The MINI Countryman WRC was unveiled at the 2010 Paris motor show. This vehicle was revealed to celebrate MINI's return to the FIA World Rally Championship in 2011. It is powered by a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder Di turbo-charged engine from BMW Motorsport matted to an Xtrac 6-speed sequential gearbox. The mere launch of this vehicle projects that MINI has many plans for its future and is continually extending the MINI family. Head of MINI brand management Dr. Wolfgang Armbrecht was interviewed by BMW Blog in relation to MINI's brand direction and the MINI WRC. Here is an excerpt of their interview:
BMWBLOG: Let’s talk first about MINI’s comeback to WRC. How is MINI trying to bring the excitement and feeling of WRC and Rally to their prospects and customers?
Dr. Wolfgang Armbrecht: First of all, MINI has been for many, many years in the rally, maybe you know the history of MINI in the ‘60s, when we have won a couple of times the World Rally Championship – Monte Carlo 1000 Lakes Rally, etc. MINI has a very strong history as far as rally sport is concerned, and what we do here is simply that we start again. If we go a little bit back to our roots, in relation to our 50 years – last year we celebrated MINI 50, simply to make it clear that this is a brand with a long history, a long tradition, with very good basics to develop the next success.
And rally is a natural link, a natural combination with the brand MINI, and that’s why the reason to go into rally is obvious, and that’s why we decided to go to WRC. This is the background.
And excitement – maybe you look a little bit in the history – and maybe you look also at the current rally history – it’s full of excitement – and there is a car of MINI customers that really lust for that kind of Motorsport.
BMWBLOG: What were the decision points behind using the 1.6-litre, four-cylinder turbo-charged engine from BMW for the Countryman WRC?
Dr. Wolfgang Armbrecht: There are a couple of reasons. First of all, according to us, the Countryman is a fantastic pre-requisite for rally: we have the 4◊4, which is a very good pre-requisite, then the car has the right size according to our opinion and also the engine, due to the new regulation. So, this 1.6 liter engine was developed within our BMW Motorsports . We take this engine and we adapt it for the WRC. This means we’ve got the car, the 4◊4, the right suspension and we’ve got an engine. A perfect fit.
The engine went hand-in-hand with the new FIA regulations, and as we all know, it was an important influential factor because the new regulations made it a little bit more affordable for the competitors, for us, to step into this direction. Due to the new regulations, it is possible to save costs – which is an important issue also for many suppliers, for many companies, and also a influential factor for our decision to enter the championship.
We have a clear objective, to have a competitive engine at the end of the day.
BMWBLOG: Why has MINI teamed up with Prodrive?
Dr. Wolfgang Armbrecht: First of all, there was an intention from our end to go to WRC and look for a partner, and Prodrive has been in the field for many years, there were many links between BMW and Prodrive – over the last 10 to 15 years, and probably the most important thing, Prodrive had an excellent record as far as the rally business was concerned.
BMWBLOG: Talking about design, was it influenced by designers or is it just aerodynamics?
Dr. Wolfgang Armbrecht: We have both influencing factors. But the most relevant is aerodynamics, because you have in mind to build a fast car. On the other hand, we have to acknowledge that inside the car we have to combine both factors, and therefore we should have aerodynamics and a good design.
The MINI designers were deeply involved in the process, it was a very good cooperation – this means “partnershaft” – every partner put on the table what it can do best – and the designers worked closely together with Prodrive.
BMWBLOG: Will we also see a WRC street-legal model – a more sporty version?
Dr. Wolfgang Armbrecht: It’s too early for this. Maybe later. We will see.
BMWBLOG: And what is the response received from customers related to the WRC comeback announcement?
Dr. Wolfgang Armbrecht: A very good feedback. Especially our partner Prodrive who is doing this customer-related business has already many orders on the table for the customer-related cars. This is really good. It has not so much to do with the fantastic car; it has only to do with the MINI Countryman.
BMWBLOG: How will marketing be used for the MINI WRC?
Dr. Wolfgang Armbrecht: Marketing is a fantastic possibility – advertising. But MINI is not so much into advertising, but on face-to-face communication. This means we work a lot on the internet, social media, Facebook., we’ll use our special MINI pages, and then we transfer them into events. And with rally, at every location we have the chance, together with our national subsidiary, to build up customer-related events. For us this is a fantastic because the difference for example to Formula 1, is that you’re much closer to the track, much closer to the driver, much closer to the car. And this means a lot as far as authenticity is concerned, from a marketing perspective, and therefore we are very happy.
BMWBLOG: Will there be any links to MINI Challenge?
Dr. Wolfgang Armbrecht: Challenge is a different thing, because the Challenge is a customer-related event and it will remain as it is – this has grown over the last years and there is a group of customers who loved it – to rally against each other. Challenge is a customer-related issue, but the real competitors are in the World Rally Championship.
And one more thing, MINI has grown to a family in the meantime. And wherever there is an opportunity, we show the whole family. MINI is not a single car – in the meantime there are four cars, and next year we get a fifth car, and then in the following year we get a sixth car. This means MINI is growing in many respects.
Source: BMW Blog