Rallying call

All eyes will be on Mini’s tentative 2011 rally programme before a full championship assault in 2012

All eyes will be on Mini’s tentative 2011 rally programme before a full championship assault in 2012

All I want for Christmas is for some mainstream media recognition for rallying. It’s not a big deal but it would be nice.

You’d think that after countless years of blink-and-you-miss-it coverage on the BBC’s annual Sports Personality gong-fest that I’d stop winging, but with the occasional successes of non-F1 drivers being routinely ignored I really do think no one cares about other, ‘lesser’ motorsport activities.

So why am I bothering to spin up the turntable and force you to listen again to that favourite broken record of mine? After enduring a good few years of lackluster World Rally coverage, I do hope Mini’s efforts don’t come to nothing in the UK.

It’s not often a new team manages to scrape together the not inconsiderable amount of cash needed to commit to racing, so when BMW recently pushed the button on a multi-year, two-driver programme, it’s clear that good results and significant exposure are expected by the bean counters in Munich.

A quick flick through the mainstream press from a few weeks back illustrates how hard the latter might be for the German firm. A French bloke in a French car won the championship in convincing style to become the most successful driver in modern times. He also won the final round – held in Wales – after dominating the three-day event.

Unless you braved the elements it’s unlikely that you would have known any of that, such was the near-absence of news in the mainstream press. With television coverage buried deep in the recesses of cable channel obscurity, the armchair enthusiasts’ best friend was the Internet. Granted, such a medium is perfect for delivering live timing and results, but no proper telly or press coverage? That’s not good. I really do hope the suits at BMW know what they’re letting themselves in for.

It’s a different story in mainland Europe, as coverage is almost at saturation point and the fans’ enthusiasm for the sport is borderline fanatical. But the UK? We’re different apparently, and prefer watching those other drivers who go round and round on a Sunday afternoon.

That Citroen and its star driver Sebastien Loeb have dominated the sport for some time now doesn’t appear to be the problem. We’ve had Finns dominate in the past, and there’s the small matter of a certain M Schumacher occupying the Formula One top spot for quite a few years, too.

But this is Mini we’re talking about here; a brand overflowing with true-Brit heritage. Surely all those black and white images of Paddy Hopkirk hustling a Mini Cooper through the snow on the Monte Carlo Rally count for something?

I’d like to think so, and I’d also like to think that Mini’s new signing of Kris Meeke will help stir interest in those sections of the UK press that have never worn a bobble hat. I’m not a claiming to be a cheerleader – truth be told I’m more of a Citroen man – but it’s important for Mini to succeed.

The sport at large needs a broader spread of entrants so it can grow and prove attractive to sponsors and Meeke is a proven winner. And while it’s not guaranteed that media interest will follow, if Mini’s now famous self promotional talents can be directed at raising interest it will be a positive start. The action starts in Sweden in February – I’ll be watching, will you?

By Iain Dooley

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