Due to budget constraints for the 2012 season, British rally star Kris Meeke was removed from the Mini WRC team for the Monte Carlo Rally slated for next month. It is believed that Dani Sordo, Mini’s other WRC driver, would be retained for all 12 rallies in 2012. However, Mini will auction each event on its second car drive to drivers who could bring their own finance to the team.
Sources said that the team, which is run by Prodrive, still wants Meeke to be linked to Mini.
Meeke may remain as a team member who helps with testing and development but will drive in rallies only if a new headline sponsor is found.
Meeke and co-driver, Paul Nagle, were reported to be absolutely shocked about the move to drop Meeke. Both are believed to still have two more years on their contracts with Prodrive that were inked one year ago.
Prodrive boss David Richards hasn’t made an official statement about this news. Insiders say that the team, which is supported by BMW, has not been able to obtain major sponsorship for 2012.
In addition, it has been in need of cash for some time. On the other hand, BMW is continually funding and expanding a costly German Touring Car program for 2012 as it hopes to beat Mercedes-Benz and Audi which boast full-scale DTM teams.
There could be no better way to test a rally car than to have it driven at a rally. This is what MINI planned for the new MINI WRC, which is set to compete in six of 13 scheduled rounds in the 2011 World Rally Championship.
MINI will compete in the full 2012 season of the rally championship. Initial testing of the rally car -- powered by a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder Di turbo-charged engine – was recently held at Prodrive's rally track. MINI started the development of the MINI WRC in 2009 and will unveil a concept of the rally car at the Paris Motor Show.
Ian Robertson, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, responsible for Sales and Marketing, quipped that there was a positive response to MINI’s announcement of its eventual return to the world of rallying next year. He remarked that since the FIA World Rally Championship is considered as the pinnacle of rallying, it is the ideal platform for demonstrating MINI’s competitive spirit. He disclosed that the development of the new MINI WRC is ongoing as scheduled, with the preparations for the world championship now in full swing.
He disclosed that the new MINI WRC was derived from the MINI Countryman production model. Prodrive is planning to create customer versions of the MINI WRC for independent teams to use in the World Rally Championship. MINI is not a newbie in the world of rallying, as this motorsport genre was partly responsible for shaping the image of the MINI brand.
Its MINI Cooper S is considered a rallying icon after carving several wins on Rally Monte Carlo. MINI has also won several serial victories in the European Rally Championship. Wolfgang Armbrecht, Senior Vice President Brand Management MINI, quipped that MINI boasts of a successful tradition in rallying, noting that there is huge interest in this motorsport genre among current MINI customers.
He added that the WRC could serve as an excellent communications platform for the MINI Countryman. Picking Prodrive as its partner in its quest to continue its success story is a no-brainer decision for MINI.
After all, the company established by founded by David Richards boasts of an experienced motorsport operation and is considered as one of the most respected and successful rallying teams. Richards remarked that the WRC project presents a passionate opportunity, especially since MINI is a cult brand that has made lasting impressions in its motorsport campaigns.
He disclosed that Prodrive and MINI plan to use 2011 as a preparatory year for the MINI WRC, during which they would accumulate related experience to ensure that the rally car is fully competitive right from the start of the 2012 season. He added that Prodrive is not underestimating the task ahead and the stiff competition and that it is aiming to win the World Championship title with MINI.