March 2014.

"Here in Los Angeles the streets are actually worse than the Dakar Rally so you need a car like this." - Jay Leno on the MINI ALL4 Racing

 

What's it like to hit the accelerator on a beastly MINI ALL4 Racing? Legend of night-time television and automotive enthusiast Jay Leno wanted to find out, so he took one for a spin with 2014 Dakar Rally champion Nani Roma across the towering dunes of the Mojave Desert outside Los Angeles.

 

Watch the full episode from the series Jay Leno's Garage, then catch an exclusive MINI Space interview with Jay about his appreciation for MINI of the past and the present and some of his first experiences driving.

MINI Space (MS): What's the one thing about this car you find most impressive?

Jay Leno (JL): The thing I found really impressive is that the car is virtually unbreakable. As someone who restores cars and works on cars, I know how fragile they can be. This thing is just a monster. You can push it over and roll it over. That was the most impressive part.

 

It has so much power. You think of MINI as being agile and handling well, you don't think of it as being powerful. This is a really powerful car. It has a lot of torque, there's a lot of horsepower for the size and the weight. That's the really impressive part.

MS: Did anything about it surprise you?

JL: The fun thing about it is how controllable it is. When you put a novice in a racecar and they go out on the track, they either spin out or stall. None of that happens with that car because the power overcomes everything else. When you feel it start to bog down, if you're in the wrong gear, you just put your foot in it and it comes right back again. It keeps you from embarrassing yourself.

MS: How'd you originally get into cars?

JL: When I was a teenager we'd wait for the first snowfall and we'd take our Dads' cars and go to the empty supermarket parking lot and just slide around. That's what this felt like. Like back in the day. You get up in those dunes and the car is so controllable, you can drive it with the throttle.

MS: A lot of people might see the MINI ALL4 Racing and just see all the power of the car but forget some of the less obvious skills required by the driver. What are some of the things in that department that people should consider?

JL: I've always appreciated this kind of motoring. There's a tremendous amount of stamina it takes to do this. Just the physical strength you need; to do this you need to be in top physical shape as well as have the mental agility to drive this.

MS: MINI has proven itself as plenty aggressive over the years, but it's of course also famous for its compact frame. How does it feel to be in a MINI whose bulk matches its bite?

JL: When you take a look at a car like the MINI ALL4 Racing - a car brand that's making headlines today but also steeped in rally history - how do you connect past and present? How much are you thinking about rally wins from the past like Monte Carlo in the 1960s and how much do you look only at the most recent finish line? The thing I like best about it is that it looks like a MINI and it is a MINI. I enjoy race cars when a manufacturer uses their own engine and the car looks like it's supposed to. When I was growing up in the 60s, that was when NASCAR was the most fun for me because Chevys looked like Chevys, Chryslers looked like Chryslers, Fords looked like Fords. Chrysler had the Hemi, Chevy had the porcupine engine, Ford had the big 429, 428, 427, and that was exciting. The rules for this race are that you must use the manufacturer's engine and must be 80% original parts, which keeps the costs down and makes it affordable for people to race. It also makes the fan identify with the car, because, wow, my car looks like that and has that engine in it.

 

You can only live in the time you live in. In the 1960's MINI competed against the best in the world, and they compete against the best in the world now. The Falcons and those cars were running massive V8s; 5-litre and 6-litre vs 1-litre, and less. So that was pretty impressive, but you can't really compare one era to the other. That's what's impressive. MINI did it 50 years ago and they're doing it now.

MS: What's the one word you would use to describe driving the MINI ALL4 Racing?

JL: Well the one word that always describes driving a MINI is fun. When the MINI came out, John Surtees, James Hunt, all these other guys drove them because they were - fun. It's not a matter of cost, and I think that's the real key because guys with Ferraris get a huge kick out of driving MINI. A lot of guys you meet, that's their everyday car because they use it to zip around town and they use the other car for the weekend. Fun is the only word I can use to describe it. And men and women use the same word.