2 JANUARY 4 2012 motorsport-news.co.uk
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“We want to have a faster car for 2012”
Ferrari heads promise to push harder for race wins
FORMULA FORD SET TO LOWER AGE BARRIER
British series poised to allow 15-year-olds to race
MIKKELSEN DENIES THAT IRC WILL BE A
Skoda star says lack of makes won’t spoil the contest
TOURING CAR ACE TURNS TRUCKIE FOR A DAY
Motorbase BTCC ace Jackson tries out a Volvo truck
Historic race and rally news
Insight:Solberg’s Ford deal
Tech Focus:Sporting Trials
Sporting Scene round-up
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ByDanMcCalla Britain’s hopes of finding a new World Rally hero have been hit by Kris Meeke’s sidelining from the factory Mini team due to the project’s financial troubles.
Just before Christmas, team operators Prodrive held ameeting at its Banbury base andmade the decision to rent out its second works car to willing pay drivers on each of the rounds it will run on in 2012. The team also decided that Spain’s Dani Sordo would remain as the team’s lead driver on the basis of his greater WRCexperience, leaving Meeke to become the driver of a third factory car on any events for which the team can find sponsorship to run him.
TheMini operation will not run on every 2012 round due to its budget woes. It will most likely skip the three long-haul events in Mexico, Argentina and NewZealand, but is expected to compete on all ten rounds in Europe.
Mini’s sponsor pain From the outset of the Mini project, which was first confirmed in July 2010, the business model of the team was that similar to M-Sport’s relationship with Ford. Mini’s parent company BMWwouldprovide a level of funding that would cover part of the team’s overall budget, but not all of it, with Prodrive having to attract its own private sponsorship to make up the shortfall. Despite Prodrive boss David Richards’ continued insistence throughout the second half of 2011 that a title sponsor would eventually be secured (MN, August 3 and November 16), that backing still hasn’t been forthcoming and that has left the team short of the full 2012 budget it was planning for.
This is partly due to the poor economic climate that is continuing to hit motorsport sponsorship, but the lack of any UKTVdeal or a stable promoter due to North One Sport’s troubles of late could also have been a contributing factor.
BMWhasputconsiderable investment into its newM3DTMrace car that will make its debut in the pan-European touring car series this year and while it hasn’t reduced its financial contribution to Mini, neither has it been increased. This has left Prodrive unable to run
Meek e ( l) wa s a p ro tég é o f t he late ra ll ying leg end Colin McRae
Sordo andMeeke over the full season, which was the aim.
Works entry planned Despite these troubles, Prodrive still wants to enter the 2012 WRCas a full manufacturer team and is currently in negotiation with the FIA about how it can do this despite not competing in all 13 rounds.
TheWRC’s sporting regulations state that amanufacturer “undertakes to take part in all the rallies of the Championship with aminimumof twoWorld Rally Cars”, but Prodrive is hoping that an exception can bemade in order to keep a third manufacturer in the series.
These negotiations do not necessarily have to be completed before the season begins on Rally Monte Carlo two weeks from now, as the deadline for teams to sign upwith non-manufacturer status is on the eve of Rally Portugal, the fourth round of the series at the end of March.
In a statement, the FIA said: “The FIA is continuing discussions with the MiniWRCTeam in the hope of reaching an agreement that will see it participate in a limited programme in 2012. The final registration date for WRCTeams to contest the FIAWorld Rally Championship for Manufacturers is March 27, 2012.”
Prodrive’s plan to run different drivers in the second factory seat is allowed under the rules for registered manufacturers. Each marque only has to nominate one driver that will compete in every round (Sordo in this case) and can use as many drivers in the second seat as it wishes.
best second is Meeke
Meeke is second best All this is of no consolation to 32-year-old Meeke, who may not get to compete in 2012 at all if Prodrive can’t find any money to run his car.
The Northern Irishman declined to comment on the situation when contacted by MN last week, but had already made his frustration with the decision to run a customer car clear with a post on his Twitter feed on December 23.
He wrote: “Ever wonder what it would be like to have the girl you loved tell you she’s leaving you to go work as a prostitute?” After receiving huge numbers of messages backing him, the Dungannon ace tweeted again on Christmas Eve, stating:
“WOW. That caused a bit of emotion! Appreciate the support!! Switching off for xmas. We’ll wake in 2012 and pull another gear...”
That aside, neither Meeke nor Prodrive had made any official comment on the situation as Motorsport News closed for press on Monday. However, Sordo announced on his personal website that he will be competing in ten rounds of the WRC this year. While he didn’t say which ten rounds those would be, it would make sense for a team short of funding to skip the three rounds outside Europe, which are by far the most expensive to take part in due to the costs of ferrying people, cars and equipment to South America and Australasia.
Sordo, 28, said: “I am delighted to be able to say I’ll be in the World Rally Championship next year. It is satisfying in view of the current situation. It makes me especially excited to be in Monte Carlo and be able to test with the car for the rally.”
Campana:first guest The second factory Mini is now available to hire for each round on which the team will compete in 2012.
The exact cost of the drive has not been confirmed, but media reports over the Christmas break suggested that the seat alongside Sordo could be available for £185,000 per rally. Based on a ten-round campaign, that could therefore bring in close to £2 million of funding to the outfit.
Corsican Pierre Campana is the first driver to take the seat for Rally Monte Carlo, in an effort funded by the French motorsport federation.
The FFSA paid for Campana to drive a John Cooper Works WRC on Rally Germany and Rally France last season, and he scored a points finish on the latter.
“I am thrilled to have been selected by Mini to join their squad for Monte Carlo following our achievements this year,” he said. “It is a rally I know well and enjoy. I won the 2WD class last year, so I am pleased to bring my experience and to showcase my abilities on such a competitive event.”
This could lead to a number of other drivers with Mini experience given a factory opportunity on events on which they have extensive knowledge. Patrik Flodin and Armindo Araújo, who both drove the John Cooper Works WRC in the world championship last season, would be natural candidates for their home events in Sweden and Portugal respectively.
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motorsport-news.co.uk JANUARY 4 2012 3
Photos: mcklein-imagedatabase.com and Jakob Ebrey
Northern Irishman pushed on to the sidelines as Mini needs extra funding
MEEKE STUNNED BY MINI CUTSInthewakeofMini’s
MEEKE’S UPS AND DOWNS
Takes two podiums in JWRC in Opel Corsa
Third in JWRC as Citroën team-mate Sordo wins crown
Beats Guy Wilks to British Junior championship Blasts onto JWRC scene and defends British Junior title
Junior pace man A part campaign
Lack of funds puts Meeke off the radar
Meeke gets IRC chance with Peugeot UK and snatches title
Meeke may get limited runs for Mini in the 2012 WRC
Lack of funds for Mini project leaves Meeke out in cold
Partial WRC campaign with Mini yields two top fives
Podiums in JWRC
JWRC title bid wrecked by mechanical problems Ulster win and Rally Ireland pace the pick of cash-strapped year
Takes IRC title victory
decision to sideline Meeke, MNasked followers of its @MNRally feed on Twitter for their views.A deluge of responses revealed sympathy for Meeke and anger at BMWandProdrive, as well as indicating a kick in the teeth for British interest in rallying.Here are a selection of responses: “BMW had a chance this year to win in the WRC and get the team up to speed on all events before VW joined, but they blew it.” ‘MalginUK’ “Mini are only as big as they are right now because of one man: Kris Meeke. They have lost a lot of fans now.” TimRobinson “Not bothered now after North One Sport/Mini/Prodrive shafted Meeke. Hope [François] Delecour wipes the floor with them all.” Tim Smith “Why have they done this? Colin McRae saw something in Kris Meeke. WRCwas just getting interesting again.” GrahamMcMurray “BMW’s commitment to DTM has left the Mini programme short of the funds. Bizarre when Mini and the Monte has such appeal.” Fran Bleasdale “It’s hard for Meeke but the hundreds of people behind the scenes building the cars are also affected. One car is better than none.” ‘Tarbarrels’ “What happened to the importance of having a Brit in a Mini that DR went on about? Big waste of talent.” Peter Taylor “Prodrive gambled and now a British talent has been dropped. KM deserved better.” AdamHeal
WHY SOLBERG FACES A MONTE CARLO STRUGGLE, ON PAGE 15