That’s right, the Countryman may be joining the fray just minutes (it seems) after rolling off the production lines, but the driver they want says not so fast…
Two-time World Rally Champion Marcus Gronholm will begin testing the Mini Countryman to see if he thinks it can compete in the World Rally Championship in Portugal this week.
But he won’t make his decision until he sees how the car performs on gravel, which is what he’ll need if he wants to succeed in Portugal.
Portugal is country with a long rallying tradition, dating back to its first WRC in 1973, and for the next 29 years the event went on to become one of the most difficult and notorious rallies on earth.
Recently, Portugal went to a gravel-only format. The new-look rally moved to a new host town, Vilamoura, in the Algarve holiday region on the south coast. The event base is the Algarve Stadium, where two Super Special stages will be held, while the spectacular gravel stages are located in the Algarve and Alentejo regions.
This would mark Gronholm’s full-time return to the sport with the Prodrive-based team next season, where they’ve been running the Countryman at Prodrive's Warwick test track in England all last week. Evidently, the car ran in complete WRC form with its BMW-developed 1.6-liter turbocharged engine revving up nicely.
Prodrive managing director Richard Taylor said the decision to take the car to Portugal was based on testing it on a variety of different surfaces at Warwick.
“We can simulate different rallies and different surfaces out there,” he said. “And we have some good data from previous tests out there as well.”
Mini has signed Kris Meeke and Per-Gunnar Andersson as its drivers for next season, with Gronholm remaining a possibility for a third car. Meeke and Andersson will drive the Mini in six WRC events and will begin an intensive test program early next year.
Sounds like it’s off to the races for the brand new MINI Countryman. This should be interesting…
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