The countdown is on to the return of MINI on the international motorsport stage. This season, the new MINI WRC Team will compete at selected rounds in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). The aim is to gain valuable experience, in order to be perfectly prepared for the complete 2012 World Championship season. The MINI WRC has been developed by Prodrive, based on the MINI Countryman. It is equipped with a 1.6-litre turbo engine derived from the MINI production models, which was developed by BMW Motorsport for use in series run according to FIA Super2000 regulations, including the World Touring Car Championship. As well as its works involvement with the MINI WRC Team, Prodrive is supplying the customer car to private rally teams, who will also run the car in the S2000 class of the World Rally Championship.
“The FIA World Rally Championship is the pinnacle of rallying, making it the ideal platform for demonstrating the competitive spirit of our brand,” says Ian Robertson, Member of the Board of Management, Sales and Marketing BMW Group. “Experience is a very important factor in motorsport. 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.”
The MINI WRC Team will be putting its faith in experienced drivers when it faces up to the challenge of the WRC for the first time in 2011. Kris Meeke (UK) and his co-driver Paul Nagle (UK) have proven their ability in impressive style, listing the 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) title as just one of their achievements. Daniel “Dani” Sordo (ES), who will compete alongside his new co-driver Carlos del Barrio (ES) in 2011, has many years of World Championship experience. Twenty nine podium finishes from 84 starts in the WRC just go to show the former Citroën works driver has what it takes to battle it out at the top.
Rallying is far from new territory for MINI. In the past, success in this popular motorsport discipline has played a crucial role in defining the brand‟s image. 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 once again notched up countless triumphs.
“MINI can look back on a successful tradition in rallying,” says Dr Wolfgang Armbrecht, Senior Vice President Brand Management MINI. “Even up to the present day, there is a core group within the MINI community for which MINI and motorsport just belong together. The WRC provides an excellent communications platform for the MINI Countryman, upon which the MINI WRC is based.”
The latest phase of developments for the MINI WRC are currently undergoing an intensive testing programme. The car to be used in the 2011 World Rally Championship will be presented at the official Team Launch on 13th April 2011 at the MINI Plant Oxford
Prodrive, an experienced motorsport operation, was chosen as the partner in the quest to continue the brand‟s success story. The company, founded by David Richards, is viewed as one of the most respected and successful in rallying. “This project is a truly passionate opportunity,” believes Richards. “MINI is a cult brand which left a lasting impression during its previous motorsport campaigns. We are both extremely happy and proud to be on board as a partner when MINI returns to rallying. 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. But let’s not underestimate the task ahead of us nor the stiff competition we will face on the way. However, our target is firmly set on winning the World Championship title again with MINI.”
Prodrive was founded in 1984, and has established itself as one of motorsport‟s leading independent teams. Currently employing about 500 staff, the company is based in Banbury (GB). Among other successes, Prodrive has to date won six World Rally Championships, five British Touring Car titles, and scored three class victories in France‟s classic Le Mans 24 Hours.
The MINI Countryman is the youngest MINI model and also the first to be equipped with an all-wheel-drive system. Therefore this model provided the logical basis for a competitive rally derivative. The flagship MINI Cooper S Countryman is powered by a 1,6-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine, supplemented not only by a twin-scroll turbocharger and direct fuel injection, but also fully variable valve management – so offering by far the best relationship between engine power and fuel consumption in its class. The engine produces an impressive 135 kW / 184 bhp, and accelerates the MINI Cooper S Countryman from 0 to 100 km/h in 7.6 seconds.
As part of the MINIMALISM concept, a range of fuel- and emission-reducing features are fitted as standard and/or in appropriate combinations, including Brake Energy Regeneration, the Auto Start/Stop function, Shift Point Display and the need-based operation of ancillary components.
All MINI Cooper S Countryman and MINI Cooper D Countryman are optionally available with permanent MINI ALL4 all-wheel drive, with an electro-hydraulic differential positioned directly on the final drive varying the distribution from front to rear in an infinite process. Under normal driving conditions up to 50 per cent of the engine‟s power goes to the rear wheels; under extreme conditions up to 100 per cent, offering a new, high-traction rendition of the agile handling so typical of MINI.
“MINI powered by BMW Motorsport”: The heart of the MINI WRC is the 1.6-litre, four-cylinder Di turbo engine, which is also available in the MINI production models. The production engine was further developed by BMW Motorsport for the use in various categories according to FIA Super2000 regulations. The power transmission takes place via an Xtrac 6-speed, sequential gearbox. For its outings on the rally stages, the MINI Countryman chassis has been fitted with a roll cage developed by Prodrive, which exceeds the strict safety requirements of the International Automobile Federation (FIA).