Mini Racing: The inside story. For those of you who missed the article in Mini Magazine click here

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Copyright 2008 Dave Kimberley and TDK Racing

 

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The following appeared in the April issue of Mini Magazine and is reproduced by kind permission of Mini Magazine. The article was written by Marc Stretton and all photography is by Barry Ambrose.

All that preparation and still the team ends up frantically swapping engines.

Within months of the Mini's launch in 1959, people began strapping themselves into bucket seats, raising A-Series engine revs and firing themselves off starting lines in attempts to beat each other to a chequered flag. Over the years, countless forms of Mini motorsport have developed to suit every depth of pocket. from weekend banger racers having the last beats of life thrashed from their rusting old motors to multi - thousand pound works of art being launched down quarter mile strips, the Mini has satisfied many an adrenaline junkie's competitive urges.

Near the top in terms of fun, excitement, velocity and cash required, are the Mini 7 and Miglia classes - track racing at its best. To get the flavour of what's involved in this discipline, Minimag tagged along to Silverstone with front-running Miglia driver, Dave Kimberley, as he began his bid to win the Dunlop Winter Mini Challenge. Dave, a BT senior technician by day, has been racing Mini 7's and Miglias for five years and his 2001, 33,000 built from scratch race car (voted Best Turned Out Miglia at the recent Mini 7 awards) was well in with a chance of a win... luck allowing.

With every form of motorsport, the driver is just one of a group that makes winning possible. So at 7.30 on a cold but clear winter morning, we met the TDK racing team at Silverstone, all far too awake for my bleary eyes. The TDK crew had travelled down from their base in Coventry the previous night, kipped in their motorhomes and were already busy preparing the black Mig for it's days labours. On the mechanical side of things, Dave is backed up by John Dowson, Keith Bennett and Stuart Grundy - good friends and old hands in the motorsport game. Covering the logistics is Stuart's brother George, and just as important to the day's smooth running are Dave's wife Terry, mum Dorothy and son Thomas. "When I started racing, right back with Motocross and karting, I made sure it was going to be a family affair," says Dave. "A few of the people here are using the sport to get away from it all. With TDK we're all in it together. everyone comes along and is part of the excitement."Racing certainly seems to have got into the blood of 6 year old Thomas already. "When I grow up I'm going to be a mini racer," he says."or I may be a Formula One driver."

Above. The racing may be the serious part of the day, but the social aspect to the Mini 7 Racing Club is just as important.

At 8 am, Dave leaves everyone to their jobs and walks over to sign on at race control. Qualifying begins at 9.20 and there's plenty still to be done in the garage. Tyre pressures are measured (26 front, 28 rear), wheelnuts are torqued correctly, all fluids and fuel are topped up to the right levels and the engine is run up for checking. With everybody happy, the car is off down the pit road for scrutineering. At this level, no-one would dream of pulling a fast one, of course. But the eagle eyed scrutineers still need to make sure no 'accidental' advantages are gained and that all safety precautions have been adhered to.

With all the boxes ticked, it's back to the pits for last minute tweaks and some mental preparation. "I don't really get nervous around the paddock," says Dave. "When we're back home packing up, I worry about remembering everything and can get a bit short. But then I'm fine right up until we're lining up by the track waiting for the off." What happens next confirms this calmness and proves that Dave and his team are very cool under pressure...

Qualifying begins well. From my vantage point at Copse Corner, Dave seems to be up to speed and getting set for a good gridposition. As the laps mount up, a time of 1:11.563 has Dave in provisional fifth, but then he disappears from the group of cars rushing past. Uh-oh, what's up?

As I return to the garage it's clear something is terribly wrong. All I can see is a mass of bodies flying from here and there and bits of Mini front-end being removed with lightning speed. A polite cough gets Dave's attention. "I think the cranks gone in it" he ventures. "We've got just under two hours to get a new engine in before the race. We'll do it though." As I said, very calm.

So I wander off, grab a nice cup of tea and a couple of biscuits provided by Terry and chat to some of the other racers around with my fingers firmly crossed.

Personally, I don't know how tempers remain so restrained as a new engine is pulled from the rear of the camper and readied for service. "He's not really one for chucking things around," says Terry. "And they're all brilliant in these circumstances. It's part of the enjoyment." Yeah, sure.

More than 33,000 has been spent on Dave's Mini - awarded Best Turned Out Miglia in 2001

As an indication of the great camaraderie in this racing class, fellow racers Lee and Les Jones both roll up their sleeves and dive in to add to the blur of arms in the Mini's nether regions. Ordered chaos turns into blind panic as the word goes out that the Miglia/7 race will start at 11.35 - 15 minutes early - and my already huge admiration at TDK's mechanical prowess is surpassed when, at 11.33, the black Mini fires into life in an empty paddock and screeches off towards the track. James Bond couldn't have left in much closer - I hope all the bolts have been done up tight.

One of the best vantage points at Silverstone is Luffield. From here the Minis can be seen shooting down the back straight and careering round a sharp 180 curve before heading back to the start/finish line. And what brilliant action there is too - watched by surprisingly few spectators, I might add. As a close running spectacle, surely nothing can beat Mini racing. They're bumping and barging nose to tail, and even nose to tail and tail to nose as several cars spin onto the grass. If you want a great day out, get some Mini racing in your diary.

Commentary is by 2001 Miglia champion Dave Braggins, who takes great delight in laying odds on Minimag's old friend Ralph 'Pitstop' Saunders' chances of getting past lap three. Much to everyone's surprise, Ralph actually finished the race in his best ever position - second in the 7s class. I won't mention that this was mainly due to a massive shunt at Maggots which removed much of the opposition, eh Ralph?

Back at the front, things are really going well for my man Kimberley. leading, and looking comfortable, is Kelly Rogers, who has moved up into Miglias from last years 7s Championship. But Dave is slowly making up places. When Kevin Mason decides to switch to grasstracking, fourth is gained. Then a patient reeling in job and an excellent bit of outbraking captures second at the expense of a battling Sarah Munns and Jonathan Hudson. A best lap of 1:09.480 helps gain a touch on Rogers, But at the end second place is the result. I'm pretty sure Dave's grinning from ear to ear under that helmet, given the circumstances.

That smile is still present on the podium as it loads of back slapping (along with a few sighs of relief). Back in the paddock, it's a good couple of hours before people head off home. The Mini 7 Racing Club, to which all the racers and many team members and spectators belong, is one of the friendliest Mini groups around, So, many a hand is shaken and there numerous tales of what went wrong, or right, told while packing up.

It's been a long, eventful, but truly enjoyable day as I said my goodbyes to team TDK and head back towards Gloucester in the Minimag Mini Sprite. Of course, there's no truth in the rumour that said car was spotted later on the A40 with a lunatic at the wheel, making brmmm brmmm noises and a very poor impression of Murray Walker. Well OK, it was me, but that's because it's probably as close as my financially-challenged life will ever get to emulating Dave Kimberley's exploits - unless I can find a very generous benefactor that is.

After the four rounds of this year's Winter Series, Dave had three more third places to add to his second place at Silverstone. These finishes were enough to gain him third spot in the series overall, behind champion Kelly Rogers and runner-up John Hudson. He celebrated this achievement at the last round at Brands hatch on November 25 - his birthday.

To honour Dave's car being awarded the Best Turned Out Miglia at the recent Mini 7 Club dinner dance, Corgi will be bringing out a Limited Edition of the car later in the year. Mini Magazine will bring you details of how to get one soon.

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