IT is the end of an era as the iconic R53 MINI Cooper S bids farewell to the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, but current British Mini Challenge champ Chris Knox is determined to give the little star one final stage to shine on.
Chris, from Elderslie in Renfrewshire, Scotland, wants to give the little car a MINI Swansong for the final two rounds of the series "“ at Laguna Seca and Lime Rock.
He will team up with RSR Motorsports as part of a British/American dream team to get the Cooper S on the grid for a final showdown and hopes it will be in front of thousands of MINI aficionados.
MINI owners, fans and dealers on both sides of the Atlantic will get their chance to be directly involved with the R53 MINI Swansong in one of the most exciting and novel race programs ever put together.
Instead of one big corporate sponsor, the guys want loads of smaller businesses, dealerships, MINI owners and race fans to club together "“ and they could WIN a stack of goodies.
Chris has already started building his reputation in the States with a stunning debut show in the BMW Performance 200 on the famed Daytona International Speedway road course at the Rolex 24 Hours meeting in January.
He shared the RSR Motorsport MINI and was immediately on the same pace as the regular drivers and broke the teams lap record in the race.
Chris said: "RSR Motorsport has been a competitive presence in Grand-Am for many years and has turned the R53 Cooper S into a car that could not only challenge for race wins but as they showed last year, championships as well. The recent third place at the inaugural event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway showed there is life in the old dog yet!
"Through Facebook I heard that the R53 had run out of time at Grand-Am and 2012 was going to be its last season. They are great little cars and the fans love them. Along with Ian Rae of MotorWerks Magazine, I felt the car needed to go out on a high."
The two contacted RSR team principal Randy Smalley about a unique opportunity for MINI fans to be part of the big send-off and give the car a racing Swansong to remember.
Randy said: "When Chris contacted me I thought it was a great idea. The R53 MINI has been good to us but with no outside help to develop the R56 or the R58 it looks as if 2012 will see the end of RSR running the MINI brand. It is not that the car has become uncompetitive, it is just too old a model for Grand-Am to allow in their series. It would be fitting for us to give the MINI a good send off and Chris's MINI Swansong is a great way of doing it. It allows MINI owners and fans to come and check us out and allows them to be part of MINI history - something they will remember for the rest of their lives."
So how will it work? Chris explained: "The MINI is still a British brand, even if BMW now owns it. Wouldn't it be cool if we ended this part of its racing heritage by have a British and American driver share the car in the final two rounds and invite local MINI aficionados to become part of that history.
"We want to invite MINI owners, fans, and dealers on both sides of the Atlantic to pledge small amounts to come up with the total funding. Through the gofundme.com website, friends, acquaintances, MINI owners and businesses can pledge any amount to help make this dream come true.
"All donations will be returned minus the fees that gofundme and paypal deduct if we do not get close to our target. But we believe this program is as big a winner as the car. We are determined to make this happen and we are equally as determined to give MINI fans the chance to come along for the ride. I honestly believe that Laguna Seca and Lime Rock Park are two tracks where the MINI can still excel and RSR Motorsports have the tools, knowledge and talent to make it happen. "
MINI owner Norman Nelson - creator of the MINI Thunder events at Thunderhill - is already backing the project. He said: "As a certified MINI nut it is indeed a sad time for myself and other MINI fans. We loved the fact that we could cheer for the brand as it ran in the top tintop series in the USA. With it being the last event for MINI on the West Coast you can be assured my friends and I will be out in force, cheering on the RSR guys and Chris.
"We already have a MINI Corral organized for Laguna Seca and would love for someone to do the same at Lime Rock. I have got to know Chris over the past six months as we have talked over the Internet and can see he is indeed a talented and highly motivated individual who is perfect to represent the British side of this MINI Swansong, so let's make this happen, people!"
Chris added: "I look forward to meeting all the MINI fans at Laguna and Lime Rock. This can be a MINI celebration that everyone will remember. Thanks to Randy for the opportunity to run with such a quality team, knowing we can give the MINI the Swansong it deserves!
"We are working on promotions for the great people who decide to donate to us. Norm is giving away three free entries to next year's MINI Thunder event, MotorWerks Magazine is giving away free advertising to companies who donate over a certain dollar value and we are looking for lots of other ways to give something back.
"Ian Rae, at MotorWerks Magazine, is even going to publish an E-book recording all aspects of the MINI Swansong with all contributors thanked by name. Keep up to date daily with all our news on Facebook by searching Chris Knox Racing or checking our website at www.chrisknox.co.uk.