Phil Wicks Racing
Can-Am Mini Race
Mid-Ohio Raceway – Lexington OH – June 26-29, 2014
56 Minis entered ranging in groups from M1-M5, with M5 being mostly space framed rear wheel drive cars with a lightweight Mini body shell, extra wide 13” wheels with slick tires. Not really a Mini in the true sense of the word. M1-M4 were true Minis, depending on modifications and weight of car. The biggest group was M2, comprising of 21 true vintage race spec cars, of which Snoopy (my racecar) was one, racing on DOT treaded race tires.
Having never driven at Mid-Ohio, I was pleased to take advantage of the extra day of track learning on the Thursday before the event. I had just completely rebuilt the engine in Snoopy, especially for this race. So Thursday was spent breaking in the new engine whilst learning the track.
Friday mid-morning, the weather was perfect for our first official practice. I was keeping the RPMs down and short shifting. Practice 2 was run later afternoon and I started to use a few more RPMs.
Saturday mid-morning was our first qualifying session. It was very obvious from the very beginning that the competition was very serious. Competitors included the best race cars from Canada and all over the US, and Nick Swift of SwiftTune England with a very fast M3 group car with his own engine installed in a borrowed car. I felt that I would be doing well if I should be somewhere in the middle of the pack. And, indeed, that is where the qualifying sessions found me – 9th in my class and 24th overall – with a time of 1:49. The fastest car in my class was doing 1:43. During the first qualifying session, I was worried about a bad vibration on the front end. I had fitted new wheels and tires with Hoosier HDS race tires – always perfect! So we rebalanced the wheels for the second qualifying session and rotated the wheels on the car. It was a little better, but far from perfect. So we checked the balance of the wheels and checked all other obvious causes of vibration. But found nothing wrong and left it as it was for the race on Sunday.
Race day Sunday: The weather was perfect. All the cars were called to the grid. 47 cars actually made it to the grit. It was a very impressive sight to see all the Minis. All the drivers got out of their cars and chatted with other drivers wishing luck and a good safe race. There is always a great sense of camaraderie for this once-every-five-year event. (The Phil Wicks Driving Academy HDSted and organized the last race in 2009.)
Norree Boyd-Wicks, my wife, sang both the US and Canadian national anthems. Then the call to “start your engines” and 47 Minis burst into life. Let me say here that I knew I could not build an engine to compete with some of the high BHP engines that my competitors were driving. I build my own engines, include all of the cylinder head porting and shaping. I built this engine with more mid-range RPM torque.
After two laps behind the pace car, the flag to start the race on the back straight was thrown. I usually make good starts in races and this was no exception. I passed five cars on the first lap. It was great to be in the thick of the race, very reminiscent of years ago in Europe – the Nurburgring starts in the early 1960s with over 100 cars, all makes and models, hurtling to turn one, or LeMans type start running across the track to get in the car. But this race was all Mini Coopers, John Cooper and Sir Alec Issigonis smiling down on us. At the age of 74, I think I upheld the true Mini Cooper race image and was a good representative of my native English Mini Cooper racing heritage, since I was there on day 1 in 1959.
After the first few laps Grand-Prix, I settled down, keeping 100% concentration on driving my own race which is what I always do. 58 years of international racing on the most demanding tracks in the world does make a difference. I achieved my personal goals to be the best East Coast Mini whilst finishing in front of some of the West Coast and Canadian cars.
5th in Class
The vibration did get better during the race once the front wheels that were rubbing on the brake caliper had worn a groove on the inside of my new wheels!
Many, many thanks to my sponsors: Mini Mania for parts; Hoosier Tires for great grip; Midlands Motorworks of Columbia SC for heavy wrenching on the race car and transporter and for transporting the car to South Carolina; the Brusnahan Clan of Alexandria VA for financial support and providing a wonderful 38’ motorhome for Norree, Sherry and I to use for the weekend; a very special thanks to Roger Brusnahan providing excellent meals and 5:00 Happy Hour cocktails; and most of all, my wife Norree and our English Cocker, Sherry.
The entire race can be seen on YouTube. Search for Can Am Mini Challenge 2014.