Kings Island Gets MINI Coaster

Future Cars: BMW/MINI/Rolls-Royce (5/16/2005)

2005 MINI Cooper S Convertible by TCC Team (9/6/2004)
You have to put the top down. It says so right here.

The first time we rode this thing, I lost my sunglasses. The second time, we got wet.

MINI RollercoasterWe were among 400 guests to ride the cool new The Italian Job Stunt Track coaster at Paramount’s Kings Island park ( near Cincinnati, Ohio, the day before its May 20 opening. In addition to 120 media and park and Paramount VIP, there were a couple hundred members of American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE,, an 8000-strong club whose mission is to “foster and promote the conservation, appreciation, knowledge and enjoyment of the art of the classic wooden roller coaster and the contemporary steel coaster.”

Based on the action-packed finale of Paramount’s 2003 The Italian Job, starring Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron, this two-minute adventure simulates a high-speed chase through movie sets and scenes inspired by the film’s climactic sequence. Each twelve-seat car is a tethered trio — one-each red, white, and blue, as in the movie — of 3/4-scale MINI Cooper S replicas, complete with stripes, hood scoop, wire-mesh grille, and working head- and taillamps.

The multi-million dollar MINI coaster required a year of planning and six months to build, with Paramount’s engineers receiving technical advice from MINI to ensure authenticity. Designed to accommodate 800 riders per hour, it’s expected to attract nearly a million a year. The Paramount/MINI partnership is a logical follow-up to their highly successful teamwork in filming the movie in 2002, the year after the car’s U.S. debut. MINI provided 32 cars for the hairy chase scenes; three converted to electric power for the tricky tunnel chase scenes.

We read in advance that the cars reach speeds of 40 mph over 2000 feet of track with turns banked up to 88 degrees and an elevation change of 53 feet. On paper, that sounded fairly tame, so we figured it might compare to the GM Test Track ride at Disney’s Orlando, Florida, Epcot Center, which simulates (sort of) test drivers working out cars at GM’s Proving Grounds.

The park’s written description sounded somewhat more exciting:

Guests experience what it’s like to be a Hollywood stunt driver and go behind the scenes of an action movie. Guests board their very own MINI Cooper S tricked out with audio special effects adding to the multi-sensory sensation of the experience. Once strapped into their custom stunt car, rubber meets the road as the MINIs peel out to begin their chase sequence. Drivers twist through a parking garage, dodge near-collisions, race down stairs, chase through tunnels and narrowly escape massive explosions triggered by gunfire from a menacing helicopter. Tires skid out one last time as the stunt cars crash through a billboard and splash down into an L.A. aqueduct concluding the chase sequence and their screen test trial as a stunt driver!

Time to ride!

Waiting in line, we noted that each topless mini-MINI wore a personalized plate with messages such as: “2FAST4U,” “FLOOR IT,” “HANG ON,” “RDYSETGO,” “STUNT DBL,” and “CHASE ME.” Someone asked a kid getting off how it was. “Awesome!” he enthused, big eyed.

My first turn found me sitting shotgun in the right front seat of the middle MINI. “You can drive,” I joked to the serious-looking ACE guy on my left, “unless we’re in England.” He was not amused (or didn’t get it). There is no steering wheel on either side…nor airbags, A/C, console, radio, or roof. I whipped off my MINI hat so as not to lose it, and the sunglasses perched on its bill fell to the floor. Couldn’t reach down to retrieve them, figured I’d find them later. A recorded announcement advised, too late, “Hold on to loose objects, or give them to the attendant.”

Then, “Gotta get this in one take, so make it a good one, people,” and the cars launched 0-40 in a heartbeat, turned hard right, spiraled four stories upward, then plunged from the ride’s highest point. After that, mostly a blur -- lots of high-g twists and turns, authentic-looking highway signs (“Dip Ahead,” “Caution!”), simulated cop cars with flashing red/blue lights. Then we lurched to a stop so a simulated copter (apparently with very bad aim) could strafe us with simulated machine guns, igniting simulated gas pumps to our left instead.

Then we quick-launched again into a pitch-dark tunnel full of more high-g twists, dips and doodles, which we anticipated by watching the taillamps ahead as they juked left, right, left just before we did. Then we plunged through a simulated billboard into a simulated aqueduct filled with actual water split (Moses-style) to either side. Two more twists, and it was over.

Through it all, I clung tightly to the hat and the magazine I’d been reading in line while eleven kids and ACEers kept their hands raised high to show they were not holding on, and the women and children among them provided obligatory roller-coaster screams. Rolling slowly to the off-loading point, they applauded enthusiastically. Guess that means they liked it.

Second time around

A little bit later, we lined up again for a second ride. Then it started to rain. Workers handed out bright orange disposable ponchos. The rain came harder. Knowing thunderstorms were nearby, and that the park would shut down the (mostly steel) ride if lightning arrived, we hoped that wouldn’t happen before we got on it again.

I asked a camera-wielding ACEer whether this was similar to any other ride he’d experienced. “No,” he said, “it’s completely unique.” I ventured a guess that, despite its modest size, height and speeds, it’s good because the twists and turns come so quickly in succession that they provide abrupt transitions and impressive side loads. “It’s also got multiple LIM launches, which is cool,” he offered.

LIM? “Linear induction motor,” he said. Of course. Shoot the juice to a LIM, and it responds with strong, instantaneous torque from a stop. “In fact,” Mr. ACE added for perspective, “if all goes well, I’ll be riding a coaster in New Jersey this Saturday that does zero to 128 mph in 3.5 seconds.” That’s like getting launched off a carrier deck. “Yes,” he agreed with a smile, “it is.”

We didn’t need sunglasses for our second ride but could’ve used a racing visor, as the rain pelted our faces and soaked our bottoms in the hard plastic seats. We did the hands-up thing, observed more rich detail along the way, and applauded with the ACEers when it ended.

Kings Island Marketing and Communications Manager Jeff Siebert said Italian Job Stunt Track is already rated one of the top five coasters in America by USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and others. (Really? When did they ride it?)

Though we haven’t ridden one in years, we’ve always loved coasters, the wilder the better, and we found this one a fun and worthwhile ride. And the ACEers (who must spend a large part of their lives waiting in line for two-minute thrill rides) seemed sufficiently impressed.

And I never did find my sunglasses.

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