are a professional rally-prep guru, with 20 spare Mini bodyshells, a
stack of competition-spec Astra bits, and you've entered a rally carnival
& Photography: Carlin Gerbich
is no stranger to rallying but very few have ever hit a special stage
with the presence of this wide-arched, Vauxhall-powered Rover Mini Cooper
SPi created by Dutch race and rally preparation specialist Frans Verbaas.
Based in Oud-Beijerland, near Rotterdam in southern Holland, Verbaas
Preparations has been specialising in building, developing and running
rally cars for clients for over 20 years and the Mini is the latest
in a line of world class cars to have come from their company headquarters
over recent years.
business has got bigger over the years, says Frans, Were
now preparing a (Mitsubishi)
Evo X car for a customer, and weve also built Lancias, Sierras,
Imprezas and Escorts for people who want them. But the Mini is for me.
The company has recently been awarded the Dutch franchise for Citroëns
C2 R2 rally car, and has a continuous list of other projects on the
was with Minis that the company cut its rallying teeth. Franss
father owned a Mini dealership and ran a sideline business in hire cars
and Minivans in the 1960s and 70s. Frans learnt to drive in a
Mini and his first rally car was, naturally enough, a Cooper S 1300
which he built with the help of his dad and brother to compete in local
rally sprints and other events. Frans switched to an Opel Astra in 2002
when British rally preparation firm BTR, headed by Tim Ashton, sold
off its stock to make room for its expanding Mitsubishi Evo and FTO
business. BTR Prep, based in Castleford, Yorkshire was charged with
building cars and supplying technical support staff and technicians
for Opel Team Belgiums rally team between 1990 and 1995
and had won the 1993 F2 World Championship with Bruno Thiry and its
Group A cars. BTR Prep also had considerable success in Russia and Turkey
with not only the Astra F2 kit car but also its Group N production class
cars, so when the company decided to get rid of its Astra cars and parts,
Frans stepped in and scooped up as much as he could.
run various Astras in numerous rallies and rallysprints in Holland,
Belgium and the UK, Frans felt the need for a challenge and a return
to his roots. He had also twice competed in the Barbados Rally Carnival with Astras, first a Group N
GSI in 2003 (DNF) and then an F2 kit car (fifth in class, 27th overall)
and said the all-inclusive regulations, coupled with the islands
hospitality, meant he wanted to return with a car that the motorsport-mad
locals would appreciate.
With a collection of around 20 spare Mini bodyshells stored around the
companys 5600-square foot workshop (equipped with lathes, milling
machines, damper dynos and everything else required to produce
world class rally cars) and a stack of Astra rally parts on hand, it
didnt take Frans too long to start formulating plans for his hybrid
rally car. He began by measuring the engine bay and chassis of a 1993
Mini Cooper SPi that had been lying dormant under a dust sheet for several
years and calculating what needed to be done to incorporate as much
of the Astra as he possibly could.
never any doubt in Franss mind about using the Astra engine in
the Mini. The C20XE is one of the most reliable in motorsport, and is
a far cheaper way of developing sensible levels of power than building
a full, race spec, A-Series engine. Frans also considered fitting a
race prepared 1600cc GM engine and competing in a lower class, but decided
against it. The idea was to have a high revving, say to 9000rpm,
1600cc engine that made about 220bhp, says Frans, but to
make such an engine costs £10,000, and there is a lot of driving
in traffic and hills between stages in Barbados, so this type of engine
is not very good for that. Its not so reliable.
N 2-litre C20XE fitted with throttle bodies, however, is a largely standard
engine that develops, according to a post Rally Barbados rolling road
session, 183bhp at the wheels at 6-6500rpm with a potential 30bhp
more on tap at around 7750rpm. All without the prohibitive cost of attempting
to eek every ounce of power out of a smaller, finely-focused engine.
Frans reasoned that adapting the car to accept the Astras front
subframe was a better way of incorporating the engine, gearbox and suspension
into the Mini than configuring his own. It meant that he could use parts
he already had and was familiar with without having to replace them
with bespoke parts and having to restock the workshop or service van.
The expensive Pilbeam uprights could be used, so too could the Astra
kit cars brakes, wheels and tyres and the driveshafts were
exactly the same length. I thought about it for a long time,
Frans explained. The important thing for me was that the car still
looked like a Mini. I didnt want to have a Clubman front on the
car just to make the engine fit: it needed to look as much like the
original car as we could.
by cutting out the Minis rotten floor and redundant firewall and
assembling the bodyshell on a jig to help support it during the transformation.
New floors were sourced through Mini Spares and welded into place, while
the new firewall was constructed to accommodate the Works Astras
front subframe, engine and transmission. Frans fitted his own bespoke
rollcage welded from lengths of steel tubing and triangulated for optimum
strength, and positioned the front struts so that the top mounts poked
through the tops of the wings and are located by the cars rollcage.
This was done partly through necessity: the Astras subframe and
suspension is a little wider than the Mini is able to accommodate without
compromising suspension geometry and partly through good design,
because it offers far more suspension travel than standard. It also
means Frans can quickly change suspension geometry settings or dampers
should he need to, without opening the bonnet.
did, however, trigger the cars biggest exterior change:
the squared, Group B-esque wheel arch extensions that house the
cars 17x7-inch Team Dynamics alloys and AP Racing brakes.
Because weight was not going to be an issue (class minimums for
Barbados are 910kgs: the Mini weighs around 800kgs), Frans made
the arches from steel instead of composite. Sure, you can
get nice shapes with carbon, but I wanted it to be strong and
easy to repair, he explained. The shape was refined using
cardboard to produce a template, then the steel sections were
cut and welded into place, while a length of welding wire was
used to protect the edges.
of the most difficult jobs was positioning the Opel Kadett steering
column, but the chassis jig took a lot of the guesswork out of
the process. We could mount everything to see how it would
fit instead of hanging everything in the air and guessing roughly
where it needed to go, say Frans. Its really
the only way to get things accurate.
his best efforts, engine bay space was still at a premium. The
original Astra GSI exhaust manifold was still too close to the
radiator, so Frans modified it by first bending it slightly so
that it would sit further away, repositioning the fan and welding
on a collecting tank at one end to increase water capacity. With
ambient temperatures in Barbados of around 32 degrees C during
the event, Frans was acutely aware of the need to ensure the engine
wouldnt cook itself.
Verbaas is a Koni stockist (his workshop is 500m from the Koni factory),
so used the companys dampers, built to his own specifications,
at either end of the car. The rear A-arm suspension was modified to
produce a perfect balance of stability and grip. The car was 70
per cent complete by the time he loaded it up with parts and brought
it to the UK for shipping out to Barbados. Engine mapping was completed
in Surrey by Steve Broughton at SBD on the way to Portsmouth where it
was loaded on to a Geest liner and shipped to Barbados. Finishing touches
to the set-up were done during a few test sessions on the island prior
to the event.
anything, you think you have lots of time but, in reality, you end up
getting it close to where you want it and spend time when you get there
making sure everything is right, explains Frans. I must say, it felt pretty good out
of the box, and we had no real problems on the rally, so second in Group
B (see sidebar) was pretty good. We found out later that I was shifting
a bit too early, so there is more power available, but the balance was
good and the car was very fast, he said.
little niggles are relatively easy to sort out. Inlet temperatures are
around 55 degrees C which Frans says is a little too high. The bonnet
louvres were designed to draw hot air away from the engine bay, but
they didnt work as well as expected either. We didnt
have time to make a carbon box for the inlet, so once we do this, that
should bring the temperatures down about 10-15 degrees, he says. The
roof vent flap didnt work as well as hed hoped either: the
angle of the windscreen means the airflow shoots straight over it, and
the only thing that flows into the car is dust. Frans has already got
a solution for that in place.
said, Frans was exceptionally happy with the way the car performed on
its debut outing. Second in class behind local driver Greg Cozier in
his Vauxhall-powered Exige.
We have some work to do with the dampers and suspension,
says Frans. The first days rougher roads were very hard
on the suspension so we probably need to go with a softer set-up to
let the car drift a little more. It was better on day two with the smoother
roads, so I think we have the balance right for then.
intends to be back in Barbados in 2010 to better his result this year.
Weve made a few changes and we should be a lot faster next
rallying and the first thing that pops into most peoples
heads is wet and cold Welsh forestry stages. But every year a
band of smart rally enthusiasts side-step the muddy service parks
of traditional rural rally territory and head to the Caribbean
island paradise of Barbados for two weeks of sun-tanned action. Barbados
has been welcoming international motorsport competitors for over
50 years and this year marks the 20th running of an annual international
special stages rally on the island. Its certainly an exotic
place to compete but that doesnt mean its expensive.
The £1600 entry fee covers shipping, entry fees, third party
event insurance and inbound port charges (Barbados). A special
deal with event sponsors means flights on Virgin Atlantic are
around £480, and accommodation is available at below season
locals are dedicated to making the event as friendly, open and
stress-free as possible, and this is reflected in everything from
their hospitality to their all-encompassing technical regulations.
Class structure is essentially based on FIA rules (with a few
local adaptations) so any car built to MSA UK Blue Book guidelines
is eligible. If, for some reason, it doesnt fit then organisers
have a catch-all category called Group B which is fairly flexible.
More often than not, however, Group B is where many cars that
simply dont make the weight for their class end up.
Verbaass Mini was built to comply with Super Modified 10
(2-litre, two-wheel drive, Group A) regulations but, because it
was more than 100kgs underweight and Frans didnt
want to pack the car with additional weight, the car was relegated
to Group B where it was pitched against a Vauxhall-powered Lotus
Exige driven by local hot shoe Greg Cozier, a Cosworth-powered
rear-wheeldrive Ford Puma (Andrew Hurley, England) and a lightweight
Peugeot 205 (Norman Catwell, Barbados). Second in class behind
Cozier was a well-earned spot.
Barbados consists of two events over two consecutive weekends
in May: the Shell V-Power King of the Hill sprint (May 23, 2010)
and the rally itself (May 29 and 30), sponsored by Barbados based
fuel, lubricant, bitumen and LPG company Sol. Sol distributes
its products throughout the Caribbean (from the Cayman Islands
in the north, to Grenada in the South, Belize in central America
to Guyana and Suriname in South America) so its support
of the event is considerable. The rally itself consists of very
short sprint stages and is a two-day event. Its not easy
for newcomers to adapt: theres very little room for error
on the islands slippery tarmac, particularly after a short
rain shower, and, with no stage longer than 7km (just over four
miles), theres absolutely no opportunity to make up for
lost time. Its a challenging event and one in which only
two Europeans have ever conquered: Irishman Kenny McKinstry (1993
and 1996) and fellow countryman and current IRC champion Kris
youd like to know more about Rally Barbados and its 20th
Anniversary celebrations in May 2010, check outwww.rallybarbados.com for details on how you can
Body 1993 Mini Cooper SPi main bodyshell with modified
front end for Vauxhall Astra subframe assembly, suspension, engine
and transmission, seam-welded steel bodyshell, steel wing and
sill extensions with Gurney-style side-foils front and rear, Williams
F1 carbon rear wing, aluminium alloy sump guard, Lexan side windows,
F1-style carbon wing mirrors, aluminium rear underfloor diffuser,
bonnet ventilation louvers, exposed strut top mounts made by Verbaas
Preparations, steel roof vent with mesh filter, FIA-approved rollcage
by Verbaas Preparations, triangulated construction and assembled
using 45x2.5, 40x2, 40x1, 28 x1 lengths of tubing.
Engine Opel C20XE 1999cc inline four cylinder block, naturally
aspirated, standard pistons, con-rods and crank, gas-flowed 16v
head with standard valves and cams, steel Group A sump, Laminova
oil cooler, standard head gasket, modified Astra radiator (curved,
fan relocated and expansion tank fitted), MBE 9A4 ECU, Siemens
injectors (4), FSE fuel pump, ATL D fuel cell with foam interior,
running on 98 octane fuel, engine mapped by Steve Broughton at
Transmission Sadev ST90 six-speed sequential geared to
165kmh/103mph top speed and driving the front wheels only, Sadev
plate-type differential, AP clutch cover and Helix Plate (hydraulic
Suspension Front: Pilbeam designed MacPherson strut arrangement,
Rose-jointed links and Koni Racing 2817 gas-filled dampers built
to Verbaas Preparations spec, 40Nm springs, Corsa steering column
with electrical assistance. Rear: A-arm arrangement with Koni
Racing 2812 gas-filled dampers and 30Nm springs.
|Wheels and tyres 17x7 Team Dynamics aluminium alloys (ET40)
with 200/615/17 Kumho Ecsta racing tyres in K10 and K20 compounds
running at between 1.5 and 1.8 bar.
|Brakes Front: 295x28mm steel AP Racing discs with four-pot AP Racing (Group
A) brakes and Pagid RS 4-2 carbon-based pads. Rear: 256x20mm steel
AP Racing discs with two-pot AP Racing (Group A) brakes and Pagid
RS 4-2 carbon-based pads.
Interior Racetech Kevlar/carbon raceseats with Schroth multi-point
harnesses, SPA dished steering wheel, Verbaas Preparations-designed
aluminium pedal box and steering column-mounted sequential shifters,
vertical fly-off handbrake, MBE driver display, SPA extinguisher
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