Electric MINI JCW: Pacesetter safety car for Formula E points to future performance model

Fully electric concept hints at zero-emissions version of high-performance John Cooper Works MINI

MINI Pacesetter

MINI has unveiled a high-performance concept version of its electric hatchback that'll serve as the safety car for the Formula E racing series. The championship has previously used both coupe and open-top versions of the BMW i8 for the job.

The 'MINI Electric Pacesetter inspired by John Cooper Works', to give its lengthy official name, will not go into production, but according to brand chief Bernd Koerber "it does reveal one of the directions we could take with the electrification of the JCW brand. For me, the message is clear: electrification and John Cooper Works are a good fit."

The expertise of BMW Motorsport, which has run a works Formula E team for the past few seasons, has been called on to develop the Pacesetter. It makes the same 181bhp as the production MINI Electric, but has a 0-62mph time of 6.7 seconds compared to the standard model's 7.3 seconds. The Pacesetter is 130kg lighter than the 1,230kg standard car.

Further upgrades come in the form of Michelin Pilot Sport tyres, three-way adjustable coilover suspension, race-spec suspension arm mountings and the wheels being spaced 10mm further apart than on the standard car. Four-piston brakes as used on the petrol-engined MINI John Cooper Works GP model have also been fitted.

MINI describes the Pacesetter's aggressive exterior design as "purpose-built for life on track", with revised wheelarches and front and rear aprons. The front end is largely enclosed for aerodynamic reasons, with no need for extensive cooling as there would be with a combustion-engined car.

Inside, the Pacesetter has been stripped out like a racing car, leaving only the bare essentials, while a welded-in roll cage has also been fitted. The driver is held in place with a six-point harness and looks through the steering at a digital instrument closer, but the larger central infotainment display of the roadgoing MINI Electric has been ditched for a lightweight carbonfibre cover. The centre console houses the gearshift lever, handbrake and controls for the car's signal lights, all in exposed carbonfibre.

The MINI Pacesetter will make its debut as the official Formula E safety car at the Rome E-Prix event on 10 April, the second round of the championship's 2020-21 season, with regular driver Burno Correia at the wheel.

Electric MINI JCW prototype hits the Nurburgring

The Pacesetter isn't the first hint we've had that MINI is working on a high-performance zero-emissions model. In December 2020, the brand released official pictures of a camouflaged prototype (pictured above) testing on Germany's Nurburgring Nordschleife racetrack.

In an accompanying statement, Koerber said: "With the MINI Electric, we’ve shown how well driving pleasure and electric mobility can be combined. Now’s the time to translate the performance passion of the John Cooper Works brand to electromobility. So we’re now working hard to develop concepts for John Cooper Works models with electric drive."

Koerber added that traditional petrol-engined JCW MINIs would continue alongside the JCW Electric, saying: "John Cooper Works models with conventional combustion engines will continue to have an important role to play in addressing the wishes and needs of our motorsport enthusiasts around the world."

When speaking previously to DrivingElectric, Koerber outlined his plan to turn JCW into an electrified sub-brand for MINI. He stated: "The perception, I would say, when you look at John Cooper Works, it’s not the perception of a full-blown sub-brand. People very often perceive it as our top model or performance model. What we would like to do is make John Cooper Works a real electric performance brand."

Following on from the fully electric MINI JCW hatchback, John Cooper Works is expected to produce performance versions of a yet-to-be revealed compact electric MINI crossover model, as well as a larger MINI SUV that'll slot into the brand's range above the Countryman. A bespoke, standalone 'halo' model from JCW has not been entirely ruled out, but won't happen in the short term.

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