MINI John Cooper Works WRC

We grab a ride with rally star Kris Meeke in his company car

Prodrive has managed to transform the Countryman from an upmarket family crossover into a firebreathing rally contender. And in the hands of a talented driver such as Kris Meeke, it’s  a sensational piece of kit. The new MINI is only at the start of its development programme, too, and as the car gets more miles under its belt, the team is certain to be challenging rivals such as Citroen and Ford for next year’s WRC title.

In the world of motorsport, the World Rally Championship’s mix of high speeds, varied surfaces and three days of endurance demands something special. Auto Express found out exactly what’s required when we joined MINI ace Kris Meeke for a ride in his John Cooper Works WRC car on the Goodwood Festival of Speed rally stage.

The bright red machine is based on the Countryman, and while the engine and bodyshell are the same as the roadgoing model’s, rally specialist Prodrive prepares them for the punishment of the stages.

Video: watch the MINI John Cooper Works WRC in action

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There’s no interior trim, just a substantial rollcage, while the standard car’s dials and switches are replaced by a control box between the seats that works everything from ventilation to torque distribution.

It’s a feat in gymnastics to get into the co-driver’s seat, and once you’re there, you sit very low; smaller passengers will have trouble seeing the road ahead.

As soon as Kris fires up the 1.6-litre turbo, the cabin buzzes with vibration, while engaging first in the sequential gearbox sends a shudder through the car. All participants on Goodwood’s rally stage are timed, and Kris has already managed a best of two minutes and 17 seconds.

It’s clear he doesn’t know how to take it easy, and the hi-tech four-wheel drive and grippy Michelin tyres fire the MINI into the forest at a rapid rate. The noise of the engine and transmission assaults your ears, while the car pitches and rolls on suspension that’s designed to soak up bumps and maximise traction. Kris admits the course is tighter than the stages he’s used to, but still manages to get the car sideways with a flick of the steering wheel. And the brakes – which make do without the road model’s ABS – scrub off speed with ease.

We take the jump on the final straight at full throttle and cross the finish line. Kris’s time? Two minutes 24 seconds – which is impressive considering it included a showboating donut for the fans at the bottom of the stage!

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