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GP Week : Issue 153
the media, when we were told what was going to happen. I am sure that BMW had already been making a prior agreement about the changes with the FIA who must have approved the way for ward, but we had no idea what was happening.” The deal was that Motorsport Italia now became the officially designated two-car Manufacturer (‘M1’) team, committed to entering every round of the championship. The existing one-car WRC (M2) team registrations for Araujo and Nobre lapsed and joined together to form WRC Team Mini Portugal. The Prodrive operation would continue to develop and supply the cars but would themselves be released from a commitment to enter the world championship rallies on their own account. So the championship now had a fully officially approved third manufacturer in the series, but not quite on the same terms as for Ford and Citroen, as Minis were not allowed to score Makes championship points after Monte Carlo. What was important, however, and the basic reason for the arrangements, was that the registration of an officially recognised manufacturer team meant that the FIA would allow further homologation so that Mini John Cooper Works cars could continue to be developed. There had been uncertainties how a Mini team could be registered for the 2012 WRC for a long time, as early as October 2011. Deadline for registering teams for the 2012 championship was due in December, but was postponed. Nobre meanwhile had unusually been allowed to make his registration with the FIA without nominating what make of car he would drive, putting himself at severe financial risk should his wish to drive a Mini go wrong. De Pianto: “Yes, there was a risk for Nobre that something could go wrong. You cannot enter a championship unless a full Manufacturers’ team has already registered for the championship using the same make of car. We knew he wanted to rally a Mini. Actually, we were confident that things would somehow get sorted out because BMW were always saying ‘Don't worry, everything will be fixed. It is a strange situation, but we want to go ahead with the Mini project and we will never penalise the customers. We are a serious company’.” That had been the clear position at BMW since the start of the problem, but until everything was resolved it would have been impossible for the FIA to accept Nobre’s entry with the name Mini on it. Nothing was settled until late on Monday February 6. The change of team status has also brought to Motorsport Italia’s customers heavy extra commitments, not the least an undertaking that both cars would contest all the remaining rounds of the season. At the start of the 2012 season Armindo Araujo was worried about committing himself personally to the championship because financially he was not sure there were funds to see a full season through. De Pianto: “As part of background discussion, financial help arrived from BMW, not specifically for Armindo but for Motorsport Italia. So far as Paulo was concerned, his programme was already handled as he brought his own budget. For him the new FIA approved arrangement brought him a level of media coverage that would never have happened if he had continued like a straightfor ward privateer. His big aim is the chance to bring rallying to Brazil, it is a big “goal” for him. People in Brazil are crazy for Formula 1 and about football.” It was a surprise that Daniel Oliveira, whose independent WRC programme with the Mini had been the key to unlocking the original Prodrive crisis 12 months earlier into getting the Mini JCW car homologated, left Mini and was replaced by his fellow Brazilian Paulo Nobre. De Pianto, “In fact, Oliveira was always with Prodrive, not with us. We discussed the chance for him to enter rallies with us this year but it did not happen.” Jumping from running two one-car teams into running one two-car team also involved a change of regulation, not all positive: “For example, being a two-car team means that in total we are allowed fewer mechanics who can work on the cars. It also created limits on the number of spare parts and the way that parts can be linked between events that can be used.” Motorsport Italia continues to work very closely with Prodrive: “Our chief engineer on the programme is Richard Thompson, a Senior Rally Engineer at Prodrive. Transfer of know-how between the two teams therefore is quite easy. The cars being run by us are almost exactly the same, changes depending only on individual preferences and availability and supply of parts. The one thing we are actively working on together is with the damper settings.” And shorn of the day-to-day obligation to contend the championship, Prodrive has been able to finalise and homologate the upgraded version, the ‘01B’. The two Inverigo teams have a full workload for 2012. They were running the two Minis competing as World Rally Cars under the Motorsport Italia banner and two Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Xs competing in the Production Car championship for Michal Kosciuszko and Benito Guerra with Ralliart Italy. “Life in the PCWRC has also changed this year, following the exit of North One Sport. As the manager of the support championships, North One Sport took care of many things, not the least the hospitality service. You didn’t have to think about all these things and now we really need to arrange catering, arrange our own tents in the Service Park. I can imagine for smaller teams it will be quite difficult for sure.” The days leading up to Sweden 2012 will remain in the memory for a long time, in rally sport for a lot of different reasons, not the least the Promoter crisis and television problems for a start, but especially for the people in Inverigo, close to the Lake District of Italy. It was the month when they suddenly became superstars in the rally world by simply being in the right place in the championship world at the right time. Team manager Bruno De Pianto (seated) and Team Principal Mario Stagni 37 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: RALLY >>> FEATURE