New MINIs to make World Racing Debut at Celebrity Challenge

The world's most exciting small car, the new MINI Cooper, will makes its world racing debut when it "roars" back into action in the MINI Celebrity Challenge at the 2002 Foster's Australia Formula 1 Grand Prix.

Thirty agile and powerful new MINI Coopers will write a new chapter in the history of the Celebrity Challenge when they take to the Albert Park track in the hands of Australian and international celebrities.

The BMW Group, makers of the MINI Cooper, have continued its support of the event, contested in the past three years in BMW Z3 roadsters, with the new MINI Cooper, setting the scene for the next three years of BMW Group Australia's participation as the official vehicle supplier to the Foster's Australian Grand Prix.

BMW Group Australia General Manager of Corporate Communications, John Kananghinis, predicts the celebrities, as well as the racing crowds, will be in for a "go-kart-like motorsport experience of sheer excitement" as the MINI Coopers, which have been specially prepared by John Cooper Works in the UK, take to the Albert Park track.

"The Mini's place in automotive history is unique and now the new MINI Cooper will open a new chapter in that history at the 2002 Foster's Australia Formula 1 Grand Prix," Mr Kananghinis said.

"The new MINI owes it genes to the first Mini but in every other respect it is a thoroughly modern small sporting prestige car with all of the high technology safety and style that would be expected of any member of the BMW Group.

"The 2002 MINI Celebrity Challenge will be a stirring sight as 30 specially-prepared MINI Coopers battle for line honours. Not since the old Mini took out the first nine places in the 1966 Bathurst race will there have been such a MINI spectacle at Australia's premier motorsport event."

Among the celebrities already keen to get behind the wheel of the new vehicle are Karina Brown, hostess of Channel 9's Sale of the Century, model Prue Jackson, who shot to fame on the cover of Inside Sport during the Goodwill Games in Brisbane, and Channel 9's Changing Rooms presenter, Susie Wilks.

Mr Kananghinis said that numerous national sporting stars from Rugby Union to Australian Rules, along with stars from the music and entertainment industry were also trying to clear their calendars for the event. Their names will be announced progressively over the next few months.

He said that the 2002 MINI Celebrity Challenge will bring a new dimension to the race, particularly in view of the MINI Cooper's amazing agility. " Their cornering ability is as remarkable as the old model's and their modern turn-of-speed will definitely surprise. This is why our Chief Driving Instructor, Bathurst & Le Mans winner, Geoff Brabham, will be taking the celebrities through their paces in the lead-up to the race, and on this occasion he will be joined by 1966 Bathurst winner (in a MINI Cooper S), Ranuo Altonen."

The celebrities will all undergo an intensive week of tuition through the BMW Advanced Driver Training Program to ensure they are not only competitive, but also have a sound knowledge of the safety requirements of racing.

Geoff Brabham had his hands full at this year's race that was won by Olympic rowing silver medallist Darren Balmforth in a "gold medal performance".

Balmforth led all the way from pole position, although he was hotly pressed for most of the race by RAAF 'ace' and F-111 navigator Brooke Chivers until she spun out.

Just two hours after the new MINI Coopers make their racing debut, the BMW WilliamsF1 Team will be out to prove itself again as a competitive force for the 2002 Grand Prix season.

BMW WilliamsF1 made its debut at Albert Park in 2000 and, contrary to all expectations, leading driver Ralf Schumacher finished on the podium in third position and 20-year-old Jenson Button made a stunning debut.

For 2001 Ralf Schumacher was joined by 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner, Juan Pablo Montoya, and together they won four races and brought the BMWF1 team to a very competitive third position for manufacturers in only its second season.

The full range of BMWs serving as official vehicles for the 2002 Foster's Australia Formula 1 Grand Prix, the MINI Celebrity Challenge, the BMW Williams F1 Team and the BMW Group provision of official vehicles to the Grand Prix Rally all ensures that the BMW Group presence at the 2002 event will be very hard to miss.

-www.bmw.com.au