PRODRIVE: ONWARDS AND UPWARDS
Why Prodrive's Mini blip won't stop its quest for motorsport glory
The story of British motorsport stalwart Prodrive is well known (for the record, you can check out our timeline below to refresh your memory) but with shaky economic times, even the biggest names can find themselves on unstable ground.
The outcome of the talks saw Prodrive downgraded from the official factory outfit to a "works-supported private team" for 2012.
With individual WRC events having to secure their own TV rights deals, sponsors are reluctant to dole out the funding needed for a season in top-flight international rallying - and you can see their point when they potentially stand to gain zero coverage. But what does it mean for Prodrive?
It's a small company so it isn't immune to fluctuations, but the firm's flexibility means it's getting on with plans and putting the recent WRC debacle behind it.
"That means there's plenty of stability for the team and we can secure confidence in our customers."
This is a big issue for Prodrive. Although the team no longer wears the full-on corporate Mini T-shirt, instead now just a lapel pin hinting at the tie-up with Mini, Prodrive will still construct and support customer vehicles as well as work alongside BMW to develop the car.
The customer side of things is a continuous learning process, too. For your £400,000 (actually just under) you get a Mini Countryman WRC as well as Prodrive's support package consisting of an engineer that goes out to every team, gleaning feedback and knowledge to take back to the Banbury HQ.
And it's here that Prodrive is proving its resilience, while recognising the challenging situation regarding coverage. "Why would any manufacturer want to enter a championship without TV promotion?" asks Wilcox. Competition in the WRC has never been so good, with tenths of seconds covering a sack full of cars over 30km or more. But if the money isn't there from the television coverage then manufacturers are bound to feel unsure about lavishing millions on a season's competition with low exposure in return. However, even though full factory funding has been rescinded, building cars for privateers keeps the cash coming in.
It's what Prodrive will have to do again. It's no secret funding is thin on the ground, hence the dropping of Kris Meeke for the second car. "BMW is subsidising our championship this year but additional income is needed, hence the second paying driver," states Wilcox. "With our goals for a two-car team next year, we'd love to have Kris back in the car."
This year it will be launching a full factory effort on the newly formed World Endurance Championship with a brace of Aston Martin Vantage GTEs. "It relates directly to the road cars better than the prototypes, which is highly important in terms of funding," according to Aston Martin Racing's Operations Director, Paul Diggins.
"We've got customer programmes from GTE to GT3 and GT4 with the Vantage," he says. Again, it's this that keeps the team in rubber and fuel for the season and is a savvy move in pushing the business on.
It knows how to win. Although a hobby for many, motorsport is Prodrive's business and fans have to remember that. It's galling to see Meeke sidelined, but Prodrive has stood by him, retaining him as test driver and showing faith.
Given the firm's success in the past, a few recent blips in rallying and circuit racing isn't about to derail the Prodrive train. The BMW-Mini issue looks to have resolved itself - for the time being, at least - with Prodrive in a much more stable position now things have been confirmed.
Its GT racing campaign looks positive, too. There's plenty of interest from gentlemen racers and professionals alike with the GT4 and GT3 series, and the new Vantage GTE has been developed from the old GT2 car - taking on board lessons learnt through the highly successful DBR9 GT1 programme.
Even with the murmurings of budget issues, there's a massive air of optimism about the Banbury factory for the season ahead. And rightly so.
Prodrive is founded by David Richards and Ian Parry, wins on its debut with the Rothmans Porsche 911 SC RS
Dips its toe in the water of Group B rallying with Metro 6R4, starts association with McRae senior (Jimmy)
Begins partnership with BMW in rallying and touring cars; wins first WRC and BTCC events with E30 M3 rally and touring cars respectively
Wins British Touring Car Championship in first full year of competition, retains BTCC crown a year later
Begins now legendary alliance with Subaru, debuting new Legacy RS rally car
Colin McRae wins British Rally title, repeats feat the year after graduating to WRC
Prodrive-prepared Subaru Impreza makes WRC debut, Richard Burns makes Prodrive debut in Legacy RS
McRae wins Driver's and Subaru the Manufacturer's World Rally Championships in Prodrive Impreza
Prodrive wins fifth BTCC title with Ford Mondeo, one-two for Alain Menu and Anthony Reid
Richard Burns becomes first Englishman to win WRC driver's title
Prodrive takes sixth WRC title with Petter Solberg; Prodrive Ferrari 550 GTS wins GTS class at Le Mans
McRae turns his hand to endurance racing competing at Le Mans in a Ferrari 550 GTS
Aston Martin DBR9 wins GT1 class at Le Mans
Aston Martin DBR9 wins GT1 class at Le Mans again, Subaru pulls out of WRC ending 20-year relationship with Prodrive
Prodrive-developed Aston Martin LMP1 finishes fourth overall - the highest placed petrol car - at Le Mans in Prodrive's 25th anniversary year; wins Drivers' and Manufacturers' LMS titles; work starts on development of Mini Countryman WRC car
New Aston Martin AMR-One LMP1 car announced
Mini returns to WRC with Dani Sordo and Kris Meeke - Sordo achieves a third place finish, the first podium for the team in the Mini's debut year; Aston Martin AMR-One hits heavy technical problems - both cars complete a total of only six laps at Le Mans.
Prodrive downgraded to factory-supported works Mini team but confirms two-car factory effort for Le Mans with V8 GTE