Professional Indycar Driver James Hinchcliffe drove my car…
That was to be one of MANY highlights for this unbelievable MINI Canada event on a cold March morning in Orangeville.
The day started bright and early when a small group of enthusiastic owners met at MINI Vaughan West and made their way into the Hockley Valley where we discovered many gorgeous vistas and some fantastic twisty roads. Meanwhile, a group had departed from MINI Oakville to make their way through the Forks of the Credit before converging on everyone’s main destination: The Orangeville Fairgrounds.
(Photo Courtesy of Chris Jav)
On arrival everyone was given a free MINI Toque (score!) and were to sign a waiver to ensure that all their Hooniganism would be their responsibility. Papers were signed, cars were warmed up, the excitement was palpable.
During the pre-drive meeting MINI Canada introduced the surprise celebrity who had been flown from Indianapolis just for this event…yes the aforementioned James Hinchcliffe. (watch a short clip from the Globe and Mail featuring Mr. Hinchcliffe and comparing his use of his Indycar vs his daily driver, yes a 2009 JCW MINI. I loved his quote “It’s fast enough that I CAN get into trouble, but not so fast that I WILL get into trouble” link here) What an exciting treat and surprise. The crowd was told that, time permitting, you would be able to ride with him for a hot lap. Safety was priority one, and ensuring the well-being of the safety cones was also a consideration. It was also the only time we have been instructed to turn OFF traction control. Time to line up!
The course was set out on a flat piece of land adjacent to the main fair building and was essentially a minute-long, snow-covered, hairpin turn, drifters dream. Every corner gave you the opportunity to swing your car sideways before resetting to handle the next bend. Two coaches were there to give guidance before launching off and when finishing and times were kept for each run. The All4 Countryman and Paceman had no problem taking off and heading sideways around every bend without any parking brake assistance. The FWD models, of which there was the majority, had a bit more difficulty launching, and with a little bit of help from the parking brake could get themselves going horizontal. What was consistent regardless of make or model was the smiles on everyone’s face. This has to be the most fun I’ve ever had at a driving-focused event. Each lap you had to decide what your focus would be…fastest time, or maximum sideways? Sideways was ALWAYS the way to go!
(Photos Courtesy of Chris Jav)
(Photo Courtesy of MINI Canada, Fotographia)
After about 3 runs per car the track started to get incredibly icy and certain sections you almost coasted through just hoping you’d get grip on the other side. There were teams dispatched to remove cars stuck on the side banks, and one bumper did look a little worse for wear. All things considered the driving was steady and eventful for all the right reasons and no one was held up for more than a minute or two. The great advantage to having to line-up between each run was it gave your engine and brakes a little chance to cool as you made your way around to start again. All in everyone had about 6 runs in 2 hours, which was just enough to feel satisfied but wanting MORE! Thanks to fellow Club member Kyle Connor I was able to try out an All4 Countryman and, honestly, this event alone may have changed my mind from considering the new 5 door hatch to the upcoming Clubman. The All4 system was so effortless and fun in the snow, and really in Canada snowy conditions happen more than I care to admit… I think MINI Canada achieved it’s goal of demonstrating it’s amazing All4 system.
Oh, almost forgot…Hinchcliffe! At first he was mostly just enjoying watching people bomb around, but then, thanks to MINI consultant Keith Smout, he started taking people out for hot laps in THEIR cars. I had the pleasure of meeting Keith a couple of times previous at various events and so he generously came up to my window and said if I could ditch the kiddie seats in the back than James would take my brother and I out for a lap. I don’t think I’ve removed the seats quite that fast before. It was a tremendous learning experience just watching how James would handle my car. He was very generous with the parking brake and never left first. He was quite friendly and it was a huge honour to have someone of that calibre take a seat in the Avro Aero! Should have had him sign the dashboard… You can check out the video of him in my car here.
After the driving was done MINI Canada led us all on a beautiful drive back through the Hockley valley and to the Rosemont General Store and Cafe for lunch. I was expecting sandwiches and a drink but in true MINI style they set the bar beyond reach. Greeting us was a full sit-down meal complete with classic British Fare such as Bangers and Mash, or Eggs, Chips and Beans. There were British themed Menu’s and Napkins, and a Snowkyo Drift Placemat. It gave us all the opportunity to unwind and tell tales about our epic morning and meet some new MINIAC friends along the way. The owner of the Rosemont came by and told us how she had saved the store from shutting down and had restored it and even turned it into a community hub. It was such a fantastic little place and one I will definitely be returning to as the weather starts to improve.
Overall I can not overstate how amazing this morning was. MINI Canada literally hit it out of the ballpark in every way. The organization, the creativity, the passion, and thoughtfulness of ensuring every owner walked away happy and excited was evident in every facet of the event.
Bravo MINI Canada, and we can’t wait to see if there will be a sequel!
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