Late last week the talk around the motorsport press was that parent company BMW was preparing to pull the plug on the entire program (much as it had with the Sauber team in F1 a few years ago), but while an announcement has been made, it's not nearly as drastic as had been expected.
What Mini has done is downgrade its involvement from full-on works effort (that is, a team fully financed by an automaker) to a works-supported private team. So what does that mean exactly? In practical terms, not very much. Prodrive will continue development of the Mini John Cooper Works WRC car for both the official entry and for additional privateer teams running customer cars in the WRC and other series. And Prodrive seems optimistic that the new arrangement will actually enhance the program, not downgrade it.
What is 100% clear is that BMW wasn't happy with how things were shaping up, so it demanded a change. Just what effect that change will bring, however, seems more confined to the relationship between Mini, Prodrive and the FIA. Follow the jump for the full announcement.
Munich. After Dani Sordo (ES) and Carlos del Barrio (ES) finished second on the return of the brand to the legendary Monte Carlo Rally, the direction has now been set for a long-term MINI presence in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC): On Thursday 2 February, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) accepted a two-car manufacturer entry by WRC Team MINI Portugal into the 2012 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers. As a consequence MINI will complete the homologation for the MINI John Cooper Works WRC. The WRC Team MINI Portugal - consisting of Armindo Araújo (PT) and his co-driver Miguel Ramalho (PT), as well as Paulo Nobre (BR) and co-driver Edu Paula (BR) - will contest the remaining 12 events of the 2012 FIA World Rally Championship.
This long-term homologation ensures that the MINI John Cooper Works WRC can be used in the premier league of rallying, and other series in accordance with FIA regulations, up to and including 2018. The cooperation with Prodrive will be put on a new basis. Prodrive remains responsible for the construction and support of MINI John Cooper Works WRC customer vehicles, and will continue to work with the BMW Group on the further development of the car. The WRC Team, run by Prodrive, will from now on start as a works-supported private team.
"I am delighted that the future of MINI in the WRC has been secured on a long-term basis," said Dr. Kay Segler, Senior Vice President MINI Business Coordination and Brand Management. "We remain convinced that the sport of rallying is perfectly suited to our brand. The situation we now find ourselves in means the MINI Motorsport family can, and will, continue to grow on the rally scene. With three podiums from just seven starts in the world championship, the MINI John Cooper Works WRC has already emphatically proven its potential. I am confident that our customer teams around the world will continue to thrill MINI fans with this car over the coming years. The FIA was just as interested in the long-term presence of the MINI brand in the WRC as we were, and was actively involved in finding a constructive solution. We are grateful for the good cooperation and the understanding it has shown us."
Segler added: "With its great enthusiasm and hard work, the Prodrive team has played a major role in the remarkable sporting success we have achieved on our initial outings with the MINI John Cooper Works WRC. On behalf of MINI Motorsport, I would like to thank everyone at Prodrive for their efforts so far and we look forward to working with them in support of our MINI John Cooper Works WRC customers in the future."