Belfast Telegraph

Meeke called to meeting on future of Mini team

By Sammy Hamill

Concerns are being raised over the future of the John Cooper Mini team after they missed the deadline to sign up for next year’s World rally championship.

I understand drivers Kris Meeke and Dani Sordo have been summoned to a meeting tomorrow at the Banbury headquarters of Prodrive, the organisation which builds and runs the BMW Mini Countryman cars in the World series.

Ulsterman Meeke, who has just completed the first year of a three-year contract with the team, wasn’t available for comment but Sordo admitted on Facebook that “even I don’t know the program for next year. I hope that after an important meeting on Thursday with the team that I know the plans for 2012.”

There was no official comment from Prodrive or BMW although it is understood they were involved in urgent negotiations yesterday.

There were reports, too, that the championship deadline would be extended until tomorrow night.

It is no secret that the Mini project which was launched just over a year ago has been experiencing financial difficulties despite the success of its first development season in which Meeke and Sordo competed on six rounds of the series.

The Spaniard scored two podium finishes and Meeke just missed out on a third, finishing fourth on Rally GB, before ending the year with a win on the high profile Bettega Memorial Night Sprint in Bologna.

Senior members of Prodrive management have admitted they urgently need a major sponsor but the quest to find one has not been helped by the on-going question marks over next season’s television coverage after the parent company of rights holder, North One Sport, went into receivership following the arrest of owner Vladimir Antonov.

The Russian, also the principal shareholder of Portsmouth Football Club which has gone into administration, has been accused of a massive 1.6m dollar fraud involving a bank he owns in Lithuania.

It is thought unlikely the Mini programme will collapse but Autosport magazine reports there are “significant issues which need to be resolved in the Anglo-German relationship.”

It quotes a BMW source as saying: “There are a few things to talk about and time has beaten us on the deadline, but the cars will be in Monte Carlo, we couldn't miss the Mini's return to that rally.”

But no mention of what happens afterwards.

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