Rally driver Guerlain Chicherit is on cloud nine, and all he had to do to get there was backflip a Mini.
On Feb. 16, the Frenchman drove the Gravi-T Freestyle Rally Team Mini up a ramp and into a 55-foot high backflip, landing successfully on a specially built snow ramp. The jump, which has tallied more than 2.6 million views on YouTube so far, was performed in his hometown of Tignes, host of the second stop of the X Games 2013 calendar, March 20-22.
Before competing in rally, Chicherit was a professional freeskier, and he won four world titles.
"My idea was to mix my two sports, so do what I do in skiing with flips, but to do it in my car," Chicherit said in a phone interview. "In the beginning these ideas were maybe a little bit crazy, but I found guys to follow me on this crazy story.
"I first thought of the idea 4½ years ago. I took the idea to one of my best friends, Christophe Bouzon, to make the car."
The Mini went through extensive reinforcement and weight reduction, and it is built on a tube-framed chassis.Tipping the scales at just 2,645 pounds, careful adjustments were made to ensure the car had just the right balance front to back and left to right -- the engine was placed in the middle of the car -- in the area where a passenger seat would normally fit -- to help it fly through the air.
Custom-built shocks from Reiger Suspension were critical in making the car rotate and land safely.
"Without the good dampers, it wouldn't work," said Chicherit, who is also supported by Monster Energy. "The setting of the dampers have to be different between the takeoff and the landing."
Early in the project, the team thought it might need to abandon the effort when Rhys Millen attempted a backflip at a Red Bull New Year's Eve stunt in 2008.
"Rhys rolled on the landing, and it wasn't a perfect jump, and he used something in the ramp to start the rotation," Chicherit said. "I really respect what he did, but my idea was to do it differently, like we do on skis, with the car and just a regular ramp."
Throughout the project, safety has been of particular concern.
"Although 'No risk, no fun' is our slogan, safety is very important for our team," said Cédric Maugain of Gravi-T. "We try to have 100 percent control of the risk: It is only when you control 100 percent of the risk that you have fun!"
Nevertheless, the ramp angle for the first attempt was wrong and the car landed at the end of the air bag, rolling three times onto the hard ground, totaling a car that had taken 1,800 hours to build.
Two months later, the team was testing again, and finally the stunt was ready.
In the cold air and the altitude of Tignes, there were new problems. Testing on the air bag again, the car landed on the roof when the cold affected the way the dampers worked. When engineers solved that problem and confirmed things with one final test jump, the crew moved to the snow landing ramp.
"I said to myself, 'It's now,'" Chicherit recalled. "'Four years ago, you had this crazy idea, and now it's time to do it. In 10 seconds it will be good or bad, you will know, so go.'"
With the team's success in Tignes, Chicherit is already thinking of the next tricks.
"I have a floating car that I want to use to ride a 45-foot wave, and I have a 1,000 hp car that I hope to use to beat the longest jump record set by Tanner Foust," Chicherit said. "I also have other ideas to do more than the backflip, but I have no idea how they will work, so I cannot speak about those yet."
Chicherit is moving to the United States to join his wife, who hails from Nevada. Once here, he will begin testing for his next stunt.