Budding endurance star Chris Knox lived the American racing dream at the legendary Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca track in California.
The former British MINI Challenge champion turned up the heat in Monterey by producing a string of hot laps in the RSR Motorsports MINI R53 - despite having only ever "driven" the track on a computer simulator.
Chris - from Elderslie in Renfrewshire, Scotland - had walked the track as a kid and seen some YouTube footage but his test laps were so good that team boss Randy Smalley decided to give the young Scot the lion's share of the driving duties in the Continental Tire Sports Car Festival Powered by Mazda event in Monterey at the weekend.
After a string of mechanical and handling issues the RSR Motorsports MINI qualified in last place, 62nd on the grid. But Randy produced a battling stint then handed the car to the team's new young gun.
And Chris responded with a performance that attracted the attention of the whole paddock as he steered the MINI from the back of the grid into a top ten position in the ST class. Chris even pulled off a stunning overtaking move on the approach to the iconic Corkscrew to take ninth place on the final lap.
Chris - who also starred at Daytona International Speedway in January when he was the only member of the team to clock an average lap speed over 100mph despite never having seen the track before - is determined to make the most of the opportunity to forge a full-time racing career in the States.
He said: "We faced a lot of challenges, which wasn't ideal but the RSR team did a terrific job. They had to replace the clutch during one practice session and the car was a real handful during qualification. We made the decision just to park it up and go for it in the race.
"We were chasing the perfect set-up and we were struggling for pace but Randy and I were determined to put on a show for the MINI fans.
"We started last, but the team gambled with the strategy and it paid off for us. The first yellow flag caution came about 15 minutes into the race. The team took the decision to put me in the car then so I had two and a quarter hours behind the wheel.
"I caught the pack up, then we jumped a load of guys as they had to pit. It was a great call by the team. We started picking off the cars in front of us and I managed to into ninth on the approach to the Corkscrew.
"I was absolutely delighted to have got into the top ten, given the problems we had and the amount of time I had on track. I think I have shown what I can do. Daytona was special, but this was tough. I did the whole stint on one set of tires. The longest I have done before this was 45 minutes, but this was two and a quarter hours. It was the only way to make the strategy work, so I was glad I pulled it off because I had really bad understeer for the last hour."
Chris was also delighted to tame the famous Laguna Seca track and realize a childhood dream to race in California.
He said: "It was unbelievable. You can drive it as often as you want on a simulator or you can watch hundreds of laps on YouTube but it will not do the place justice. You won't get a true idea of the elevation changes. Even the front straight is so uphill. Everything about the circuit was a real challenge.
"The focus is on the Corkscrew and that is amazing. The first time I took it on, I was amazed at how little you can see. You basically aim for a tree - that is the only reference point.
"But it is not the toughest on the track. The left-hander before the Corkscrew as you come over the crest was a challenge because the car was a handful. You got a wheel off there and you knew you were in trouble.
"But the left-hander after the Corkscrew, Rainey Curve, is so hard. You expect to get a lot of grip but you had to fight the car to get it round and it was the same every lap. But what a buzz!"
The Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca event was the first of a stunning double-header to give the MINI R53 a sparkling send-off from the Continental Tires Sports Car Challenge.
The final race will be at Lime Rock, with Chris hoping to make another big impact. He joined forces with CruiseAmerica, RSR Motorsports, Motorwerks Magazine and Norman Nelson of Shasta MINIS to create the MINI Swansong. That fund-raising campaign attracted the attention of MINI owners, dealers and fans across the world.
There were more than 50 MINIS at the track as part of the Swansong and MINI USA brought the only pre-production new MINI JCW GPII to the track.
Many of those who supported the cause were at Laguna Seca to meet Chris and see the car. He added: "They were brilliant. I spent a lot of time with them and I am so glad they could be part of giving the car a decent send-off. They were all together watching the car come through the Corkscrew and I am sure I could hear them cheering every time I went past them."
Ride on board with Chris Knox for a lap of the Snetterton 300 circuit in the Lohen MINI Cooper S. Expect the same smooth style, that helped crown him the 2011 MINI Challenge champion, when he gets behind the wheel of the RSR Motorsports R53 MINI Cooper S in September. Help Chris by Donating to MINI Swansong 2012.
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.
CALLING all MINI businesses, dealers, owners and fans, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you to carve yourself a slice of Motorsport and motoring history. You can be part of a party that willgive you a host of stunning memories. You can give the iconic R53 MINI aSwansong. We want to get a British/American driver line-up in thelittle car with the big heart for its final two Continental TireSports Car Challenge races at Laguna Seca and Lime Rock. If we can raise the funding we need, these won't just be races, they will be Motorsport EVENTS with thousands of fans, dealers and MINI ownersenjoying the festivities. And it won't cost you as much as you think.
You decide how much you want to donate. Let's team up and get the party started!!