Here we have two interviews for you from Paris about MINI’s return to rally racing. One from Ian Robertson, member of the Board of Management, Sales and Marketing BMW Group, and another Prodrive Chairman and Chief Executive, David Richards.

Beginning first with Ian Robertson from BMW.

Mr Robertson, MINI is back in motorsport. What does this move mean for the brand?

Ian Robertson: “Our involvement in the World Rally Championship effectively sees MINI returning to its roots. In the early years, success in the world of motorsport contributed significantly to the rapid rise of the MINI. Back then, people saw that this little car not only looked good in everyday traffic, but also had a sporty side. This has not changed since then. We chose the World Rally Championship for our stage in order to prove the sportiness of MINI cars to today’s generation of drivers. The commitment also reinforces the key values of the MINI brand, ‘excitement’ and ‘energy’ as well underlining the manly side of the brand.”

Why is the MINI brand so well suited to rallying?

Robertson: “On the one hand, MINI can look back on a unique success story. On the other hand, MINI is the epitome of excitement for millions of fans around the world and thrills them with its energy. This is precisely what we are able to authentically and sustainably represent through our motorsport involvement in the World Rally Championship, with its big TV and media presence. Thrilling rally events, ultimate performances by man and machine, and as much success as possible, of course: motorsport is pure emotion – just as MINI is for its fans.”

How are the roles distributed in the World Rally Championship involvement?

Robertson: “MINI is the manufacturer of the MINI Countryman series car. It forms the basis for the MINI WRC, which has been developed by Prodrive since the start of 2009. MINI is also playing the role of Team Partner. The 1.6-litre Di turbo engine was developed by BMW Motorsport in Munich, based on the new FIA Super2000 regulations. Prodrive is also responsible for our appearances in the WRC and the production of customer rally cars.”

What goals have you set for the first season in 2011?

Robertson: “Anyone wanting to be successful in a World Championship must first gain experience and put in a lot of hard work. We will do that together with our partner Prodrive. David Richards’ team is very familiar with the World Rally Championship , so we can start at a very high level. Six rallies are planned for next year. In 2012 we will compete for the full season. It goes without saying we want to be competitive as quickly as possible, and I am optimistic we will succeed.”

When do you think you will be able to challenge Ford and Citroën for the title?

Robertson: “Experience is a very important factor in motorsport. For that reason it is essential that we learn as much as possible within a very short time, in order to make up ground on our rivals. The new regulations mean the gap to the top is smaller than it would have been another time. We want to annoy the opposition as soon as possible. You can plan your own performance in motorsport, but not a title win. All you can do is work as hard as possible to move closer to your goal. Our goal is to win the World Championship.”

What are the outstanding characteristics of the MINI Countryman, on which the MINI WRC is based?

Robertson: “The MINI Countryman is a car, the type of which there has never been before in the history of MINI. As a crossover it combines the classic MINI concept with the characteristics of a Sports Activity Vehicle – in a MINI that is at home far beyond the boundaries of the urban environment. It is the first MINI with four-wheel drive, which makes it predestined for the World Rally Championship. With its four doors and four seats it fits the motto: MINI on the outside, maxi on the inside. Because it is a true MINI, the Countryman is particularly low on fuel and emissions.”

What will MINI’s involvement in the Rally World Championship cost?

Robertson: “The costs of developing a car and running it in the World Rally Championship have fallen significantly since the introduction of the new FIA Super2000 regulations. We assume the costs will be about 25 percent lower than would have been the case in previous years. This was a huge influence on our decision to become involved. The 1.6-litre turbo engine was developed by BMW for use in a wide variety of fields. In addition, the sale of customer rally cars has a positive effect on the total calculation. The WRC offers MINI an attractive platform – with manageable costs. The cost/performance ratio is excellent.“

And now, David Richards from Prodrive.

Mr Richards, what does working together with MINI mean to you?

David Richards: “I have been involved in the World Rally Championship for more than 30 years, firstly co-driving Ari Vatanen and then subsequently managing several teams. I can honestly say that in all this time, I have personally never been so excited or seen so much interest in a new entrant, as we are seeing today with MINI. In the 1960s the original little red and white MINI captured the imagination of the world and won what was then the most challenging motor race in the world, the Monte Carlo rally. More than 40 years on and people still talk about this achievement with great fondness.”

Is it possible to add a further chapter to MINI’ success story in rallying?

Richards: “I firmly believe the new MINI WRC car will capture the imagination of today’s generation of rally fans just as it did then and, as in 1964, this interest will spread well beyond the world of motorsport. I have had so many people coming up to me and say that they had read about the new programme and would be cheering us on. I’m therefore sure that MINI’s participation will lead to a rejuvenation of interest in the World Rally Championship and bring a whole new audience to this spectacle.”

When did you start to develop the MINI WRC?

Richards: “While we are only now unveiling the new MINI WRC, Prodrive has been working on its development since the beginning of 2009. It is the most well prepared and best engineered rally car we have ever built, and in its first tests, it is already exceeding the targets we set ourselves for the project. I have to be honest and say that when we started on this road towards designing a rally car to the new 2011 WRC regulations, we never thought we would be working with MINI. Right at the beginning of this journey, we established a small but focussed team of engineers with the task of developing a new car with complete freedom to design the ideal rally car to meet the new 2011 rules. For the first three months we did nothing but analysis. We mathematically modelled every aspect of a rally car.”

Why was the MINI Countryman such a good basis for a WRC version?

Richards: “This initial work threw up some very interesting findings and fundamentally changed the way we approached the design of the MINI WRC car and also where we focussed our engineering resources. We analysed more than a dozen cars from various manufacturers, measuring key elements like wheel base, centre of gravity, weight, track etc. It was only then that one of my team mentioned he had heard about a new MINI. Having run race and rally programmes with BMW in the 1980s and 1990s I was still in touch with many people in the company and they were able to confirm that this was indeed the case. A few quick measurements of the new car and we soon realised that it would be a great base for a World Rally Car.

How does MINI contribute to the development process?

Richards: “By the end of last year our focus was totally on the Countryman. MINI shared all its technical and engineering data on the car and we began applying our generic rally car design to the Countryman. I have to say that the support from both the engineering and commercial teams in Munich is extraordinary. At the early stage there was only a gentlemen’s agreement in place, but since then there has been commitment to the project from all levels within the company.”

On which areas of the car did you put particular focus on?

Richards: “One of the key tasks we set the engineering team was to make the car practical and economical to use for private teams without in any way compromising its performance. The car will be produced in reasonable volumes, in motorsport terms of 25 to 30 per year, and thus it has to be easily maintained in remote locations across the world. As a result, if you look at the new MINI WRC, its design is very clean and simple and, in engineering terms, that has taken a lot more time and effort. For instance, all four uprights are interchangeable as are the anti-roll bars, so our customers don’t need so many spare parts to run their cars. There are also many innovative features around the rest of the car including the roll-cage design which will make the MINI extremely safe.”

Are you happy with the results of your team’s work?

Richards: “I am very proud of what our team of engineers has been able to achieve and the early testing results are extremely promising. By combining the experience of David Lapworth our technical director, who has been with Prodrive since the very beginning, with the inspiration and new ideas from a team of young engineers we have been able to produce a radically new car. However, let’s not underestimate the challenge that faces us as I’m sure our competitors are working equally hard on their new cars for 2011, but if you are going to be a new entrant to any championship, there is no better time to join than when there’s a new set of technical regulations and a new tyre supplier.”