MINI confirms Meeke as Countryman WRC launched

Clear the decks for the new MINI WRC

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By Franck D.

30 September 2010 - 13:56
MINI confirms Meeke as Countryman (...)

Visitors to the 2010 Mondial de l’Automobile in Paris (FR) can look forward to a special treat: The new MINI WRC, which will contest the FIA World Rally Championship from 2011, will receive its world premiere at this international motor show. In addition, Kris Meeke (GB) has been confirmed as one of the drivers who will contest the championship with this brand new rally
car.

The MINI WRC, powered by a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder Di turbo-charged engine, recently received a baptism of fire, acquitting itself well during initial testing at Prodrive’s rally track. The company commenced development of the car in 2009, and a concept of the MINI WRC will be displayed in Paris.

“The Paris Motor Show is the perfect stage, on which to launch our MINI WRC,” says Ian Robertson, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, responsible for Sales and Marketing. “The response to our announcement that MINI will return to the world of rallying next year was very positive. The FIA World Rally Championship is the pinnacle of rallying, making it the ideal platform for demonstrating the competitive spirit of our brand. The development of the car is running on schedule, and the preparations for the world championship are in full swing. The MINI Countryman production model provided the ideal basis for our new world championship challenger.”

The 2011 World Rally Championship will see the new MINI WRC contesting in six of 13 scheduled rounds, with MINI competing in the full 2012 season. In addition, Prodrive plans to make available customer versions to independent teams for use in the championship.

Rallying is hardly unchartered territory for MINI. In the past this popular motor sporting genre decisively shaped the image of the brand. The MINI Cooper S became a true legend through its numerous victories on Rally Monte Carlo. The European Rally Championship, too, saw MINI notch up serial successes.

“MINI can look back on a successful tradition in rallying,” says Dr Wolfgang Armbrecht, Senior Vice President Brand Management MINI. “The interest in motorsport among the present generation of MINI customers is massive. The WRC provides an excellent communications platform for the MINI Countryman, upon which the MINI WRC is based.”

Prodrive, an experienced motorsport operation, was chosen as the partner in the quest to continue MINI’s success story. The company, founded by David Richards, is viewed as one of the most respected and successful in rallying.

“This project is a truly passionate opportunity,” believes Richards. “MINI is a cult brand which left a lasting impression during its previous motorsport campaigns. We are both extremely happy and proud to be on board as a partner when MINI returns to rallying. We aim to use 2011 as a preparatory year, amassing experience in order to ensure we are fully competitive from the start of the following season. But let’s not underestimate the task ahead of us nor the stiff competition we will face on the way, however our target is firmly set on winning the World Championship title again with MINI.”

Prodrive was founded in 1984, and has established itself as one of motorsport’s leading independent teams. Currently employing over 500 staff, the company is based in Banbury (GB). Among other successes, Prodrive has to date won six World Rally Championships, five British Touring Car titles, and scored three class victories in France’s classic Le Mans 24 Hours.

Kris Meeke has been confirmed as the first driver to compete for Prodrive in the MINI WRC. The rally ace from Dungannon (GB) first came to prominence when he won the British Junior Rally Championship in 2002. Numerous victories and titles were to follow. With support from his long-term mentor and former rally world champion, the late Colin McRae (GB), Meeke has been able to successfully establish himself on the rally scene. The Northern Irishman celebrated his most recent success last year, when he won the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC).

The MINI Countryman is the youngest MINI model and also the first to be equipped with an all-wheel-drive system. Therefore this model provided the logical basis for a competitive rally derivative. The flagship MINI Cooper S Countryman is powered by a 1,6-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine, supplemented not only by a twin-scroll turbocharger and direct fuel injection, but also fully variable valve management – so offering by far the best relationship between engine power and fuel consumption in its class. The engine produces an impressive 135 kW / 184 bhp, and accelerates the MINI Cooper S Countryman from 0 to 100 km/h in 7.6 seconds.

As part of the MINIMALISM concept, a range of fuel- and emission-reducing
features are fitted as standard and/or in appropriate combinations, including
Brake Energy Regeneration, the Auto Start/Stop function, Shift Point Display and
the need-based operation of ancillary components.

All MINI Cooper S Countryman and MINI Cooper D Countryman are optionally available with permanent MINI ALL4 all-wheel drive, with an electro-hydraulic differential positioned directly on the final drive varying the distribution from front to rear in an infinite process. Under normal driving conditions up to 50 per cent of the engine’s power goes to the rear wheels; under extreme conditions up to 100 per cent, offering a new, high-traction rendition of the agile handling so typical of MINI.

The heart of the MINI WRC is the BMW Motorsport-developed 1.6 litre, fourcylinder Di turbo-charged engine which can be deployed not only in the WRC, but also in other championships running to the FIA’s Super2000 regulations. The power transmission takes place via 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).

Historic victories: MINI in international motorsport

Paris. The MINI carries motorsport in its genes. While Alec Issigonis, credited
with creating the classic MINI, concentrated primarily on the every-day suitability
of the car, his friend and business partner John Cooper immediately sensed
potential of a different kind when he first saw the sketches: In this novel small
production car the successful racing car constructor recognised the basis for a
promising sporty vehicle, and zealously set about converting the MINI.

Thus the foundation for an unequalled motorsport success story was laid, with
the name John Cooper still being inextricably entwined with the sporting legend
that is MINI. Victories in the Rally Monte Carlo are as much part of its history as
are the successful production cars which bear the Cooper badge.

MINI scored its first success in the year of its birth: In 1959 Pat Moss (GB) won
the Mini Miglia National Rally with a MINI 850. Spurred on by early successes in
the Rally Monte Carlo in 1960, Cooper proposed a GT model based on the MINI.
Despite initial scepticism from Issigonis, but with the blessing of BMC chairman
George Harriman, the 1,000 cc MINI Cooper, which benefitted from
comprehensive modifications to the engine to raise power from 21 to 55 bhp,
went into limited production. The MINI Cooper was capable of approximately
130 km/h after suitable transmission ratios were specified to match its sporty
potential, while front wheel disc brakes ensured adequate retardation.

The result of these endeavours inspired Issigonis, who, together with John
Cooper, immediately set about the next stage of performance enhancement. For
the MINI Cooper S, the engine was bored to the maximum possible, with the
ensuing capacity of 1071 cc enabling the car to contest motorsport’s 1100 cc
class. The result was impressive: The engine delivered 70 bhp at 6,200 rpm,
revving to a maximum of 7,200 rpm. This version, too, received upgraded brakes
– servo assistance further improving braking power.

In 1962 the MINI Cooper S first caused a stir in Monte Carlo. With Rauno
Aaltonen at the wheel, the small car embarked on a David versus Goliath crusade
against obviously more powerful opponents. However, just three kilometres from
the end, Aaltonen, leading at the time, misjudged a corner and rolled out of the
event. The following year, though, the Finn made up for this disappointment:
Driving a MINI Cooper S he was placed third overall and won his class.

It would get better: During the 1963/1964 winter rally season power was
increased even further. Driving spectacularly, Paddy Hopkirk (IR) was placed first
overall in the Rally Monte Carlo in the tiny sprinter. Thus the MINI acquired
legendary status. In 1965 Finland’s Timo Mäkinen and co-driver Paul Easter (GB)
repeated the Monte triumph. They were the only crew to complete thousands of
kilometres without penalty – despite gruelling winter conditions. Only 35 cars –
including three MINI Cooper S –made it to the finish out of a total field of 237
entries.

A hat trick was targeted for the following year. Drivers Timo Mäkinen, Rauno
Aaltonen and Paddy Hopkirk sensationally achieved the feat by mounting the
finish ramp in first, second and third respectively. However, bitter disappointment
was to follow: The trio was disqualified after the rally’s stewards decreed the
MINI’s headlight dipping mechanism did not conform to homologation
requirements. For the general public this technicality, though, mattered little, with
their enthusiasm for the three MINI drivers remaining undiminished.

Hopkirk, Aaltonen and Mäkinen entered the annals of the Rally Monte Carlo as
the “Three Musketeers”. The MINI’s third Monte Carlo victory, achieved in 1967
by Aaltonen, was celebrated all the more enthusiastically after the events of the
previous year. This time there were absolutely no doubts about the car’s
eligibility. In 1965 the “Rally Professor” Aaltonen had triumphed in the European
Rally Championship, with Tony Ambrose (GB) and Mäkinen completing an
excellent result for the MINI Cooper S by finishing second and third respectively.
In addition, various MINI drivers celebrated numerous individual victories across
Europe.

However, the MINI did not shine only in rallying. In the 1960s the car achieved
equal success on motor racing circuits. With its sporting qualities, it became one
of the definitive racing cars of the decade, with many legendary drivers starting
their careers with MINI. In April 1968 Niki Lauda (AT) contested his first hill climb
near Linz (AT) in a classic MINI, finishing second. Just two weeks later he scored
his first victory, displaying the sort of talent which would ultimately net him three
Formula One titles. Like Lauda, other Formula One world champions such as
Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, John Surtees, Jochen Rindt and James Hunt all
collected their first competition experiences in a classic MINI.

The MINI is also present on the contemporary motor racing scene. The MINI
CHALLENGE, introduced in 2004, has established itself as one of the world’s
most popular club racing series, with the category currently being hotly
contested in six countries – Germany, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Argentine
and Brazil. The series will continue in parallel with the World Rally Championship
programme.

Technical specifications MINI WRC

Get to know the challenger for the FIA World Rally Championship in detail.

Dimensions:
Length: 4,110 mm
Width: 1,820 mm
Weight: 1,200 kg (FIA minimum weight)

Engine:
BMW Motorsport 1,600 cc, direct injection petrol
Garrett turbocharger - maximum boost 2.5 bar
Dry sump

Transmission:
Permanent four wheel drive
Gearbox: Xtrac 6-speed sequential
Clutch: AP Racing sintered twin plate
Front differential: Plated limited slip
Rear differential: Plated limited slip

Steering:
Hydraulic power assisted

Chassis:
MINI Countryman bodyshell with Prodrive roll cage exceeding FIA regulations

Suspension:
Front: Prodrive Öhlins Macpherson strut, 3 way adjustable damper
Rear: Prodrive Öhlins Macpherson strut, 3 way adjustable damper

Wheels:
ATS wheels and Michelin tyres
Gravel: 15” diameter
Tarmac: 18” diameter

Brakes:
AP Racing
Gravel: Front: four piston, 300 mm / Rear: four piston, 300 mm
Tarmac: Front: four piston, 355 mm / Rear: four piston, 355 mm

WRC

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