x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Petrolhead in the big city finds Mini Cooper S small but speedy

My Car Dubai-based sales manager Anastasia Bachvarova may be Mini, but she's a speed demon on a track and regularly beats the boys.

Anastasia Bachvarova thought Mini Coopers were like toy cars before she got behind the wheel of her S version and realised the power that lies underneath its bonnet. Duncan Chard for The National
Anastasia Bachvarova thought Mini Coopers were like toy cars before she got behind the wheel of her S version and realised the power that lies underneath its bonnet. Duncan Chard for The National

Motorsport fan Anastasia Bachvarova, from Sofia in Bulgaria, owns a 2009 Mini Cooper S, which she says has enough acceleration to satiate her thirst for speed. The Dubai-based sales manager for discount book The Entertainer has a passion for driving instilled by her father, who focused on teaching her how to drive from an early age, as her brothers had no interest.

"My father first unleashed the petrolhead in me at 11 years old, and I drove him to pick my mother up from work for the first time at the age of 12," the married 28-year-old reminisces. "The car at the time was a 1970s Russian Moskvitch and I had two pillows under my bum to see over the dashboard with the seat pushed fully forward so I could reach the pedals. It must have been ridiculous to see a 12-year-old girl driving her parents, but you can blame the time and place, so don't think my parents are irresponsible," she laughs.

The Mini's 1.6L, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine produces 172hp, with front-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shifting. It accelerates from zero to 100kph in 7.2 seconds and is fairly light at just over a tonne. Anastasia calls her Mini Cooper S the "street kart" and feels it suits her job, being small, fast, easy to park and with good fuel consumption, considering her busy schedule and regular travel around the Emirates. "This car was a great choice for me and suited my budget," she says. "I never looked at Minis as an option before, but I think it's funky; initially, felt I was looking at more of a toy rather than a practical car. Yet, when I first test drove it, I was impressed by the amazing acceleration - especially when I pressed the naughty Sport button. It has a small body yet it's very stable and is a car you can rely on for smooth cornering."

Diminutive Anastasia is dedicated to motorsport, volunteering to be a marshal at the 2010 Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix. "Almost anyone willing to apply themselves can do it - as long they're not colour blind. I sent my application to Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management and they invited my husband and I to the study course. We had to attend Yas Marina Circuit every Friday from 8am to 5pm, listening to lectures on the FIA and ADMM rules and regulations. This went on for around three months prior to the race. There was a test at the end of the first lecture day and some passed, some didn't. We passed the exam and the next step was to choose whether we wanted to be flag marshals - waving the flags, which we thought sounded boring - or intervention marshals - taking care of car accidents, burning cars, injured drivers and clearing the track of debris, which we chose as we thought it sounded exciting.

"The whole marshal process was an exciting experience, from watching the unseen footage of terrible F1 accidents, to being so close to the stunning cars right on the track and making friends with the Bahraini and Hungarian marshals flown over from their own countries' circuits. Being a marshal is fun but also carries the responsibility for peoples' lives on and off the track and everything happens faster than a blink of an eye. It was one thing to tick off the bucket list and in 2011 we watched it from the grandstand instead," she says.

And to this day Anastasia is still beating the boys on the track. "The last time I raced at the Dubai Kartdrome I finished first out of 10 - and it was a race involving me and nine men," she explains proudly. "I've raced a number of times at the kartdrome and have five trophies, which I'm proud of despite the fact they're amateur. Guys don't like being beaten by a girl - I honestly think they'd rather have their nose broken. The second I overtake them the foul play begins - hitting the kart from behind, trying to block me from both sides. Of course, once the race is finished they would never speak about it, ever again," she smiles. So boys, if you see Anastasia in her Mini, be sure not to underestimate her.