Mini brought out the new Countryman WRC car for the first time in Monaco along with the legendary Mini of 1960, at the Monte Carlo Historic Rally so the finished version of the race car sees the sunlight for the first time.
Present at the event were Kris Meeke (GB) and Dani Sordo (ES), the drivers who will revive the brand’s rallying tradition this year, as well as Rauno Aaltonen and Paddy Hopkirk. The new Mini WRC will be officially launched on the 13th April at Mini’s Oxford plant. Then it will compete in a couple of events in 2011 WRC calendar, and then from 2012 they’ll become a full time player in World Rally Championship.
As for the car, while the road-going version of the Countryman looks kinda sissy, this one’s menacing! We wish we could say that about the engine, but because of the new rules it’ll get a 1.6 liter engine. This year’s WRC is expected to be quite fascinating since all the cars are new and nobody knows how things will go down.
For Meeke and Sordo this is a stop on what is a busy schedule leading up to the first appearance of the MINI WRC on selected FIA World Rally Championship events in 2011, prior to a full assault on the championship in 2012. However, before that they will be heading from Monaco to Spain to put their brand new test car through its paces. Then on the 13th April comes the official launch of the MINI WRC Team at the plant in Cowley, Oxford (GB) where MINI models are produced.
Aaltonen, who won the 1967 Monte Carlo Rally in a works Mini, covered 4,101 kilometres on the rally that took him and his co-driver, Helmut Artacker, from the start in Marrakech on the 26th January to the principality’s harbour for the finish in the early hours of the 2nd February. His comments on the event were: “It has taken us a long time to get here and it was a good trip. In the old days a Mini in rallying form was rather uncomfortable, but in this Mini we had modern shock absorbers and it was so comfortable that after over 4,000 kilometres I am not tired at all. There was snow in places, but we were not told about this so we did not have the appropriate tyres and so lost over a hundred places. It was really busy on this last leg, we were really fighting hard and it was a great atmosphere.”
Also in Monte Carlo to greet Aaltonen was another famous Mini driver, Paddy Hopkirk from Northern Ireland, who won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964. Remembering that time he said: “It is very interesting to be here and I was delighted to see Rauno looking so well and the car looking so good. It is just great to see it all being revived. When we won it was not just motorsport news, but front page news and I even got a telegram from the Beatles and the Prime Minister and I was given the keys to Belfast. I do admire the talents of these guys. Kris took me around the Prodrive test track in the MINI WRC and it was absolutely fantastic.”
Meeke and Sordo are both keen to start their rally programme. “It is great for Dani and me to be competing for MINI and taking up that legendary spirit . Everything is going extremely well and I think the fundamental DNA of the car is very, very good. At this early stage of the development everyone is really excited as it seems to be hitting all the targets that were set out in the development phase, ” said Meeke.
Sordo was also relishing the task ahead of him: “I have driven the car less than Kris but I have been on both tarmac and gravel. Honestly the feel of the car was really good. We still need to improve in certain areas, but this is normal because the car is new. Our MINI is new to rallying but in Prodrive we have a lot of experience and they have achieved many things in the sport. Kris and I will try to do the best we can. At the moment the car is really good and getting better and better.”
The MINI WRC is based on the MINI Countryman and is powered by a 1.6-litre turbo engine derived from the MINI production models that has been developed by BMW Motorsport for use in series running to the FIA Series2000 Regulations, which also includes the FIA World Touring Car Championship. The MINI WRC has been developed by Prodrive, one of the most experienced and respected operations in rallying. This UK based company from Banbury has no less than six World Rally Championship titles to its name.