David Richards has conceded that the ultimate goal for the Prodrive-run MINI assault on the World Rally Championship (WRC) has to be to clinch the crown – and he has set a three-year timeframe within which he expects to be duelling for glory.
It was announced last summer that MINI – one of the most iconic names in rallying, with legends such as Paddy Hopkirk, Timo Mäkinen and Rauno Aaltonen having all swept to victory on the Monte Carlo Rally using the Cooper – will return to the WRC from this season, powered by a 1.6-litre, turbocharged BMW Motorsport engine in adherence with the new Super 2000 regulations.
It is a long-term project, and Richards' ultra-successful Prodrive operation has been entrusted with its development, with Citroën refugee Dani Sordo and 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) Champion Kris Meeke on the driving strength – more of which later in the week. To that end, 2010 will be a part-campaign, with Richards hinting at an entry on half a dozen events over the latter half of the season.
“There's a lot going on and it's all hands to the pump,” the Welshman acknowledged, speaking exclusively to Crash.net
at the 2011 Autosport International show. “I don't think there are any spare hours in the day at the moment!
“Testing is going very well – we've had, touchwood, a very smooth run so far without any significant problems. There have obviously been minor issues, but nothing that has delayed us or given us any real concerns.
“The debut is going to be determined by the test programme, by the homologation of the car – which is due to take place in March – and then finally by production of components. Strangely enough, the production side is proving to be the most difficult challenge of all of these.
“The goals are to ultimately win the title, and there's no getting away from that – by 2013, the target is to be contenders for the world championship. Prior to then, we clearly have to win events, and this year I would hope that we'll be challenging for podium positions in our first season.”
It is an ambitious programme and one that has fans enthralled, and the 58-year-old agrees that the advent of the regulations overhaul is a real shot-in-the-arm for a championship that over the past few years has looked to be slowly dying on its feet as spending escalated almost F1-style and priced out all but the wealthiest manufacturers.
There is increased TV interest, too, from ESPN
, and Richards is optimistic that at long last, the WRC could be back on the road towards full health again. It is an opportunity to regain the glory days – and one, he asserts, that must be grabbed with both hands by all concerned.
“I personally believe that the future of the WRC is more in electronic media and web-based systems,” he opined. “I think you're going to see a lot more activity on that – it's free access, it's open to everybody and there are mountains and mountains of material there for people who are following the championship.
“The WRC needed a shake-up of the rules. Now it needs a bit of stability in the technical rules and a lack of questioning of where we're going to. I think we've got a stable set of rules and we've got sensible rules now – and you can see that from the investment that we're making, that other teams are making and the interest from new manufacturers as well.”