2012 was a difficult year for Prodrive – they lost Mini backing at the start of the season and had to rely on their own funds and do limited number of rallies throughout the year. Despite all that, results and pace of Mini’s WRC car were promising. Ultimately, car got it’s papers sorted thanks to the official homologation team (also known as WRC Team Mini Portugal), but Prodrive is still on it’s own. FIA’s lengthy delays in picking and then announcing the global promotion plans for 2013 and beyond, made it difficult for Prodrive to negotiate potential sponsorship deals, so 2013 looks to be pretty much similar to 2012, with the added bonus of having a bit more time to prepare as elaborate programme as possible.
For now, they’re certain to miss Rallye Monte Carlo, and are hoping to make it for the second round of the series, Rally Sweden. After that, Prodrive hopes to do as many rallies as possible and for that they’ll need to rely on additional funding from drivers. Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? Well, not really.
As difficult as 2012 was for Prodrive, they were able to remain active and development of the car never ceased. That enabled them to remain valid option for investors, and we learned recently that the team is talking to it’s commercial partners about the 2013 prospects.
But what about drivers. Prodrive prepared very capable and competitive car, and in the right hands and with the right development this car is certainly fit for podium finishes and even victories. With experienced and talented driver(s), Prodrive would be in for a solid season, but can they work out such a deal? Fast and competitive drivers with powerful sponsors are not exactly falling from the sky and opting for either speed or money can backfire – they could end up replicating Motorsport Italia results with money-only drivers or be forced to bail out after only handfull of rallies with talented yet underfunded driver.
On the other hand, we cannot really judge how difficult the situation really is for Prodrive. There is a new TV deal in place and global promotion looks all but sorted (I hope), so few strong outings in the first half of the season might bring in new investors and sponsors. Another good thing is the surge of talented young drivers looking for a chance of a WRC drive – young drivers with sponsors. Perhaps some of them are not as competitive and experienced yet, but I believe such drivers would be better option for Prodrive instead of using experienced, money laden yet slow backmarkers, just for the show.
It’s pretty sad that Prodrive needs to approach yet another season in this fashion. Even more sad after all the work they did with the Mini WRC car, and mighty fine work at that. The co-operation with Mini and BMW still exists and both companies will work together in futher development of the car, so there is a chance of Mini and Prodrive rekindling their WRC project and relaunching full WRC attack in 2014.
New global promoter and TV deal brought some stability into WRC, but the work is far from over. Teams such as Prodrive and even Hyundai are closely linked to how successful (or not) 2013 turns out to be in terms of media coverage. It’s amazing that Prodrive is still around, and it’s great Mini is still interested in supporting the development of their car – all we need now is a great season, huge media presence and new investors. It would really be simply brilliant to have Mini back in full assault in near future!
As for drivers, the usual names are all taken, of course, but there are new talents. Talents such as Elfyn Evans, or Craig Breen, to name but a few.
In all, it’s not as bad as it seems.