MINI: Araujo safely home, Nobre steals fans’ hearts

WRC Team MINI Portugal driver Armindo Araújo and his co-driver Miguel Ramalho successfully negotiated the treacherous slow and ice to complete their first outing in their MINI John Cooper Works WRC at Rally Sweden this weekend.

After three days of tough competition and mixed fortunes Araújo was delighted to get to the finish of one of the most difficult and demanding events of the 2012 World Rally Championship. The Portuguese driver is now looking forward to tackling Rally Guanajuato México next month, the first overseas event for the Motorsport Italia-run WRC Team MINI Portugal where the double PWRC Champion finished in the top 10 in a Group N car in 2010.

After a relentless battle with the alien terrain It was an unfortunate ending to the event for Araújo’s team mate, the permanently positive Brazilian Paulo Nobre who was forced to retired on SS22 after going off the road and getting stuck in a ditch.

Coming to the event off the back of a top 10 finish at his debut Rallye Monte- Carlo in January, and experience warning him what to expect from Rally Sweden, Araújo was confident he could put in a strong performance at the event. However, challenged by somewhat different conditions to those at home in Portugal and a host of specialist Scandinavian on the entry list, it was going to be a mammoth task from the outset.

The Portuguese driver, who finished third in the PWRC on his last outing at Rally Sweden in 2010, started the weekend on a high showing a strong performance on Day One, even being the fastest MINI on SS9, during which he was able to find a good rhythm and – after a few changes – a good set-up for his MINI. The only mishaps of the opening day were a spin on SS5, which cost him 20 seconds, and a few other minor mistakes. By the end of the day the twice PWRC Champion was in 14th overall, motivated to continue the good work on Day Two, and so he did, even managing to switch positions with local hero PG Andersson by the end of the first section, until he cracked his exhaust manifold on the Super Special at the end of the opening loop. Help was at hand and the extraordinary work of the boys at Motorsport Italia – meant the problem was fixed at midday service although unfortunately costing him a 1:10 minute penalty for being seven minutes late out of service. Turbo problems haunted Araújo’s afternoon on Day Two and he dropped back to 15th place. However, tireless work to resolve the troubles in service saw him back on the stages in full force Sunday morning and, never to be defeated, and with his MINI back on top form – the Portuguese driver successfully completed every stage of the rally and finished Rally Sweden in 15th overall.

Nobre, who delightedly opened every day of Rally Sweden, knew that driving in these conditions wasn’t going to be easy but hoped to put the advice he gleaned from training with local hero Patrik Sandell last week on how to drive on ice and snow into practice. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. The Palmeiras supporter went off the road 12km into SS2 – the first proper stage of the rally – got stuck in a snow bank, regained the road but eventually broke his MINI’s radiator and was forced to retire for the day.

Back in the game on Day Two, the Brazilian drove steadily through the stages until he went off and got stuck in a ditch. However, he wasn’t ready to give up and after running along the stage using his irresistible positivity to encourage spectators to help him push the MINI back on the road, he was able to re-join the event and get to the end of the stage. Despite ultimately retiring from Rally Sweden on SS22 when he once more lost the road, Nobre was very happy with the experience he got from driving so many kilometres in the snow and is now looking forward to competing in a completely different scenario in Mexico next month.

Armindo Araújo: “We are very happy to have made it to the end of Rally Sweden. It was a big challenge for us as snow isn’t our favourite surface and we don’t have much experience on it. We made a few set up changes to our MINI throughout the weekend and the car is now working well. We made a few small mistakes on the first day and unfortunately yesterday we had the problem with the exhaust manifold and the turbo but overall it was a good weekend and we learnt a lot on how to drive in snowy and icy conditions. It’s a positive result for us, for WRC Team MINI Portugal and for MINI and I hope we can achieve an even better result in Mexico.”

Paulo Nobre: “This was a fantastic weekend for us, unfortunately we had to retire on SS22 but still we enjoyed driving in the snow a lot on our MINI John Cooper Works WRC. The guys at Motorsport Italia were amazing, they did a great job on the car throughout the weekend and made a big effort when they repaired the MINI on Friday night so I could restart on Saturday morning. Opening the rally every day was a fantastic experience for us and we felt a lot of support from the fans out here. Now we look forward to go to Mexico in a few weeks time for the first rally of the season on our side of the world.”

Bruno de Pianto, Motorsport Italia Team Manager: “Rally Sweden has been a fantastic rally for us. We are very proud of the confidence MINI has shown in Motorsport Italia by nominating us as their manufacturer entry this season and we hope that having WRC Team MINI Portugal’s number one driver Armindo Araujo successfully reach the finish reinforces this faith and support. It was never going to be an easy undertaking on MINI’s first full snow rally in the WRC, but everyone in the team from engineers and mechanics through to the crews themselves gave it everything they had. Now we are already looking ahead to Mexico – a new climate, a new challenge and a new experience as we tackle our first long haul together with MINI!”

Source: Motorsport Italia