MINI embarks on World Rally Championship

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The MINI Countryman is starting its participation in the World Rally Championship on the Rally Italy event in Sardinia, which takes place from 6-8 May.

The road-going MINI Countryman is one of the most economical 4x4s that you can buy, in both diesel and petrol categories. It should be interesting to see if MINI can transfer its ‘go-kart’ handling’ from the road to the rally stage, and if it does so successfully, what the impact will be on sales.

The MINI WRC Team will make its historic debut in the FIA World Rally Championship in Sardinia with its two MINI John Cooper Works WRCs, driven by Kris Meeke (GB) and Dani Sordo (ES).

The MINI Countryman has been developed by Prodrive in cooperation with MINI. The new programme for the brand was announced last July and since then the team has covered thousands of kilometres of testing. Meeke from Northern Ireland will be co-driven by Paul Nagle from Southern Ireland in car number 52, while sitting beside Sordo will be fellow Spaniard, Carlos del Barrio, in car number 37.

David Richards, Team Principal says: “The comeback of the MINI has created a real sense of anticipation within the team and yet, at the same time, an acute awareness of the enormous responsibility that rests on our shoulders. We’ve undertaken over two years of intensive development and testing and it will be an historic moment for everyone involved when we finally put those famous numbers 37 & 52 on the doors of the cars and start competing. The MINI has performed better than we dared hope in testing and the S2000 car’s debut in Portugal was very encouraging. However, we are all too aware of the challenges ahead of us and take nothing for granted, but whatever the outcome, Sardinia will be an historic event for the entire team and everyone who has supported us to get this far.”

Dirk Hollweg, Head of MINI Motorsport: “This has been an enormously exciting project for MINI and a lot of hard work has been put in by everyone involved. Since our initial announcement that MINI was returning to the world rallying stage, interest in what has been happening from both fans of our cars and the rallying community has been exceptional. It is a very important venture for the brand and it will be a very proud moment when the cars leave the starting ramp in Sardinia.”

The heart of the MINI John Cooper Works 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 Super 2000 regulations. The transmission is 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).

This is the fifth round of the 2011 championship and it sees the return of the WRC to the Mediterranean island after an absence of a year. The competitors will take part in the shakedown on Thursday morning and then the three day rally on the 6/7/8 May will cover a total of 1,183 kilometres, with 339 kilometres over the 18 gravel special stages.