When your day job is working with the world’s finest small car, just how do you find a way to unwind at the weekend? For the talented and hard-working members of OX4 Racing, they realise their idea of heaven by hustling a nicely-sorted R56 around the circuits of the UK. We caught up behind the scenes before the car was prepped to learn a few of the team’s chassis secrets.
Mini Plant Oxford is the home to many talented individuals – as well as the spiritual home of the MINI itself. And while I’m sure that every single member of the team is enthusiastic and committed, you can imagine, that once the end-of-shift hooter sounds, even the most ardent of devotees is going to switch off for the day. For one small-but-perfectly formed band of employees however, those shift-ends simply represent the start of another Mini adventure altogether…
Named after the postcode of the plant, Team OX4 Racing was formed, like all good petrol-based-japes, by a bunch of mates wanting to exercise their enthusiasm in a constructive – and competitive manner. Drivers Chris Fryer and Chris Oakman, may be mere BMW employees by day, but along with a small team of enthusiastic co-workers, they are an impressive co-operative that builds, preps and runs a hugely effective race team. These guys have been racing MINIs since 2001 and the team members commit many hours of their own time to the cause, all for love of racing, and of course , the MINI itself.
Over the last decade or so, the lads have spent many years competing in the MINI CHALLENGE, but they have also been involved in various other race series. Recently, the desire to compete in a mini-endurance styles arena saw OX4 enter the popular MSVR Team Trophy. This meant that both team drivers could take part during the same race, which featured a pit stop for all competitors halfway through proceedings. The series took place at most of the MSVR circuits, including such icons as the Brands Hatch and Silverstone GP layouts – and even the banked challenges and tricky infield of Rockingham. Better yet, it meant the mighty MINI was able to flex its muscles against a wide range of other vehicles, strutting its stuff and giant-killing in scenes that would have made Rauno Aaltonen and Paddy Hopkirk proud. Based on its impressive power-to-weight ratio, the OX4 MINI competes in Class B.
The 2014 season brought rich pickings for the team, resulting in 6 podium finishes out of 9 rounds in total. Made up of three class wins, two 2nd place finishes, and a solid 3rd, you’d have to say that the MINI is still relevant in the arena of motorsport. The car in question, an R56 flavour John Cooper Works, has punched fair above its weight since it first rolled out of the team’s workshop. The focus of this build has always been about handling prowess, rather than going down the traditional horse power route to success, which of course suits the MINI design perfectly. Last year’s race results show that this has certainly worked as the team have constantly strived to perfect the set-up under the car for each round.
So how did they do it? It would be unfair not to tip our hats to the noticeable effects of the Quaife ATB diff, the performance exhaust system, the Brembo 6-pot brakes or the larger intercooler, but really, it’s what underpins the car that has helped it to so many podiums. Based around a set of custom BILSTEIN MDS race dampers the team created a set-up that worked perfectly for them. MDS stands for Modular Damping System, and, as the name suggests, it is made of a range of optional parts that can be configured in an almost infinite number of ways to allow racecar engineers to specify exactly what they need in order to achieve the very best results. Using BILSTEIN’s proven monotube gas pressure construction, the MDS range uses aluminium body construction to reduce weight and improve cooling. Unlike most coilovers, fully independent 10-way rebound and compression adjustment via positive-detent thumbwheels makes replicable set-up an easy task. Other highlights to keep the OX4 chassis engineers happy include extra low base friction and low hysteresis to give consistent, measurable results and feedback, lap after lap.
Inside, the linear O-ring backed piston has been proven in almost every field of motorsport, whilst the Easy Clip-System allows quick change of springs, should the circuit or conditions so dictate. Ideal for fettling the set-up on race day, basically!
MDS can be built up with any reputable race springs, but BILSTEIN offered to approach their friends just down the road at Eibach for this build, to give the OX4 boys every competitive advantage. Eibach’s ERS range of springs is also available in practically every configuration you can imagine, so together, they make a formidable combination. Helper and tender springs can also be specified, either to allow a progressive spring rate to be created, or to keep a shorter main spring properly located under full damper extension. If you’re thinking of prepping track going MINI yourself, these two components combined have to be the very best way to do it.
Adding the final flurry of ability and adjustability were a couple of additional Eibach parts. The firm also donated a set of its revered anti-roll bars to the cause, as well as a set of its adjustable suspension links, which, as the pictures clearly show, assemble into a stunning array of parts. With this set-up, the OX4 team can achieve practically any geometry setting on race day, allowing it to really dial the car in for the weather conditions and circuit variations. Does it work? A glance at that enviable results sheet perhaps suggest that it might…
So, that’s at least two of the team’s finest speed secrets given away, in case you’re looking at doing something similar on your own track based car. Although neither BILSTEIN nor Eibach are famed for being the cheapest in the market place, you could easily argue that their unimpeachable quality and reputation is more than a fair trade-off. When you start to examine the collective motorsport CV of these two brands, you begin to understand just how this particular cars handles quite as well as it does.
With a heap of experience and a shelf full of trophies, what’s next for Team OX4 Racing? Well, while this particular car has plenty of life left in it yet, we do hear rumours of another top secret build starting with the bowels of the Oxford plant, based around the F56 bodyshell. With an eye on returning to the MINI Challenge series and buoyed by their success and enthusiasm, I wouldn’t bet against seeing that car topping the time sheets sooner rather than later, either!
Keep up the good work, chaps! I’ve heard about taking your work home with you… but I think this lot really know how to do it in style!
Words: Paul Cowland. Pics: Team OX4 Racing
Spec Sheet – R56 John Cooper Works
Bilstein MDS Race Dampers
Eibach Springs, Roll bars and adjustable suspension links
Powerflex Black Series Suspension Bushes
Quaife ATB Differential
Performance Exhaust system
KumhoEcsta Track Tyres
Brembo 6 Pot Brake system