MINI United 2012 was held at the Paul Ricard Circuit at Le Castellet in the South of France from the 11th to the 13th May and we were there to see the fun. The MINI press release describes a record breaking success:
Record numbers set up a feast of the spectacular.
Records were being broken as well as played in Le Castellet, as the number of enthusiasts from around the world attending the previous MINI United at Silverstone, Great Britain (25,000) was bettered once again this year. 30,000 fans took over the Circuit Paul Ricard during the three days. The majority did the honourable thing by turning up in their own MINI, some even driving 6,490 km (4,032 miles) from the outer reaches of Russia to France. There, they mingled with fellow MINI devotees from the USA, Japan and Canada, who had also etched the event into their calendars. This unique gathering of MINI models ensured that the MINI Club Area, in which 24 MINI clubs from around the world were represented, the already legendary stage for ultra-spectacularly styled cars a.k.a. Beauty Parking, and a line-up of the full MINI product family were an even greater attraction than ever for the MINI fans.
So what was our experience of MINI United like? Well first and foremost we had a fun time and in brief our highlights were, a 5 lap drive around the track behind a pacy pace car, an on road test drive of the new MINI Coupe JCW by both myself and Lady Peanut, a test drive of the Countryman SD and seeing the new MINI GP at first hand, which you can read about here.
However, it wasn't all good. The events were literally spread about all over the circuit which meant that there was a lot of walking in very hot conditions. If there were 30,000 people there, then at anyone time 26,000 of them were queuing for food at the one and only restaurant leaving the other 4,000 to try and make the place look full! Or more seriously, that would have been say 6,000, on the Friday and 12,000 on each of the Saturday and Sunday but with the way everything was so spread out it made it seem quite empty a lot of the time. It really needed compacting together to get a better atmosphere. I will qualify this though, by saying that this was only our experience and others might disagree. We stayed a long way from the track at Port Cogolin an hour and a half away at least and while the drive there and back on the Saturday going through the hills rather than through Toulon was simply epic, it did perhaps make us feel a bit detached from the event. Also, I am still only 6 weeks post major liver surgery, so by the time I had walked about the circuit all day, I was too tired to stay for the music each evening and I guess I missed out on the wonders of Iggy Pop, his Stooges and his other mates who went along for a sing song. But if I missed something sensational then in truth I'll get over it.
MINI worked hard on this festival and it was a great place to hold it but while it had more people going than Silverstone in 2009 it lacked the atmosphere that Silverstone had. Silverstone was an R50/R53 MINI and Paul Ricard was an R56 MINI. Technically, few can argue with the view that the R56 is a better product than the R50/R53 but there is more to a car than technology; the original BMW MINI had soul, spirit, heart, The R56 is faster, safer, more refined but sometimes lacks that certain (yes I'll say it as we are discussing an event in France) je ne sais quoi. This is how I felt about MINI United 2012 - it lacked that intangible quality that was so evident at Silverstone in 2009. The British contingent was small too and this made a difference. At Silverstone it seemed that everyone we ever knew, who had a MINI was there but here there were very few people whom we knew. It made me realise what a World Car the MINI really is. I think we sometimes flatter ourselves in the UK that BMW MINI needs us and the British heritage, but now I'm not so sure.
The Test Drives.
First up we went out in the MINI Coupe JCW. I went for a spin first and then Peanut. The first point to make is that you have no idea what it would be like in the UK as the roads around the track are so smooth and pothole free, that it bears no relation to the UK driving experience. Nothing then unsettled the ride so the car felt smooth and refined when ambling about but beastly when required. Overtaking was effortless and the car inspired confidence and the end result was that it felt like a great balance between refinement and performance. I suspect the balance would be a tad different in the UK. We both loved it enough to give it some serious consideration.
Next up was the Countryman SD. I like the Countryman it feels like a great space to be inside and I like the match of this 2.0 litre BMW block with the Countryman. It felt plenty fast enough but this felt more rolly and wallowy than I remember the Countryman S being and to me it did not feel as quick. Yes it had that diesel torque thing that people go on about but it just did not feel to me as quick as a Countryman S. That's it; a great balance of performace and economy, which is perhaps the correct combination for a Countryman but don't kid yourself that you have an S beater - you haven't. We would have one quite happily, but we would not move Heaven and Earth to get one, it hasn't eaten into our soul so that we can't live without one.
So that's a MINI GP and a MINI Coupe JCW for us then. Thank you very much! Now we have sorted out what we want, the only thing stopping us is the small matter of... (can I use such a vulgar swear word in cyberspace? I can - ok I'll say it) MONEY!
Driving The Track
Two options. Behind a pace car, or not behind a pace car. One was fast, the other was very, very fast. We did the track behind the pace car. I loved it. I pretended I was Stirling Moss for ten minutes, made extra car noises with my mouth, as I accelerated out of the bends and was a thoroughly happy big kid throughout!
To conclude. A great event but it could have been so, so much better.
Click on any photo for a slideshow.
Categories: Car Events 2012