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GP Week : Issue 102
WRC BULGARIA >> WRC NEWS >> The Road to Mini not transverse format. The homologation procedures are being carried out by BMW Motorsport and presumably, like the road car, the car will be homologated under the name BMW. FIA homologation is due for March 2011 dependent on competition engine production availability with the proposed (but unspecified) first event in the middle of 2011. It is possible private customers will be seen in competition before the works team. With sales of Group N Subaru Imprezas tailing off, the opportunity to progress into production of the Mini could hardly have come at a better moment for Prodrive. The anticipation for this car has been intense, Prodrive claiming that nearly 400 existing Subaru competition customers have been looking for a car to use in the future. BMW Germany are strongly behind the project, stating they want to win the world rally championship by 2013 Plans are now being made to set up a works team ready for world championship competition. New engineers are being recruited while various familiar figures from Subaru’s WRC days will also be involved. Chief engineer for the rally programme is David Willcock who has been in the company for 20 years. Former Subaru team manager Paul Howarth has come back in order to run the customer programme. So far as the world championship events are concerned, Prodrive will start their official team activities when they are ready. So far as the championship itself is concerned, Prodrive are not concerned about gaining world championship points out of their abbreviated programme in 2011, but the intention is to enter the whole world championship in 2012. A contract has already been made with Michelin as their tyre supplier. Prodrive would have preferred that the FIA retain a single tyre supplier arrangement like with Pirelli in 2008- 2010, but it seems that by default 2011 will effectively be run to a single supplier system again, anyway. There are a lot of uncertainties still down the line. Nobody knows what changes are being planned for a future world championship calendar or the style of events which will be organised and how this will affect the cars being designed for the new formula. For David Richards the Mini project is a step back in time to his roots, having frequently competed in British road rallying in a Cooper S which was nothing like as powerful! Those Minis were pretty small compared with the Mini today. Indeed, no production Mini has ever been built as big as a Countryman and never has there been a 300bhp Mini in production before! Why–andhow–thenewBMWMini Countryman is set to compete on World Championship rallies next year is explained by Martin Holmes. placed the technical specification that it offered into our computer, we found this was clearly one of the top three cars which would be eligible. It was longer in overall length and had a much bigger engine compartment than the original Mini Clubman design. “By June 2009 we were in negotiations with three manufacturers, but the brand which really excited us was Mini. “We found a lot of people inside BMW interested in our findings. By December 2009 we obtained their agreement in principal to have access to technical information and so design a rally car around the Countryman. “BMW Motorsport are responsible for the engine, the rest is being done at Prodrive. Because the launch of the production model would not happen until September 2010 nothing could be said or seen. This led to a lot of speculation and general suspicion in the sport. In fact some 50 people were already working on Mini development. We had never done so much preparatory analysis as we have done for this project. Without the pressure of an ongoing rally project, time was on our side.” For Prodrive there were challenges to produce a competition car with the design compromises that would satisfy both an official team running a World Rally Car as well as the customer who could run either a Super 2000 version or a World Rally Car. Other objectives were to ensure the car was capable of being operated economically, and was easily serviceable over and above the requests specified under the S2000 rules. It is expected the cost of the Prodrive WRC will be two-thirds the current cost of the World Rally Car, and operating costs less than half. A lot of thought also went into simplicity of aspects the design which did not compromise performance. Production of the standard Countryman was taking place in Austria by Magna. The plan agreed with BMW was for Prodrive to produce 25-30 examples of the competition car in Britain, starting in December 2010. The first production competition Mini is due to be released by around March 2011, with others coming at a rate of about two a month. Eventually the FIA confirmed its 2011 rules so that the S2000 and the WRCar were to be essentially the same car, easily convertible from one formula to the other, which confirmed the opportunity to design one car with two objectives in mind. The specification of the Mini Countryman rally car is not yet finalised, although the first tests were carried out in Portugal in mid September 2010 in a car which Prodrive say was visually unlike the finished item. BMW Motorsport in Germany has been taking care not only of the competition engine development, but also the aero and bodywork styling work for the rally car. BMW will run the WTCC programme using the same basic engine but in a longitudinal 51