Mini returns to World Rally Championships
- 7 April 2011
- From the section Business
For the first time in almost fifty years, an official Mini team is entering the World Rally Championship.
In 1964, the Mini turned its iconic status into world fame when it won the Monte Carlo rally.
The new BMW Mini, built and run by Prodrive, will take part in its first rally in Sardinia on 5th May.
The Banbury-based team is hoping to challenge for individual rally wins next year, and the championship in 2013.
The original Mini was driven to its famous win in Monte Carlo by Paddy Hopkirk.
With its small engine it struggled uphill against bigger American rivals, but excelled downhill - especially on loose surfaces and round tight bends.
It wasn't the quickest car in the rally, but the bigger cars couldn't get far enough ahead of the Mini to overcome their penalties under the handicap system.
We reunited Paddy Hopkirk with his 1964 car - now a museum piece - for a trip around Prodrive's test track near Coventry.
Had he enjoyed driving it back in the '60s? "Oh my goodness yes. It was my job and my life, but it was a job I loved doing. And I was probably better at doing that than I was at studying at university."
We gave him a chance to compare his old car with the new version when he had the opportunity to drive the Prodrive Mini around the same circuit.
"I've never driven a Formula One car but it feels like it," Paddy said. "What power - the grip and the brakes are just amazing."
The new Mini rally car is officially unveiled next week. The 1964 win led to a big increase in sales for the car - and BMW is hoping to recreate at least part of that success.
The original Mini was very similar to a standard road car that people could buy from showrooms.
The new version is very different from its showroom equivalent, with millions of pounds invested in making it as competitive as possible. It's the same shape as the standard car, but that's about it.
And whereas in the 1960s rally cars were completely different and a handicap system allowed them to compete, now the cars are very similar in size, weight and power - so winning or losing will come down to tiny engineering differences and, of course, the driver.
The new man behind the Mini's wheel is Kris Meeke.
"It's a special time in my career I have to say, for a marque like Mini to be coming back to the World Rally Championship," he says.
"A fellow countryman in Paddy Hopkirk back in 1964 made the Mini so popular.
"For me it's just a special time and if we can emulate a little bit of the success they had back in the '60s it'll be fantastic."
It is possible to buy the modern rallying Mini too. It's road legal, and it's possible to enter the rally in it.
Prodrive, which runs the rally team for BMW, sells the car and an aftercare package - with prices beginning around £400,000.