PUZZLING: MINI Motorsport “to follow new path in the FIA WRC”

As a motoring journalist, deciphering press releases from auto makers goes with the territory. In my years in this industry, never before have I come across a press release that skirts an issue to this degree. BMW/MINI are masters at this, and here is their latest fob-off:

After Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio finished second on the return of the brand to the legendary Monte Carlo Rally, the direction has now been set for a long-term MINI presence in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC): On Thursday 2 February, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) accepted a two-car manufacturer entry by WRC Team MINI Portugal into the 2012 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers. As a consequence MINI will complete the homologation for the MINI John Cooper Works WRC. The WRC Team MINI Portugal – consisting of Armindo Araújo and his co-driver Miguel Ramalho, as well as Paulo Nobre and co-driver Edu Paula – will contest the remaining 12 events of the 2012 FIA World Rally Championship.

This long-term homologation ensures that the MINI John Cooper Works WRC can be used in the premier league of rallying, and other series in accordance with FIA regulations, up to and including 2018. The cooperation with Prodrive will be put on a new basis. Prodrive remains responsible for the construction and support of MINI John Cooper Works WRC customer vehicles, and will continue to work with the BMW Group on the further development of the car. The WRC Team, run by Prodrive, will from now on start as a works-supported private team.

“I am delighted that the future of MINI in the WRC has been secured on a long-term basis,” said Dr. Kay Segler, Senior Vice President MINI Business Coordination and Brand Management. “We remain convinced that the sport of rallying is perfectly suited to our brand. The situation we now find ourselves in means the MINI Motorsport family can, and will, continue to grow on the rally scene. With three podiums from just seven starts in the world championship, the MINI John Cooper Works WRC has already emphatically proven its potential. I am confident that our customer teams around the world will continue to thrill MINI fans with this car over the coming years. The FIA was just as interested in the long-term presence of the MINI brand in the WRC as we were, and was actively involved in finding a constructive solution. We are grateful for the good cooperation and the understanding it has shown us.”

Segler added: “With its great enthusiasm and hard work, the Prodrive team has played a major role in the remarkable sporting success we have achieved on our initial outings with the MINI John Cooper Works WRC. On behalf of MINI Motorsport, I would like to thank everyone at Prodrive for their efforts so far and we look forward to working with them in support of our MINI John Cooper Works WRC customers in the future.”

In plain English, this press release simply states that MINI have subverted the role of Prodrive to a “works-supported private team” with the WRC Team MINI Portugal (run by an Italian motorsport firm) will run as MINI’s “factory” team for the remainder of 2012. Prodrive will continue to develop and homologate the MINI John Cooper Works WRC machine. It is good news for existing MINI WRC customers, but for Dani Sordo I am afraid he might just be sidelined for the remainder of the season. Already cutting Kris Meeke from the starting line-up, how will Prodrive fund Sordo in future rallies? Well, the questions this press release from the German motor manufacturing giant has raised will be the subject of many more articles I feel…