WHY IS PET SO CUTE?
The guest car is run by the Mini UK VIP team, a four-car splinter cell of ExcelR8 Motorsport, the outfit which runs more than 14 cars in total in the Challenge.
Alongside the chrome Union Flag-wrapped car I’m driving, the team is running 2015 Mini Challenge champion Charlie Butler-Henderson, multiple race-winner Rob Smith and James Turkington, brother of double British Touring Car champ Colin.
Elsewhere on the grid, there’s current BTCC driver Jeff Smith (who’s racing in both championships on the same weekend, using a helicopter to get him from BTCC qualifying at Donington Park in time to do the same in the Mini), the Honda factory-backed BTCC outfit Team Dynamics runs two cars for Will and Henry Neal, sons of triple touring car champion Matt, and up and down the field there’s a host of champions and winners from other series in the UK and beyond.
Although each Mini Challenge car begins life on the production line at Cowley, it’s whisked away to a very different upbringing. Other than the bodyshell and the rear brakes, the race car shares very little with the JCW road car I drove to the circuit.
Suspension is taken care of by three-way adjustable Nitron dampers, with adjustable camber front and rear, and giant racing brakes at the front. Even the power steering is race-specific, with a different motor mounted on the steering column.
An ECU upgrade bumps the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine’s power output up to around 255bhp, and it’s hooked up to a race-spec limited-slip differential and six-speed sequential Quaife gearbox – more on which in a bit. A Boeing-spec wing sprouts from the tailgate (although it doesn’t create much in the way of meaningful downforce), and certain body panels are changed to fibreglass – including the vent-slashed bonnet and ground-hugging front bumper.