Mini's WRC marvel targets NZ success

By Eric Thompson

Dani Sordo has a chance to surprise the favourites and win on New Zealand roads in the new generation Mini.
Dani Sordo has a chance to surprise the favourites and win on New Zealand roads in the new generation Mini.

One of the most iconic names in rallying returned to the fray in 2011 with some success and has upped the ante this year by contesting more rounds including this weekend at the Brother Rally New Zealand.

The Mini was king in the early days of rallying before the advent of the World Rally Championship in 1973 and built a legend with its exploits in the 1960s, especially the Monte Carlo Rally.

Fifty years down the track the Prodrive-built John Cooper Works Mini, complete with a BMW Motorsport 1.6-litre turbo engine, made rallying sit up and take notice whenit was first wheeled out at Rally Italia last year.

Kris Meeke was driving back then and he hustled the new generation rally Mini to get inside the top three fastest cars on the second stage of the event.

As the season went on things got better and better with former Citroen driver Dani Sordo finishing third at Rallye Deutschland and second at Rallye de France Alsace eight weeks later.

New Zealand rally fans get their chance to see the Mini in action this weekend in the hands of Sordo and his co-driver Carlos del Barrio at round seven of the championship.

There were a few hiccups between Prodrive and BMW early on this year and it was uncertain whether the team would travel Downunder with the Mini John Cooper Works WRC cars. All was thankfully sorted out and the UK-based team will showcase the cars to Kiwi fans after many years of absence.

There is a chance Sordo could upset the favourites to win in New Zealand and take the top prize - a feat that last occurred in 1972 when Scotsman Andrew Cowan and his Kiwi co-driver Jim Scott drove a British Leyland Mini to victory in Rally New Zealand.

"We looked at the events we thought would be our most competitive and which gave an even spread throughout the year," said team principal Dave Wilcock.

"After the performance of the new car on the gravel of Portugal, we felt New Zealand should give us a further opportunity to demonstrate that we have the pace to win on loose surfaces."

Sordo used an updated Mini to good effect at the recent Rally Portugal claiming six fastest stage times. The Spaniard also won the final power stage to show just how competitive the new Mini John Cooper Works WRC car is on gravel.

The improved car, with more than 100 modifications including a more powerful engine and new Ohlins gravel dampers, helped Sordo finish half of the stages in the top two.

The Mini presence in the WRC will expand to six cars on Neste Oil Rally Finland with entries from Matti Rantanen and Matthias Therman alongside the semi-works cars from Armindo Araujo and Daniel Oliveira and the factory cars of Meeke and Sordo.

Also about to enter the WRC in 2013 is Volkswagen with a four-wheel drive Polo R developing about 300 horsepower, taking the number of manufacturers competing to four - Ford, Citroen, Mini and VW.

Volkswagen is no stranger to rallying have raced in the 1980s and winning the Ivory Coast Rally with Kenneth Erikson at the wheel in 1987.

In recent times most of the German carmaker's off-road focus has been on the Dakar Rally.

Volkswagen have signed up for five years and are testing the waters with a pair of Skoda Fabia S2000 cars this year.

It is the same rally machine Kiwi Hayden Paddon is racing this season, so if he does well we might see him in the main WRC game next year.

- NZ Herald

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