, so needed to be upgraded to an aftermarket JCW version).  All the new hoses are either metal (no deflection under boost load), or reinforced silicone.

Here are all the pieces assembled with the engine now installed back in the car.

EXHAUST

I don't care what project you're doing, if you ask just about anyone with knowledge on project builds, and you ask them what exhaust would be best if budget were not the constraining factor, almost all will say AKRAPOVIC.  Light weight, beautiful implementation and attention to details, and great flow.  The sound is great...not too loud, but bold and serious. So, for this project, that was it....get the AKRA exhaust!!  It included every element, from the upgraded down pipe w cat, to the secondary catalyst, resonator, rear muffler, and even the TIPS.  Plus, the fitment is perfect.

LOVE these tips....perfect fitment, perfect size, perfect alignment.

IF we upgraded the power....what's the next natural element on a MINI Cooper that has to be addressed???

SLUTCH / FLYWHEEL / DIFFERENTIAL

The clutch, flywheel, and most importantly, the differential.  The stock MINI had the option of a LSD (Limited Slip Differential), but most did not have it, and even with it, you can still do better.  Since this is more now of a track car that can still be daily driven, we went w all OS Giken elements.  Just in case you take this route yourself, there are downsides to these upgrades...not from a performance perspective, but from a daily driver application.  We spend a lot of time discussing light weight flywheels w customers, as they all believe they are great.  And they do release "spun" mass from the engine, making the engine rev UP and DOWN quicker.  But most focus on the better reving of the engine, and forget that what goes up must and also slow down, and without the dual mass flywheel, the engine will fall off the revs much quicker, and as a result, your daily driving shifting pattern and behaviour will need to change. 

SUSPENSION

For Phase 1, we did the normal minor suspension upgrades that MINI's need.  But, for Phase 2, we needed to upgrade all elements (shocks (coil-overs w shock compression / rebound adjustment), camber adjustment front and rear, stronger rear lower control arms, front underbody brace, and adjustable sway bar end links.  Again, since this is a combo car...daily driven, track used, our preference for MINI's is to go w the Bilstein PSS9 solution.  You get the full coil-over (height adjustable spring perches, different spring rates)...but the big gain is the EASY to adjust shocks.  Some coil-overs will provide adjustment options (like KW v1 or even v2), but will put the adjustment knob where it's easy to do before you install the system, but forget ever needing to change it in the future.  The Bilstein set makes sure the adjustment is easy....they have a large adjustment knob, and place it where you can reach it on both the front and rear shocks.  And we do adjust them, we will set them to one value for street driving, or driving to the track, but once at the track, set them to a different value, and then revert before going home.

(Parts pictured below are Bilstein PSS9 coil-overs, Vorshlag adjustable front camber plates, ALTA rear lower control arms, adjustable front and rear sway bar end links, and M7 front underbody brace.)

Why Vorshlag camber plates?  Easy, they are the best.  Lifetime warranty, full adjustment, and the "lowest" stack height, which is a big deal on MINI's where the amount of suspension travel is limited on the front anyway.

Here you can see all the rear suspension pieces in place (Bilstein PSS9 coil-overs, 19mm rear sway bar (do NOT go larger if you are doing your own project), adjustable lower control arms (adjustment and strength), adjustable sway bar end links).

Finally, the front underbody brace to help reinforce and provide more front end rigidity.

DASH / DATA

You can do so much to the car, but still, the biggest element that can improve performance is the driver.  But, to know what and where to improve, you need data.  Data serves sooooo many purposes, and in this case, can also serve as a much better deliverer of information about the car as well...so, for this project, we installed an AIM MXL dash w OBDII interface.  Now, you have data all the time, and can access after the session as well to understand where you can go to work to improve your driving.

The finished project....if you see this MINI at the track...make sure you know what you are up against.  LET's GO FLY.

 

PHASE 3

Well...as mentioned above, we couldn't just leave the project alone...it needs more.  In this case, the more was a new set of wheels w better offsets and clearances for both the massive front brake calipers and the body now that the car has been lowered.  We selected the NM Engineering / Neuspeed RSe12 18", in gun metal color.  Great wheel, great price point, and add class to this amazing car.  Here are the new wheels.

 

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