The world famous single-point injection Mini Cooper was given the perfect send-off in its final World Rally Championship event, last weekend's Wales Rally GB, taking a class victory on one of the most gruelling events on the calendar.

Driven by Neil Burgess and co-driven by Jim Holder, the CBM Motorsport-prepared car, known affectionately as Mildred, captured the imagination of the estimated 100,000 spectators as they poured into the Welsh forests to cheer her on.

Under the regulations of the sport's governing body, the FIA, this year's event was the final time that the classic specification of the Mini, which became famous through its victories in Monte Carlo and Great Britain, could compete on the world stage.

Mindful of the notoriously rough conditions, the team set out with just one goal - to finish. Helped by unusually dry conditions, Mildred quickly became established as the fans' favourite and was cheered wherever she went.

But the fairytale finish nearly came unstuck twice. First when the alternator belt came off in the pitch darkness of stage 14, Resolfen, taking out the water pump belt and wrapping itself around the radiator fan. Despite spending almost 40 minutes fixing the problem and having to drive on just dipped headlights, the team made it back to service. Here, Mildred was knocked into much better shape by the CBM crew and an influx of helpers from no less than the official Ford/M-Sport mechanics.

Then, on the first stage of the final day, the rear left wheel was knocked out of line, making Mildred incredibly hard to drive - a situation not helped by a puncture further into the stage. But, once again, the CBM crew, spearheaded by team manager Anna McColl and spanner guru Simon Maxted, rose to the occasion and fixed Mildred in time.

Two stages later Mildred pulled up at the finish in Margam Park in 39th overall and as the class A5 winner. As a result of her immense popularity, she was afforded a lap of honour on the grass in front of the rows of fans - something that only event winner and new world champion Petter Solberg was also allowed to do.

To cap an incredible adventure, the team then received the world champion treatment again on the finish podium in Cardiff when hundreds of spectators cheered the team in to a shower of fireworks and confetti.

"To get a place on the starting list for the event was great, but it was even more important to everyone involved in the team that we made sure that the single-point Mini bowed out of the WRC in a style appropriate to its history," said Burgess, "That we could do that with a class win is a testament to the teamwork at CBM and an incredible honour.

"It's hard to know what's next, because we have spent so much time, effort and - it must be said - money concentrating on Wales Rally GB. I think next season is probably going to be spent paying off the credit card bills from this. Mildred is too much fun to drive to just leave in a museum, though, so I sincerely hope she'll be out again."

Holder added: "We went into the event not knowing what to expect, but from the very first stage it was obvious that people were rooting for us to defy the odds. We always said a finish would be like a victory and, after the fantastic reaction of the fans and particularly the marshals to the whole team, it's hard to imagine how we could top this."

CBM Motorsport was supported on Wales Rally GB by: Ikea, Competition Car Insurance, Motorsport News, Carl Williamson and Rallysport Direct, Mini Cooper Register, Minilite Wheels, Jakob Ebrey Photographic, Mini Shop, Omex, Magnum Seats, Mini World, Langley Autocraft, BG Motorsport (Ohlins), Utopia Signs, Blaupunkt, M-Sport/Ford BP, Bob Ceen, Peltor, Pacenotes.com, Fastime co-drivers' watches - and an awful lot of spectators and marshals. We thank you all!

CBM Motorsport making it all possible for Burgess and Holder on Wales Rally GB were: Anna McColl, Jo Holland, Kate Price, John, Lloyd, Chris Tennant, Colin Harrison, Simon Wallis, Tony Fidoe, Matt Gray, Simon Maxted, Mark Hall, Paul Clark, Rob Wiltshire, Simon Thomas, David Hardingham, Andy Croft, Clem Burgess.

Mildred the Mini on Wales Rally GB - facts:

1. The build-up to the rally began with an unusual photoshoot as event organisers tried to find out how many students you could fit in a rally Mini. The Cardiff University girls' lacrosse team turned up, cramming five of them into Mildred.

2. Despite running alone two of the three times in the Superspecial stage in Cardiff docks, and last, commentators reported that Mildred received louder cheers than even Colin McRae. A similar reaction was reported in the spectator-friendly Walters Arena section in Rheola and continued throughout all of the sections.

3. Mildred's victory in her only head-to-head in the Superspecial stage on Saturday night owed a lot to the generosity of the opposition - Sun journalist Rob Gill and his co-driver Nick Taylor. The Subaru Impreza-driving pair gave Mildred a 15s headstart and then stopped before the line to let her win.

4. Blood, sweat and tears - when Mildred stopped with alternator problems in Resolfen both crew members cut their hands trying to straighten the twisted cooling fan. Jim won the sympathy vote, though - at the following service he received two stitches in a finger.

5. At the finish in Margam Park Mildred was granted a lap of honour along the grass in front of the spectator areas. She was then given a firework and confetti finish at the ramp in Cardiff - all to the tune of the 1969 classic The Italian Job's 'Self-Preservation Society'. Only event winner and new world champion Petter Solberg received the same honours.

 

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