Petter Solberg may have won the Wales Rally GB two weeks ago, but he wasn't the only star of the event, here Crash.net talks exclusively to 'Mini men' Neil Burgess and co-driver, Jim Holder. The two who, along with all those from CBM, were responsible for getting 'Mildred' through the 18-stage event and back to the finish in Cardiff. So you want to know what they thought of it all? Well get reading... it's a 'Mini adventure' - sort of!

Q:
Neil, Jim - the Rally GB was a resounding success two weeks ago, the championship battle went down to wire and to top if off, there was a Mini on track, to the delight of thousands of fans and the media. What was it like to play a part in that success?

Neil Burgess:
It was awesome - we knew it would be fantastic fun but did not expect the marshals and spectators to get behind our efforts in the way that they did.

Jim Holder:
I still can't believe people are talking about our efforts in the same breath as the world championship decider! To be allowed out there was incredible - to think other people were enjoying what we were doing is just mind-blowing!

Q:
What inspired both of you to take the Mini out on the Rally GB - was it the image of Paddy Hopkirk winning the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally?

NB:
Not just that - the Mini has a wealth of competition history dating back 44 years. Barrie Williams won an international event outright in a Mini for the first time in Wales, then you have Paddy, Timo Makinen and Rauno Aaltonen - who won at Monte Carlo and Rauno, who won the RAC. The more time continued, the more it became a burden, as we had to take the Mini out in the style to which it was accustomed!

JH:
Confession time... and sorry if this destroys a nice image! I'm not a real Mini nut - in the sense of being a member of the Mini Cooper Register - and I'm not old enough to remember 1964...

NB:
Hey - nor am I!!

JH:
...so images of Paddy Hopkirk didn't figure up there, although I'm obviously aware of the significance of it all. But with Neil, Anna [McColl] and everyone at CBM's help, I'm showing signs of Mini love...

Q:
Winning the class must have made it even more special though, the 'icing on the cake'?

NB:
Definitely, the only thing better would have been an outright win!

JH:
Well, we ate more cheese-strings than cake or icing, but it's true this one had everything, from the little bit of history, the David versus Goliath angle - well small, old and privately-entered car versus cavernous ruts! - ...right across to the reaction of the marshals and fans. I suppose winning outright might feel better... but I'm not sure and I don't think I'll ever find out!

Q:
If both of you could pick out one high and one low from the event, what would they be?

NB:
My low was definitely battling to get the new belt on in the middle of a dark Resolfen 2 - blood everywhere and time ticking away.

My high - well I can't decide if it was arriving back in service on time after the belt problem or finally getting to the finish!

JH:
The low must be Resolfen 2. Put simply, I'd given up. As far as I was concerned it was all over, and it took a special sort of determination to get us through - sadly, a quality I wasn't showing much of...

My high - On a wholly personal level, Crychan and Halfway, because that's where I felt the notes went best [Neil might not agree!] In the build up to the event Jari-Matti Latvala's BRC and WRC co-driver Carl Williamson spent a lot of time away from his Rallysport Direct parts and clothing company in Port Talbot teaching me, basically from scratch, to make and read pace-notes. That I got anywhere close to sounding vaguely on it during the weekend owed a lot to his time and patience. He didn't have to do it - and it is a measure of what a great fellow he is that he did. On a far wider level, the reaction of the marshals and fans to 'Mildred' was, of course, totally humbling. 'Mildred' might have been worthy, but certainly not me!

Q:
What special changes were made to the Mini Cooper so that you could compete in Wales?

NB:
We had a tough year in this year's Pirelli British Rally Championship with lots of disappointment so we changed everything that could wear, break or cause a problem - the shopping list was impressive to say the least! We have competed on some tough gravel events before but for the Rally GB we added on an exhaust guard that went from the back of the sump guard to the back of the car - acting as a large toboggan skid. Thankfully it worked and we suffered very little gravel damage to the underside of the car.

JH:
Not letting me too near 'Mildred'! I tried, but with the technical ability of a dizzy wasp I proved about as much use as, well, a dizzy wasp. Neil has just pointed out that in the picture in Motorsport News when he is fixing 'Mildred' in Resolfen 2, the torch I am holding doesn't even appear to be on! Says it all, doesn't it? Which is just one reason why every conversation I have with the CBM volunteers will always include the words "thank" and "you" many, many times!

Q:
What was the finish like with the lap of honour along the grass in front of the spectators at Margam Park, and then the fireworks and confetti at the finish ramp in Cardiff, with the 1969 classic 'The Italian Job' 'Self-Preservation Society' tune playing?

NB:
Unbelievable, completely unbelievable! Parts of it keep popping into my mind and it still amazes me! Despite fighting the thoughts we had dreamed of that moment so much through the project that for it to actually arrive was just stunning. Oh and I went a bit loopy with a bottle of champers... that was fun - sorry to everyone I drenched!

JH:
I think he'd earned his moment of madness, don't you? If anyone saw me up there and thought I looked and sounded a bit lost, it was because I couldn't believe what was happening... and I'm not sure it has sunk in even now. It wasn't even a dream coming true, because I hadn't even dared to dream of reaching the finish, let alone getting a send-off like that! And without wishing to sound too schmultzy, it was genuinely fantastic that they let the CBM team members present up there, too. They had all worked so hard and that teamwork deserved some big time recognition!

Q:
How did the other drivers' react to the Mini? Did anyone special or any of the big names pop by to see 'Mildred'?

NB:
At one point or another we had all of the factory service crews coming over and watching our services and we got waves from all bar one of the works drivers when we met them going the other way. George Donaldson [Sporting Director of Subaru] congratulated us on a professional team at the end which was a very special thing for him to say - it reflected on the whole team who at the end of the day are a bunch of good friends.

JH:
After our pre-event photoshoot with Jari-Matti Latvala he seemed to take quite a shine to 'Mildred'. He's a lovely guy and a massive talent... and, who knows, he might be seen in a Mini near you for a bit of a test one day! Also, after our Resolfen dramas some of the works M-Sport mechanics popped by... to help fix 'Mildred'. How amazing is that? Heart-warmingly it proved sportsmanship is still alive and well and I certainly won't forget that kind of generosity.

Q:
Who did both of you want to win this year's FIA WRC drivers' and manufacturers' titles, and why?

NB:
Richard Burns, he gets a lot of stick but at the end of the day he is a guy from Reading that has to work hard to get where he is now.

JH:
Here, what's wrong with Reading? I lived there for three years... Actually, Neil is right. Coming from Reading can't help anyone wanting to be World Rally Champion. Purple Turtle bar aside (sorry, only Reading readers will know what I mean!), it used to be a terrible place... much nicer now, though! We all know British talent is under funded and under helped at every level and that this problem has cost us WRC drivers in the past (Mark Higgins springs to mind) - but that should make us even more proud of those that do make it, not knock them.

Q:
What plans do you both have for next year? Will we see the Mini in action on any British Rally Championship events?

NB:
I'm trying to get plans together at the moment. The biggest problem is money - as ever! I now work freelance and could not plan anything past the Rally GB - it was that absorbing! I would like to move up a class, but that will take even more cash! We have some mad ideas being thrown around in case we do find enough finance but at the very least I hope to turn out to one or two PBRC rounds with Anna, my regular co-driver. I would love to do some events with Jim again - he's a lot of fun and fits in with the team well.

JH:
I'm going to stand around smiling at Neil's final sentence for 12 months! What a nice chap! Will he never learn!! I've just bought a Formula 1000 car (well, the bits to build one) like the one we used on the Rally GB recce and hope to do as many rounds as time allows behind the wheel - so stand well back! I also want to plug Neil behind the wheel for an event, if he'll agree! Other than that, we'll see what comes up. The week after Wales Rally GB I was co-driving on an event in a 205 Challenge car in Dalby Forest, Yorkshire with Chris Moore, another leading talent in British rallying. We didn't finish, but we had a ball - and for someone of my limited talents (and funds!) that's what it has to be about. Never say never, but I can't see myself doing another WRC round or anything approaching that... Rally GB was only my seventh ever event, and not everyone is as patient as Neil and everyone at CBM when it comes to handling novice co-drivers. Maybe one day the long-term dream is to contest a BRC round in a front-running car and do the co-driver's job properly, or something close to properly, but that's going to take a lot of work (as well as time and money that I don't have!). It's good to dream, and I suppose we proved on Rally GB that miracles do happen, but I don't think it's usually to the same person twice...

Q:
Have either of you seen the new 'Italian Job' film? And what do you both think of the new Mini featured in it?

NB:
Ha, ha - yes I have seen the new film. It's a very good modern action adventure, but I'm not sure about the title. I think the video game has a better interpretation. The new Mini handles very well - it would be very interesting to see how it fared on rally stages.

JH:
To my shame, no... I still haven't got round to re-watching the original - Neil lent me about a month ago. Now nobody in the team is ever going to talk to me again!

Q:
Final thoughts...

NB&JH:
A big thank you to everyone that helped us with this, namely: 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!

Plus CBM hands making it possible. They were: Anna McColl, Jo Holland, Kate Price, Clem Burgess, John Lloyd, Carl Williamson, Chris Tennant, Colin Harrison, Simon Wallis, Tony Fidoe, Matt Gray, Simon Maxted, Mark Hall, Paul Clark, Rob Wiltshire, Simon Thomas, David Hardingham and Andy Croft.

Finally, a major thank you to all the marshals and spectators who waited for us. We were honoured!

 

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