Dakar Wrap-Up and the Anatomy of a Dakar-Winning Mini Countryman
The 2013 Dakar Rally, the 15-day-long, 5000-plus-mile South American overland race/ordeal, ended Sunday in Santiago, Chile, with an 11th overall win for Dakar legend Stephane Peterhansel. It’s Frenchman Peterhansel’s second consecutive win in one of X-raid’s Mini Countryman–bodied racers.
He finished the rally more than 42 minutes ahead of second-place finisher, South African Giniel De Villiers in his Toyota Hilux. Robbie Gordon finished 14th in his Hummer H3 racer about five-and-a-half hours behind Peterhansel, after a disastrous first few stages of the rally that saw Gordon stuck, broken, and rolled in successive stages. Gordon finished strong, though, with stage wins near the end of the rally. Sadly, three people died during the race in two separate collisions on public roads. First, two passengers in a taxi died when involved in a collision in Peru with a support truck. And later, French motorcycle racer, Thomas Bourgin, died in Chile when he collided with a police car.
How can it possibly be that a Mini Countryman—the production version of which can get deeply stuck in a sandy parking lot—could possibly beat a Toyota Hilux or a V-8–powered Hummer H3 racer? Well, it can’t. But the six mutant “Mini Countrymans” that German race team X-raid fielded in this year’s Dakar share only a windshield and head- and taillights with the production Mini. They weigh in at a not-insubstantial 4189 pounds each.
Underneath the carbon-fiber body parts, that look at least similar to the production car’s body, is a tube frame built in Germany by race-car constructor Heggemann Autosport. It’s the same basic platform used by X-raid for its BMW X3–bodied racers of a few years ago. Naturally, the suspension is purpose-built and independent front and rear. Dutch rally-suspension specialist, Reiger Racing, provides the twin coil-over dampers at each of the four corners. Dakar rules stipulate that four-wheel-drive vehicles like X-raid’s (which use air-locking Xtrac differentials) have modest wheel travel compared to their two-wheel-drive competitors. The organizer’s simple approach to policing the maximum wheel travel is a tamper-resistant bolt mounted at a specific height over the control arms. If the bolt is bent or damaged, it’s a strong indicator that the team was cheating.
The Mini racers use 3.0-liter twin-turbo diesel inline-sixes, borrowed from BMW and tuned to 307 horsepower and somewhere north of 500 lb-ft of torque. X-raid won’t say how much turbo boost the diesel is subjected to, but it’s enough that the Mini’s trundle around whistling like brightly-painted tea kettles. The diesel engine is fed air by a rooftop snorkel intake. That motor is bolted to a six-speed, sequential-shift gearbox from French specialist Sadev.
AP Racing provides the four disc brakes, all four of which carry big air-cooling ducts to the rotors. The rear brakes also are water-cooled. The car rides on 245/80R-16 Michelin Latitude all-terrain tires.
With long-range dessert running, cooling of all parts is critical, including the human part that sits behind the steering wheel. The rear half of the Mini Countryman racers are packed with two spare wheels/tires and a mass of heat exchangers, fans, and cooling ducts.
The nose of the vehicle, in front of the low-mounted engine, also is given over to cooling duties. The small exchanger on the lower right is part of the air-conditioning system used for the interior of the vehicle.
The front shocks get their own dedicated cooling airflow.
The interior is a mess of switches and GPS-navigation units and various readouts. The stick with the white knob is the shifter for the six-speed. The nearby black-handled lever is the parking/emergency brake, used in this context to aid in turning.
To affect on-the-go tire changes (something of a frequent occurrence in rocky sections), the Mini Countrymans are fitted with a hydraulic ram jack on each side.
And because driver and co-driver teams are basically on their own deep in some inhospitable territory, they must be able to repair common mechanical failures out in the field. Hidden behind the rocker panels are spare half-shafts and various other bits. Mounted under the co-driver’s seat is a torque wrench, small tool set, and a battery-powered drill/driver.
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And if all else fails, there’s a nice, fat roll of duct-tape zip-tied into a hole in the A-pillar structure. Some things translate into any language.
By Daniel Pund