The Mini Countrymans prepared by the X-Raid team, and referred to as 'All4 Racing' Minis, were quick from the start of this year's Dakar, with a 1-2-3 finish on the first stage sending out a warning to the rest of the Dakar competition that Mini was set for some BIG results!
Team X-Raid started developing BMW X3s and X5s for off-road competition in 2002, before building their first All4 Racing Mini in 2010. The team's first victory came in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in 2011. From there, the squad grew, boosted by sponsorship from Monster Energy Drink, and the commitment was made to run the Minis, rather than the X-Series BMWs, in the 2012 Dakar.
The Minis are all built around a Heggemann Autosport chassis specifically developed for off-road competition. Lightweight removable body panels follow the general Mini Countryman shape, but feature concessions to ground clearance and the additional ventilation required for off-road racing. All the All4 Racing Minis are powered by 'RS 08' 3.0lt diesel engines which produce 315hp and approximately 700Nm torque. Transmissions are 6-speed Sadev 'speed shift' gearboxes with AP Racing clutches and Xtrac diffs. Brakes are AP Racing ventilated discs all round. Fuel capacity is around 420lt, and unladen, each All4 Racing Mini weighs in at approximately 1,900 kgs.
What's noticable at the midpoint of this year's Dakar is that none of the Minis have suffered major mechanical failures. Where other vehicles have struggled with the terrain and extreme heat of the early stages, the Minis haven't really missed a beat - yet! While the Mini had proven its reliability in other events, including shorter stage rallying, Dakar is a whole different animal where anything can happen, so the X-Raid teams certainly aren't assured of the win yet.
In addition to their near-bulletproof Minis, the X-Raid team boasts a lot of driving talent, which has also been a factor in their success so far. The Monster Energy Drink-sponsored team is led by multiple Dakar champion, Stephane Peterhansel from France, backed up by the experienced Joan 'Nani' Roma from Spain, Russian Leonid Novitskiy, and Portugal's Ricardo Leal Dos Santos. Poland's Krystof Holowczyc runs an All4 Racing Mini under the Orlen X-Raid team, sponsored by Verva (a Polish brand of premium fuel produced by the Polish PKN ORLEN refinery).
At the midpoint of the 2012 Dakar, X-Raid prepared Minis had won three of the seven stages (Stage 6 was cancelled), with the victories split across four different drivers: Novitskiy; Roma; Peterhansel; and Holowczyc.
In addition to the Minis, a trio of BMW X3 CCs are also operating under the X-Raid banner. While not as successful as the Minis, the BMWs have been competitive, setting respectable stage times, and more importantly, not succumbing to the mechanical failures that have affected other teams.
Heading into the second week of the 2012 Dakar, Minis look likely to take the overall victory in the car category, but the competition is tight. Challenges have regularly been thrown out by the Hummers of Robby Gordon and Nasser Al-Attiyah, with the former sitting third overall at the conclusion of Stage 7. The customised Toyota Hilux of experienced Dakar campaigner, Giniel de Villiers, has also put the Minis on notice with a string of top five finishes that have kept him in the hunt.
Car category - overall placings after 7 of 14 stages
1. MINI - Car #302 15h 32m 33s
Stephane PETERHANSEL (FRA) / Jean Paul COTTRET (FRA)
2. MINI - Car #304 + 11m 22s
Kristof HOLOWCZYC (POL) / Jean-Marc FORTIN (BEL)
3. HUMMER- Car #303 + 13m 09s
Robby GORDON (USA) /Johnny CAMPBELL (USA)
4. MINI - Car #305 + 18m 05s
Nani ROMA (ESP) / Michel PERIN (FRA)
5. TOYOTA - Car #301 + 34m 07s
Giniel DE VILLIERS (ZAF) / Dirk VON ZITZEWITZ (GER)
6. HUMMER - Car #300 + 42m 54s
Nasser AL ATTIYAH (QAT) / Lucas CRUZ (ESP)
7. MINI - Car #312 + 54m 26s
Leonid NOVITSKIY (RUS) / Andreas SCHULZ (GER)
8. GREAT WALL - Car #307 + 1h 12m 50s
Carlos SOUSA (PRT) / Jean-Pierre GARCIN (FRA)
9. TOYOTA - Car #319 + 1h 41m 38s
Lucio Ezequiel ALVAREZ (ARG) / Rolando BERNARDO GRAUE (ARG)
10. MITSUBISHI - Car #315 + 1h 48m 39s
Eric VAN LOON (NED) / Harmen SCHOLTALBERS (NED)
16. MINI - Car #309 + 3h 28m 35s
Ricardo LEAL DOS SANTOS (PRT) / Paulo FIUZA (PRT)
More details on the 2012 Dakar Rally can be found at www.dakar.com.
Further specs and information on the X-Raid team and the All4 Racing Minis can be found at www.x-raid.de.