A competition version of the Mini Countryman is making its debut in the FIA World Rally Championship in selected rounds of the 2011 series in preparation for a full campaign in 2012.
According to TNS Global Market Research, WRC was watched by 570 million people in 120 countries in 2009, a 13% increase per event over the previous year.
In terms of media exposure, BMW claims it ranks second only to Formula One.
The company is also hoping that Mini’s involvement in the rally series will help boost sales of the new Countryman model among young men.
Female Mini owners account for about 80% of the brand’s customers in some markets, while about 90% of WRC fans are said to be male.
Barbara Haase, head of brand communication for Mini, says that the WRC is the “ideal platform for demonstrating the competitive spirit of the brand”.
“It’s a truly global championship with millions of hugely enthusiastic and influential followers. In particular, it has strong appeal to men aged 16 to 34 and that’s an increasingly important sector as the Mini model family grows.”
Mini’s rallying heritage dates back to the Sixties when the Cooper S won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964, 1965 and 1967.
Haase says this link to past glories is also important. “The past success enjoyed by Minis in rallying has already made a vital contribution to the image of the brand and for that reason the interest in motorsport among the present generation of Mini customers is massive.”
BMW is also looking to attract “like-minded” sponsors and partners for the Mini WRC team.
Haase says that she is confident that the commercial opportunities for it and fellow “personality” brands “will produce huge dividends for all involved”.
“The exact nature of these commercial and promotional opportunities will vary from partner to partner, but Mini’s return to rallying is already generating massive interest and the potential of joint marketing, co-promotions and other commercial activities is enormous.
“We want to work with partner brands that will further enhance Mini’s iconic brand values as well as their own specific brand values by exploiting the excitement of brand partnership supported by the adventure of the WRC.”