Monday, November 1, 2010

Mini Countryman Back on Track

Mini Countryman

A couple of weeks ago we tested the new Mini Countryman and weren't enormously impressed.

Bit ugly, bit average and a bit pointless.

Other decent family cars are available, as they would say on Radio 2. But at the Paris Motor Show there was a rather different Mini Countryman on view and one that I would very much like to have a go in.

It's the new Mini WRC rally car that is going to be driven by ace British rally star Kris Meeke in several events next year and for the full championship in 2012. Now why hasn't Mini gone rallying before? After all, the original Mini made its name rallying by winning the prestigious Monte Carlo event.

There are a couple of reasons. First, new technical regulations are coming in next year that will dramatically reduce the cost of rallying.

Second, the hatchback three-door Mini is not suitable for rallying because apparently the weight distribution is all wrong. There's probably a third reason, too. Blokes tend not to buy Minis. Word is in that some markets' ratio is 80 per cent girls to 20 per cent boys.

That's an awfully big load of customers Mini is missing. A hairy rally car belching flame, jumping over hedges and winning, might change that.

The new regulations have banned making gearboxes from kryptonite and the production of other very exotic bits and pieces.

The idea is that plenty of parts on the new rally cars will be standard and therefore affordable for teams.

The engines, which at the moment are 2.0-litre turbos, will be 1.6-litre units. Which is handy because that's what the Mini has under its bonnet.

Finally, the new cars will be 4wd. Just like the Countryman.

Bmw will build the engines in Germany at its motorsport department but the cars themselves will be built by Prodrive, the motorsport engineering company that you can see from the M40 as you drive past the Banbury exit.

Amazingly, you'll be able to buy one too. Unfortunately it'll cost you around £350,000 plus VAT but that includes a warranty and an engineer. I think the engineer will be provided only for events - you won't able to take him home with you.

Prodrive had big success with Subaru in the 1990s, winning the world rally championship with both Richard Burns and Colin McRae. Subaru pulled out of rallying a few years ago and sadly our two greatest ever rally drivers are no longer with us. In Kris Meeke we might have another hero driver and in the Mini WRC a British-built winner.

If we're really lucky we might get some great Prodrive-developed Minis for the road. It happened with Subaru, after all.

source: mirror.co.uk