More big names to follow MINI?

Volkswagen, Toyota, Saab,...?



27 August 2010 - 19:12
More big names to follow MINI?

If there’s one thing that history has taught us over the years, it’s that everything - from flared trousers to world wars - comes in cycles.

It wasn’t that long ago when the World Rally Championship boasted seven manufacturers, and that time will come again.

But like eating an elephant, everything has to be tackled piece by piece. The first piece, which everyone is still busy digesting, was the arrival of MINI. It’s been a long time coming but it’s worth the wait as this is one of the iconic names in the World Rally Championship: every bit as evocative as Ferrari in single-seater racing.

For everybody - particularly MINI’s competitors - it’s very welcome news and of course success breeds success: now all sorts of other manufacturers are sniffing round the World Rally Championship like tigers at feeding time.

Germany brought a particular flurry of interest. Speculation was sparked by Volkswagen choosing to launch the third evolution of their Race Touareg there (to the surreal background of chariot racing) and also fielding a gas-powered Scirocco as course car, entrusted to the capable hands of Carlos Sainz on Friday and then Nasser Al Attiyah for the rest of the weekend.

Volkswagen motorsport chief Kris Nissen made no secret of his interest in the World Rally Championship, even saying that the model involved could be a Polo, Golf or Scirocco, depending on what suited their marketing department best.

Volkswagen would not come in though until 2013 at the earliest, as they would be forced to build up a rally department from scratch, using very different technology to the current Race Touareg.

Toyota, whose representatives also visited Rallye Deutschland are talking about a much shorter timescale: they have not ruled out the possibility of being there next year, either with the Yaris (which would need a dispensation as it is slightly too short) or the Auris (which however suffers the handicap of being a bit too heavy). Neither situation is a deal-breaker though as clever waivers could be sought and undoubtedly obtained (remember the Peugeot 206 with extra-long bumpers)?

Time is short, but Toyota’s championship-winning know-how - not to mention healthy budgets - mean that almost anything is possible for the Japanese manufacturer, which won the makes’ title in 1993, 1994 and 1999.

Another manufacturer with a strong history in the sport is Saab: not surprisingly for a quintessentially Scandinavian car company. Now it is owned by the Dutch Spyker outfit, which has fielded Le Mans cars in the past.

Just like MINI, Saab is trying to reconnect with its heritage, and the new-look World Rally Championship is the perfect way to do that. Details are still sketchy, but it is believed that Saab’s interest is absolutely serious, particularly with the company’s plans to build a MINI-rivalling 9-2 hatchback.

So there we have it. One weekend in Germany and up to three new manufacturers already knocking on the door. Of course it may take some time to get back to the days when Citroen, Ford, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Peugeot, Skoda and Subaru were all competing together (2002) but there’s a strong argument to say we don’t need that many.

After all; Formula One only has two genuine factory teams (Mercedes and Ferrari, plus arguably Renault). And the last time we looked, Formula One wasn’t faring badly.


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