Ready to rally

Here’s a blast from the past — the Mini is back in ral­ly­ing, writes Paul Gover

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Motorsport -

THE mighty Mini is out to re­peat its gi­ant-killer suc­cesses of the 1960s with a re­turn to the World Rally Cham­pi­onship in 2011.

Two-time driv­ing cham­pion Mar­cos Gron­holm of Fin­land is al­ready tipped to drive the Mini at­tack, which re­volves around the same Bri­tish team that took Subaru to the top of the WRC. Pro­drive has been work­ing on the project for more than two years, but it has only just gone pub­lic af­ter the launch of the car used as the base for the rally pro­gram, the Mini Coun­try­man.

The long-wheel­base, four-door Mini will go up against Citroen’s all­new DS3 and the Ford Fi­esta in next year’s world cham­pi­onship, with Volk­swa­gen and Saab tipped for 2012.

It will com­pete with the same sig­na­ture paint­work as the orig­i­nal Mini, us­ing red body­work with a white roof.

The car will be pow­ered by a 1.6 litre tur­bocharged en­gine — the key to new rules in the WRC next year— with hi-tech all-wheel drive and a spe­cially pre­pared bodyshell.

BMW group sales and mar­ket­ing chief Ian Robert­son says: ‘‘The Mini Coun­try­man pro­vides an ex­cel­lent ba­sis from which to cre­ate a com­pet­i­tive rac­ing car for the world cham­pi­onship. In Pro­drive, we have a strong and ex­pe­ri­enced part­ner. We will work hard to­gether over the com­ing months to en­sure we get the project on track right from the word go.’’

The Mini rally project is a world away from the orig­i­nal ef­forts in the 1960s, in­clud­ing stun­ning vic­to­ries in the snow-cov­ered roads of the Monte Carlo Rally.

It’s also a big step up from the Mini Chal­lenge race se­ries run in sev­eral coun­tries, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia, for track-pre­pared Mini coupes.

Test­ing of the Mini Coun­try­man WRC, as the new com­pe­ti­tion car is called, should be­gin next month be­fore its com­pe­ti­tion de­but early next year. Pro­drive will also sell copies of the fac­tory-backed cars to pri­vate teams. ‘‘Mini cus­tomers have al­ways shown great in­ter­est in motorsport, Robert­son says.

‘‘I am con­vinced we will add a few more chap­ters to our suc­cess story in ral­ly­ing.

‘‘I am de­lighted Mini will be rep­re­sented on one of the most pop­u­lar stages in in­ter­na­tional motorsport. The suc­cess that the car has en­joyed on the rally cir­cuit has made a vi­tal con­tri­bu­tion to the im­age of the brand.’’

See­ing red: the Mini Coun­try­man in rally colours.

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