Over 200 journalists and 30 cameramen squeezed into the T-building at Mini’s Oxford site this morning to see the first Mini works rally team for over 40 years formally launched to the press and public.
Before the Prodrive-engineered ‘Mini John Cooper Works WRC’ car was brought on stage, we were treated to an appearance by Paddy Hopkirk and Rauno Aaltonen in a period 1965 Mini Cooper rally team.
It’s tempting to think that the general public and potential Mini buyers would hardly even register this part of Mini history. Tempting but, judging by the press turn-out from across Europe, wrong.
Images of the Mini rally cars of the 1960s, marked out by the iconic bank of spotlights, are probably still very familiar to people - like me - who were born after the height of Mini’s rallying success.
If nothing else, endless re-runs of ‘The Italian Job’ ensures that the classic Mini rally car is a live part of the country’s wider cultural heritage. And the importance of those Mini rally car images remain a big consideration for BMW.
Dirk Holweg, BMW Motorsport representative on the WRC project said that this new car would "create the pictures" for today’s all-important social media presence.
So you can hardly blame BMW for exploiting such a vivid part of the Mini story. BMW’s Brit director of sales and marketing, Ian Robertson, described the move into WRC as "going back to Mini’s roots".
Apparently, the Mini WRC project began with a conversation between Prodrive boss Dave Richards and Ian Robertson at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in July 2009.
Prodrive’s engineers had already started work on developing an ‘ideal’ competition car to meet the FIA’s new WRC regulations which, the company claims, was very useful when the Mini Countryman-based project began life. The Mini will compete in just six events this season, and will have 7000 kilometres of testing under its wheels by the time it enters the Rally d’Italia Sardegna on 5th May.
Dave Richards described the 2011 season as a "testing season". In 2012 Mini will be "challenging the front-runners" and in 2013, "challenging for the championship". The two WRC Minis will be piloted by Kris Meeke and Dani Sordo.
Incidentally, if you fancy piloting a Mini WRC car yourself in a national championship, Prodrive will set you up in one for just £350,000.
Images of this super-aggressive Countryman - which will get a bank of spots on the bonnet - will be whizzing around the web over the next three years (and on dedicated, live, WRC internet TV according to Richards), reinforcing BMW’s message that the Mini can be a serious performance car, not just a glossy bauble.
And a road-going, low-riding, Countryman inspired by the WRC is surely inevitable within the next 24 months (though nothing has been finalised as yet).
But, like the iconic images of Twiggy - who is even today still modelling for a high street brand - which are back in fashion, the swinging 1960s seems to be a period that remains as compelling and evocative for marketeers as it ever was.