Mini Challenge's Courtney Letica
Mini Challenge's Courtney Letica.
On a recent rare sun filled day International Motorsport had a 'ride day' at Pukekohe Park Raceway. It is a day where drivers can let their sponsors experience what it is actually like to ride in a race car at near race speed. IMS had their 'fleet' of Porsche 997 and 996 race-cars there as well as the two MINI Challenge cars of Courtney Letica and James Kirkpatrick. Both drivers have just completed their rookie season with Courtney home an excellent 4th overall in the six round series and Kirkpatrick 10th.
Letica's last racing was at the Hamilton 400 where he won pole and followed that up with a win on the Saturday by a 10.5 second margin. That sort of margin is unheard of in this MINI category. Letica set a track record on Saturday of 1:41.865 which was an average of 119kph. That's on a 3.4 klm track with lots of tight corners and straights where they were doing close to 200kph. In the Sunday race he led from pole and when he missed a gear change he went back to 4th. He worked his way back and at the flag finished a very close 2nd to Brent Collins by a mere two thousandth of a second.
Whilst the MINI Challenge drivers loved the Hamilton 400 track it was not an easy task as they were having to take it easy as MINI's don't have limited slip diffs - they have to be smooth through the corners to avoid wheel spin. They were also having to be ultra careful around Turn 3 which was rough to the point where it activated the ABS brakes !!
I was keen to experience the MINI having written about them all season. Observing at Pukekohe they are especially quick in the tight stuff and out on the track with the Porsches there was several occasions at the end of the back straight where they drew up alongside them.
I was a little blase about the ride having been around the track many-a-time with drivers such as Possum Bourne in the full house WRC Subaru, Mark Parsons in Neil Tolich's fabulous 1970 Perana Capri V8 where we did consistent 1:06's. Also Jason Gill's Targa beast - a very fast Evo8. The fastest (and scariest!!) I have ever been was with Matt Halliday in the Placemakers Porsche 996 at 59:8 when the then track record was 58.9.
I was buckled up on the right hand side of the Altherm, Fortress Fasteners, GIB , Placemakers Cook Street MINI Cooper S and off we went for a warm-up lap. You immediately notice how solid it is in the suspension is. By the time we were at the end of the back straight he was running at race pace. Extreme outside into the hairpin at a 90 degree angle and sliding to the outside. Flat-out through the gears onto the hill and drifting to the outside - he said we were being pushed wide by my 95kg frame. Fast down the front and the bumps seemed worse than ever. Then a harsh dab on the brakes to set it up for the right hand sweeper. Hard braking into the esses then he changed down and accelerated very hard into Castol. This kinda caught me un-awares because, from memory, in other cars you are still scrubbing speed. It's actually a wild ride through that section and on the next lap I was ready for it. My feet were short of the firewall so I could not help him brake and simply sat there with my hands in my lap.
We did five laps and averaged 1:10's which is quick in a MINI. Courtney was busy behind the wheel and not a millisecond was lost in the gearchanges nor last minute braking. That skill is probably what makes him stand out in such fierce competition.
Today in Dunedin Courtney Letica graduates from the Academy of Sport's 'Elite Motorsport Academy'.
In association with MotorSport NZ, ASI's week-long programme covered topics ranging from media skills to musculo-skeletal testing, nutrition to sponsorship presentations. Very different from any other high performance, motor sport training programme, as at no time were the participants behind the wheel of a race car.