MINI officially joining WRC in 2011; full program to come in 2012

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MINI will officially return to rallying, joining the World Rally Championship with a car based on its new Countryman model, the company announced today. It will be working with Prodrive.

Here’s more from the WRC site:

From 2011, MINI will compete at selected rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship and will go on to contest the entire season from 2012 onwards. BMW says this involvement is planned ‘for several years’.

MINI’s first-ever World Rally Car will be based on the new Countryman production car and is being developed in partnership with Prodrive – the British firm which masterminded Subaru’s WRC programme from 1989 to 2008. The car will be fitted with a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder turbo-charged engine from BMW Motorsport.

Ian Robertson, a member of the BMW board of management said: “I am delighted MINI will be represented on one of the most popular stages in international motorsport. The success enjoyed on the rally circuit has made a vital contribution to the image of the brand. MINI customers have always shown great interest in motorsport. I am convinced we will add a few more chapters to our success story in rallying.

“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 first test drive for the MINI Countryman WRC, which will also be available to customer teams, is planned for autumn 2010. There is no news yet regarding the driver line-up, although long term Prodrive customer Mads Ostberg had been linked to a car.

[snip]

“This is a very exciting new motorsport programme,” said Prodrive chairman, David Richards. “During the 1960s MINI captured the imagination of the world when the tiny car took on the might of V8 powered Fords and won what was then one of the toughest motorsport events, the 4000km Monte Carlo rally.

“I believe our new MINI will become a firm favourite of the latest generation of rally fans, just as it is adored by its millions of owners across the world. We already have a significant number of confirmed customer orders for the new MINI rally car with the first deliveries scheduled for the start of the 2011 season.”

As I noted before, I wonder if this focus on WRC officially will keep Prodrive from any Formula 1 involvement.*

I am also curious to see the final specs on the car. The best MINI engine that size that I know of maybe puts out 250 HP, which will be less than what I anticipate the competition can pull from its similarly sized (to new regulations) engines. But power, of course, isn’t MINI’s “thing,” so we will see how it competes on the handling front. I also realize the Countryman is bigger than the Cooper, so maybe they will slam on a gigantic turbo and get that engine into competitive territory.

My question then becomes: Is that what we want to see? Don’t we want a “David” versus “Goliath” scenario?

* Now I’ve made the F1 connection, so I’m free to just be happy about MINI’s return to rallying.

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