Mini's little racer with mighty WRC ambition

By Alastair Sloane

Mini's WRC car is based on the Countryman. Photo / Supplied
Mini's WRC car is based on the Countryman. Photo / Supplied

Mini is counting down to its return to the international motorsport stage with a car based on the Countryman and developed by BMW Motorsport and British tuning house Prodrive.

The two-car WRC team includes Britain's Kris Meeke and Ireland's Paul Nagle, who list the 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) title as just one of their achievements, and Spain's Dani Sordo and co-driver Carlos del Barrio. Former Citroen works driver Sordo has 29 podium finishes from 84 starts in the WRC.

BMW marketing chief Ian Robertson said the WRC was the ideal platform for demonstrating the competitive spirit of Mini.

"Experience is a very important factor in motorsport," he said. "For that reason it is essential we learn as much as possible within a very short time, in order to make up ground on our rivals. The new regulations mean the gap to the top is smaller than it would have been at another time. We want to annoy the opposition as soon as possible."

Rallying is far from new territory for Mini. Three victories at the Rally Monte Carlo in the 1960s made the Mini Cooper S a true legend. Mini also competed in the European Rally Championship, where it also notched up wins.

The Mini WRC team has completed thousands of kilometres of testing, with further sessions planned before its debut on Rally Italia in early May. The WRC car will be presented at the official team launch in Britain on April 11.

Prodrive director David Richards said Mini had already left a lasting impression in motorsport.

"We aim to use 2011 as a preparatory year, amassing experience in order to ensure we are fully competitive from the start of the following season," he said.

"But let's not underestimate the task ahead of us or the stiff competition we will face on the way. However, our target is firmly set on winning the world championship title again with Mini."

The WRC car will be powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine mated to a six-speed Xtrac sequential gearbox.

Meanwhile, Volkswagen is set to confirm it will enter a WRC car based on the current Polo. The team had intended to enter a car based on the Scirocco, but it doesn't fit within the WRC's maximum allowed width dimensions. A Polo is now being readied with a direct injection 1.6-litre turbocharged engine that's based on the unit that will power the forthcoming Polo R.

The German carmaker has been working quietly to hire some of the best brains in the WRC business, including VW Dakar driver and rally legend Carlos Sainz, who's tipped to be heavily involved with the project, and renowned ex-Citroen and Subaru man Francois-Xavier Demaison hired to be the team's chief engineer.

Demaison has worked closely with Petter Solberg in the past, who is likely to lead the team after VW failed to persuade seven-time champion Sebastian Loeb.
VW is also expected to sign fast Finn and current IRC series champion Juho Hanninen, who has been entered in the SWRC this year to gain experience of World Rally Championship rounds.

Hanninen has been driving a Skoda with the latest Reiger dampers, which may be being evaluated for use on the Polo.

The move also signals the end of Volkswagen's Dakar campaign, which it has dominated in recent years. Skoda will remain in rallying in the IRC and SWRC championships, and is developing its own turbocharged 1.6-litre engine with a larger restrictor, which meets the FIA's latest SWRC regulations.

- NZ Herald

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