Cherished the world over, everybody knows about the Mini. Whether that’s because it was the transport of
choice for four Liverpool boys, collectively
known as The Beatles or because it reigned
supreme in three of its four Monte Carlo
Rallies, who knows? But now there’s a
new Mini to love – and the World Rally
Championship has fallen for it already.
When the “Mini for WRC” story broke
two summers ago, it seemed impossible.
The new car, the Mini John Cooper
Works WRC, is also British…or at least,
it’s one-third British. Prodrive, the firm
which sent Japanese minnow Subaru out
of a farmer’s field and into the WRC
winners circle in the 1990s, is developing
and building the car; the 1.6-liter
turbocharged engine comes from BMW
Motorsport in Germany and the
Countryman itself is built in Austria.
There wasn’t a Cooper big enough to fit the
regulations. Then came the Countryman,
a monster of a Mini with four doors and
as many driven wheels. Suddenly it all
made sense. Mini is a range, not just one
revolutionary, pocket-sized car; and it’s
also a global range. The Countryman, like
the Cooper and Clubman, can be seen
throughout America, having cracked the
While BMW and Mini are big into the
history and the marketing potential of
the program, Prodrive has its eyes firmly
on the future – and more glory for a team
already boasting five WRC titles.
Looking forward is partly because
Prodrive’s recent past was pretty painful.
U.S. market much as The Beatles did –
and its iconic namesake didn’t.
The default setting with anything
Mini is to revert to the 1960s and the
The Subaru-Prodrive partnership fell apart
at the end of 2008, when the Japanese
marque walked away from the WRC. This
was partly because of tough economic
conditions and partly because the
Impreza hadn’t won for three years and
its next victory didn’t look imminent.
Monte Carlo rally – but the Mini, in fact,
won rallies as diverse as the 1,000 Lakes
and the Acropolis. It was a true giant-killer. And a true factory car. Turned out
of BMC’s competitions department in
Abingdon, Oxforshire, UK, it had a
company, a city and a country behind it.
Prodrive has, however, taken a
di;erent approach with the Mini. In the
immediate aftermath of Subaru, the firm’s
design department was tasked with
generating the optimum rally machine,
tailored to new-for-2011 regulations but
not to any car in particular, because no
deal had been done. After 18 months of
virtual design, the Mini deal was signed,
and theory became practice last
September, when a John Cooper Works
WRC test car was fired down a gravel road
in Portugal for the first time.
The WRC has moved on now. It’s no
longer about super high-tech electronics,
and active this, that and the other; nor
does it involve Formula 1-style budgets.
It’s now a stock formula, with one
specification of manual, sequential gear
Words David Evans All images McKlein/LAT
Mini’s World Rally
program is not just a
branding exercise, but
a genuine attempt to
reconjure the old magic.
Follow Mini’s attempts to catch
and beat the Citroens and Fords
throughout the WRC season, on