LA Auto Show 2019: Mini’s JCW GP is a fast fling



LOS ANGELES — Who would have thought a Mini would ever crack a lap of the Nurburgring in under 8 minutes? That’s the stuff of Porsche 911s, but the Mini John Cooper Works GP can do it.

Then again, it is the fastest Mini in history, so why not.

The GP made its world debut in Los Angeles, even as BMW Group showed Americans the Mini Electric for the first time, revealing that the battery-powered car had received 80,000 enquiries before launch.

But it’s the GP that would get the juices flowing for any petrolhead. This being the third time Mini has done a GP, the extreme car has become something of a tradition. “We have a very vivid Mini community. People want that,” Petra Beck, the project leader for the GP, tells us. “So we said, ‘Yeah, we’ll do it again, and even more sporty.’ It was our goal to have the fastest Mini ever.” 

The GP’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo is good for 306 horsepower (that’s 75hp more than the standard John Cooper Works, itself no slouch), and it’ll hit 100km/h in 5.2 seconds — dipping under 5 seconds would probably have been possible with all-wheel drive, but that sort of hardware wouldn’t have fit the car’s architecture, Beck says.

Instead, the car’s speed comes mostly from its handling. The two-seater has a significantly stiffer bodyshell than a regular JCW and its own suspension set-up, complete with a wider track, lowered springs (by 10mm) and beefed-up brakes. 

The obvious aerodynamic bits — the rear wing, front and rear aprons and carbon wheelarch extensions — catch the eye, but they’re all functional. Mini also worked on the electronics (the stability control system works faster) and gave the car a limited slip differential, for better traction.

Then there’s the bespoke footwear. “We have high performance tyres on the car, only developed for the GP,” Beck says. “And we actually do have, as an option, semi-slicks as well. If you want to use the car on the track, that’s very helpful.”

It’s rare for BMW to talk about Nurburgring laptimes, so Mini’s announcement about the GP’s sub-8 minute timing there is something of a surprise. It’s also unofficial; it turns out, Beck and her team used it to focus themselves. “It was a perfect working goal internally. When you say you want to have the fastest Mini, what does it mean? We want to be very fast on the curves and to have high acceleration,” she says. “It worked out really fine.”

Mini GPs have traditionally been based on the 3-Door hatch and sold in limited numbers, but there’s some hope that the “GP” tag will make its way onto more cars. This version is already being offered to 50 percent more people than the last one — Mini will build just 3,000 of them, and 25 were allocated to our region, but all of them are sold — and asked if Mini would consider making extreme versions of its other models, Beck doesn’t exactly say no.

“Maybe in a few years, why not? We are thinking about many things to get the heritage alive and we are really looking far away,” she says. “We never stop thinking about those things.”

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Leow Julen
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 25 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.