Mini Odyssey 2006
NEWS ON RADIO
with Next Car,
29th March, 2006
The achievements of the Mini brand are about to be multiplied, as three identical Mini Cooper S hatches travel an odyssey of unparalleled boldness. Having left Johannesburg in South Africa, these three Minis are aiming their noses towards Oxford in the UK, travelling up the eastern side of Africa on a 49-day journey that pays tribute to the heritage of a model made famous by BMC, when Austin and Morris introduced the Sir Alec Issigonis designed Mini.
Forty-seven years after the world debut of the first Mini, the car that revolutionised what the motor car represents to thousands of people, this small but sporting athlete from Britain has become a success in over 70 countries around the world. And, on the 'Mini Odyssey', Mini will spread its reputation to countries that might never before have experienced the new model.
“Mini has made automotive history by breaking the rules, achieving the impossible and doing the unexpected. It’s part of our DNA. It’s what makes Mini a car that looks, feels and drives like no other,” explains Diana Blake, General Manager: Mini at BMW South Africa. “And here we go again – taking Mini, literally, to the furthest extremes.”
Travelling from Johannesburg, South Africa through Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, the Mini Odyssey convoy will cross the Mediterranean by ferry to Italy and through France before reaching its final destination, the Mini Plant at Oxford in England.
Here, on 25th April 2006, the convoy will be greeted by some of the 4,500-strong Mini Plant workforce.
“When we’re asked why we’re planning to drive three Minis overland through Africa to Oxford, our answer is always the same – why not?,” continues Blake. “And it’s this same Mini ability to take on any challenge that Mini Odyssey will epitomise.”
Led by 58-year old Roger Pearce, the four-man Mini Odyssey team is well-suited to the challenges that Africa will dish up.
Pearce, who was also responsible for the preparation of the three Mini Cooper S hatches that will take place in the Mini Odyssey, is a veteran of several long-distance rallies, including the London to Cape Town in 1990, the London to Sydney in 1993, the London to Mexico in 1995, the Shield of Africa in 1998, two Targa-Tasmania events in 1996 and 1998 and a further London to Sydney event in 2000. Most recently, he undertook a solo excursion from South Africa to Silverstone, UK in 2004, along a route very similar to that which the Minis will use.
The other two Minis will be piloted by Steve Mearns and Matthew Nash (both 25), both of whom have extensive rally and technical experience, while Sean Simpson (36), an ex-Navy communications specialist turned television producer will act as back-up driver, ensuring the Mini Odyssey team stays in touch with the outside world.
While Mini Odyssey is designed to draw attention to Mini’s thrill-seeking nature, it will also highlight the robust durabilty and mechanical integrity of every Mini.
Obviously, the nature of the terrain to be found on the Mini Odyssey route – particularly north of Kenya – has necessitated some small changes to the cars but even team-leader Pearce was surprised at how little attention the three Mini Cooper S vehicles have needed in order to commence the expedition.
“The over-riding characteristics that these three Minis have displayed in the run-up to this expedition has been mechanical and structural strength,” explains Pearce, the owner of a workshop acclaimed for servicing, rebuilding and the general maintenance of classic and historic racing cars. “Apart from ensuring we’ve got enough ground clearance and sufficient underbody protection, along with steel rims and robust tyres, these cars are mechanically identical to the Minis available to customers.”
Preparation of the cars took an extraordinarily short amount of time – two months to be exact. The development of the suspension and underbody modifications were carried out on one vehicle and later transferred, in identical format, to the other two. This included a nose-to-tail skid-plate underneath each car and shocks and springs, with strut braces for the suspension turrets, that have raised the ground clearance to approximately 230 mm. Sixteen inch steel rims with 6-ply tyres are fitted to handle the extreme surfaces the Minis will traverse once they leave the smooth ashphalt of Zambia.
In addition, a fundamental requirement of Mini Odyssey is that each Mini Cooper S is essentially self-sufficient along the entire journey. To this end, the rear seats and interior cladding have been removed to accommodate the supplies needed for the journey. These provisions include toolboxes, tools, hoses, tow ropes, nuts & bolts, puncture kits and electrical maintenance equipment, jacks, tyre levers, wheel spanners, jerry cans, fire-extinguishers, first aid kits, sand spades & sand plates, jumper-cables and even a freezer in one of the cars.
Each car will also carry two spare wheels, as well as all food and sleeping equipment required by the team, and is fitted with a satelitte navigation system.
Roger Pearce (58)
Roger Pearce is one of the defining travel adventurers of our time. Undoubtedly his biggest claims to fame are long distance rallies – competing in the London to Cape Town in 1990, the London to Sydney in 1993, the London to Mexico in 1995, Shield of Africa in 1998, two Targa-Tasmania events in 1996 and 1998 and a further London to Sydney in 2000. In 2004, he drove from South Africa to Silverstone, UK in a classic MGB GT.
Pearce is also responsible for Rolo Motors, acclaimed for servicing, rebuilding and general maintenance of classic cars and the largest outlet for classic car spares, service and sales in South Africa.
Pearce has also won the South African Historic championship three times. However, he has always preferred long-distance challenges.
With this sort of experience, Pearce was the first choice team leader for Mini Odyssey, and is responsible for the route planning, logistics and vehicle preparation.
Pearce is also the current Chairman of Motorsport South Africa, the equivilent of CAMS.
Steve Mearns (25)
Steve Mearns is a motoring editor; after studying journalism, his interest in motoring and motorsport ushered him into his current field though the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists Bursary programme.
It wasn’t long before he became actively involved in another passion – rallying.
Having competed on a national level for three years, one of them in a E36 BMW, Mearns has acquired the prerequisite mechanical skills for an overland adventure of this proportion.
In addition, Mearns gained further experience for a journey of this nature, having travelled extensively into Africa for exploratory holidays, sometimes covering 10,000km in short four-week periods.
His objective on Mini Odyssey is to keep the world up to date with the trials, tribulations and triumphs of the Minis and the crew as they take on the daunting challenge of Africa.
Matthew Nash (25)
Mathew Nash has dedicated most of his life to understanding all things mechanical – and as a certified BMW/Mini mechanic he has learnt the intricacies of the vehicles set to traverse the African Continent.
However, apart from perfecting the art of spanner-wielding, Nash is also an accomplished driver. In 1999 and 2000, Nash competed in the fast 100cc Super kart category, finishing 6th overall in the competitive class of racing.
In 2003, he became a qualified Porsche technician, working at the Porsche Centre in Johannesburg. Directly thereafter, his technical skills took him over to BMW and Mini.
In 2004, Nash was also the head mechanic for the Alfissimo team in the South African Production Car championship, while 2005 saw him take responsibility for a highly competitive single-seat race car.
Sean Simpson (36)
When Sean Simpson, the Communications Director and back-up driver, joined the navy as a communications specialist, he spent two and a half years aboard ships priming his passion for television production.
Simpson’s previous association with Mini involves a former television advertising campaign that won numerous accolades and awards in the international arena.
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