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GP Week : Issue 116
It is nice when somebody hears what you say. Prodrive boss David Richards did. He subsequently emailed me: “I'm surprised you have such little faith in me to even think that it wouldn't happen!” I don’t care for the split infinitive, but hey don’t complain. I had seriously misjudged the Mini project, and they rubbed my face in it! As soon as I had heard the Mini project was in the pipeline, all I could see were the obstacles, which were eventually fully overcome. All I had said, in a moment of indiscretion during Rally Italia, was that I never thought I would see the day when Minis were back in the WRC again ... There was no doubt the whole show was impressive. For the first time in nearly four years we had a new manufacturer entering the world championship scene. And the brand which had given so much pleasure to rally fans 50 years ago was giving so much fun again. And that was quite apart from the fact the Mini were providing the very much- required light at the end of the tunnel of gloom which has been the WRC over the past few years. In the midst of one of the most frenetic WRC events for rally media in recent times, UK Motorsport News magazine made a most useful analysis of the stage times of the Minis compared with the fastest cars on the course, mostly Latvala’s Fiesta WRC. Sordo’s times were within one second a kilometre of the pace, a major achievement for a completely new team. And on the final day when the team gave instructions that Sordo had to finish whatever happened, he was still within two seconds per kilometre. These times were put in with a most impressive consistency, as well. It had the hallmark of a project that was going to be a winner. It was an experience which was difficult to take in. The official launch of the team in Cowley, in the very factory where the Minis used to be built, was an emotive occasion, and gave us a lot of food for thought. Like, just how different was the New Generation Super 2000 Mini from the World Rally Car Mini? Bigger rear wing apart, what visible differences were there at the front end of the car? It was quite a ‘Spot the Difference’ exercise until some extra holes in the SWRC car became evident – which was curious, because FIA rules say that the holes admitting air into a WRC car have to be smaller in total size than in an S2000 car. Haven’t got my head round that, yet. And then the whole interchangeability factor of the various models of competition Mini took some mental adjustment. This was the third rally for the famous chassis 007, which Perego and then Navarra drove in Italian rallies, fitted with 30mm restrictors. Here in Sardinia was Flodin with the same chassis, now with a 33mm restrictor. As well, chassis 002, the car of Oliveira, and 005, Araujo’s car, had performed a quick-change act, having the body parts changed from S2000 specification to WRC for this occasion. There were two Minis at the rally (one a show car), each carrying the British registration number ‘1WRC’, and there was another car labelled ‘2WRC’, both numbers having previously been used only four years ago – on Subarus! The mental bombardment went on. Grifone ran Flodin’s S2000 version – but there in the service park was another S2000, chassis 009, brand spanking new, sitting there doing nothing but looking smar t. It was simply being delivered to its owner! But the near mental breakdown came as we drove a road car Mini during the rally. The car I drove was a Mini Cooper ‘S’ model. I know Cooper S cars. I loved the special holes in the road wheels, the way the ‘S’ would fall off the bonnet when you hit a pothole in the road ... and the Dunlop SP tyres were fabulous. In my youth I co-drove dozens of these cars – 970s, 1071s, 1293s and so on. They were fantastic cars when the driveshafts survived. We won quite a lot of rallies in these cars and had a lot of fun. I was thus delighted when I was allowed to drive a new- style production Cooper S (see inset pic, left). The car was a turbo diesel, an automatic – what I still call an ‘estate’ car. The only familiar thing seemed to be two-wheel-drive. In every conceivable way my preconceptions were gone. No wonder the company felt compelled to change the name, to call the new car not a Mini but a MINI! There are a lot of things which we are still only discovering and enjoying about the Mini rally project. One of them was the excellence of Sordo’s sixth place. First time out in a Citroen WRC he was only eighth. Then came the claim from the Mini press office that Meeke was the fastest car on the event when his throttle stuck and he went off the road on Stage 3. This we quickly dismissed as promotional optimism ... but it was true! It was all to do with the stage split times which declared at the first split, just 1.37km after the start, Kris Meeke was no less than 0.4 seconds quicker than the next fastest car, Sebastien Ogier’s DS3 and 0.7 seconds faster than the second fastest, Henning Solberg’s Fiesta. Of course there was some road- cleaning significance, but surely not to that extent. Then we discovered that this timing point was shortly before Kris had his sticking throttle problem and left the road. And that got us thinking. Kris could not have been fully under control at the moment the Mini crossed the timing beam, proving his throttle was stuck wide open ... Stop it. Give the team credit where it is due. It was all a mighty good effort. WRC FEATURE >>