MINI’s participation in the World Rally Championship took another twist prior to Rally Sweden in early February when parent company BMW announced it was effectively ditching Prodrive from running its factory team in the WRC.
The project, which received start-up money from MINI but was ultimately self-funding, had visibly been in trouble since British driver Kris Meeke was dropped from the 2012 line-up to make way for cash-rich replacements. However, the problems started a long time before then, after Prodrive was not able to find the levels of commercial sponsorship it was hoping for.
With the relationship between the two parties increasingly strained amid Prodrive’s efforts to cajole an unwilling BMW board to divert money away from its costly DTM project to bolster the cash-strapped WRC effort, a divorce appeared to be inevitable.
But the settlement is far from straightforward. MINI has homologated the John Cooper Works WRC for use in FIA championships until the end of 2018, in line with its wish to stay in rallying due to the marketing benefits it has identified.
In order to appease the FIA after it deregistered the MINI WRC Team — as the factory squad was known — MINI has arranged for the customer Motorsport Italia outfit to enter a two-car manufacturer team on all remaining rounds of this year’s WRC under the banner of `WRC Team MINI Portugal’, but with the significantly weakened driver pairing of Armindo Araujo and Paulo Nobre.
In contrast, Dani Sordo, whose second-place finish on the Monte Carlo Rally in January (below) was the now-defunct MINI WRC Team’s third podium in seven starts, could be without a regular programme unless Prodrive can secure funds to carry on as a customer team.
If it does, then it will be doing so in tandem with carrying out the on-going development and build of the MINI as part of its new deal with BMW as “a workssupported private team”.